The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller
Published: February 13th, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
A thrilling debut from ER doctor turned novelist Tom Miller, The Philosopher’s Flight is an epic historical fantasy set in a World-War-I-era America where magic and science have blended into a single extraordinary art. Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier, and vigilante, aids the locals. When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women. Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years before. With their lives in mounting danger, Robert and Danielle band together with a team of unlikely heroes to fight for Robert’s place among the next generation of empirical philosophers—and for philosophy’s very survival against the men who would destroy it. In the tradition of Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness, Tom Miller writes with unrivaled imagination, ambition, and humor. The Philosopher’s Flight is both a fantastical reimagining of American history and a beautifully composed coming-of-age tale for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.
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*Amazon: The Philosopher’s Flight: A Novel
Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this new book.
And what is empirical philosophy—what is sigilry—except a branch of science that we don’t yet fully understand? There’s no dark art to it; it’s nothing more than the movement of energy to produce a physical effect. The human body provides the power, while the sigil, drawn sometimes with beads of water, sometimes with cornmeal or sand, catalyzes the movement. You can do a thousand useful things: make a plant grow larger and faster; send a message a thousand miles in an instant; fly. If you grew up with it, it’s natural. It’s right. Why would anyone want life to be otherwise?
“A man ain’t supposed to say his mother’s his hero,” I managed before my voice cracked. “But I never wanted no hero but you. Never wanted no mother but you.”
Robert A. Canderelli Weekes is eighteen-years-old and lives with his mother, Major Emmaline Weekes, in Guille’s Run, Montana. His mom is what you would consider a legend in her field, that being Empirical Philosopher. Now the word philosophy in this story is used differently here from what the real world uses it for. Here it refers to a certain power, it is the ability to order the world about using sigils, or hand-drawn designs (the best way to describe this is runes like in The Mortal Instruments). The major sigil skill is flight but, there are tons of others. The big play in this story is it may be a man’s world, but sigilry is a woman’s domain. In this time period, those with the power are treated unkindly especially by the main antagonists the Trenchers. As another reviewer said, “Think KKK mixed with misogynist Death Eaters.” They are evil and vicious people and there is a significant body count on both sides. There is a lot of bigotry that reflects the real world. This makes life hard for our protagonist Robert. He is a man who wants to step into a female-dominated field. He has the raw power and talent to match them but it’s like a female left tackle for the Patriots. It is possible but it is not “tradition.” It does not come easy for him but Robert does not back down and will fight to get into R & E (Rescue and Evacuation), a branch in the Corps to help people in need during the war.
The story goes from his teen years and how good he is in flight, to his life when he is accepted into one of the few colleges that train sigilists, the all-female college Radcliffe, leading up to his Corpswoman interview and what takes place after. The bulk of the book is set at Radcliffe where he makes lifelong friends, faces many challenges with the Trenchers and the women at the college, perfects his craft, finds love, and becomes a man to go down in history. We know he survives everything because the story starts out with Robert talking to his 9-year-old daughter but the fate of everyone else is ambiguous. The writing is exceptional for a historical fiction/fantasy book. We got the world-building, the history, the character storyline, and a magic system that is well explained. I loved how fast paced the story was and it was a major page-turner. Sometimes it can be wordy but as a historical fiction lover, I love it because I was able to understand everything and I loved it all. I should also mention it is more of an alternate history but that makes it all the more magical.
“I ripped my goggles off and flung them in the air. I pulled my hood free and let loose a yawp that had been building for nineteen years. Finally. Finally.”
I loved Robert. He is a fantastic protagonist and he was multi-dimensional. We saw him go through a lot of emotions that he worked through. Everything he did and worked through made sense and was justified. The secondary characters were just as lovable and memorable. We have his mom Emmaline Weekes, his sisters Vivian and Ameille, the girl he falls for Danielle Hardin, his professors & teachers Gertrude, Brooks, Addams, Murchinson, and his lifelong friends Jake (female), Mayweather, Freddy Unger, Essie, Krillgoe, Dimitri, Astrid, Francine, and a few others. Each character has a story and a lot of personalities even though it is told from Robert’s perspective. These characters are all loveable and I could easily read a series to learn more about each of them and more about Robert after the final pages.
“May I contribute to your further ruination?” I asked. “Please.” We thoroughly ruined each other and then lay tangled in the sheets. I stayed over, as I’d taken to doing three of four times a week.”
I LOVED this romance. It was paced so wonderfully. They didn’t have some love at first sight and it didn’t even happen the second or third time they met. It was a slow burn without all the extra angst. Actually, because it didn’t come so quickly I forgot who he was supposed to be with and it was a nice surprise and so lovely. They meshed so well together. And I think what I loved the most was unlike a lot of other genres (cough Ya cough) they were excellent at communication. Not knocking YA because I love it but it can be annoying that the couples aimed at teens & young adults suck at communication. Robert and Danielle know how to talk and speak to each other. The whole romance was just super healthy and they were very in touch with their feelings. Robert cried and got upset with things happening and everything was just raw and real. Danielle was the same. I also loved how the situation of sex was presented especially for Robert because he was just an adorable blushing mess. I don’t know if this is marketed as YA or Adult but it was beautifully done.
“And after all, what was life without a little adventure.”
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