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.
Author: Tom Miller | Publisher: Simon & Schuster
The Philosopher’s Flight was a really fun read. It was light without being frivolous, fantastical without being ridiculous, and thought-provoking without being too much. I’m definitely looking forward to reading book #2.
The main character and narrator, Robert, has always dreamed of flying with the Rescue & Evacuation unit of the US armed forces, which is composed of a team of empirical philosophers dedicated to saving people. Empirical philosophers combine symbols (sigils) and substances to — essentially — do scientific magic. Or is it magical science? Anyway, women are the ones who have the natural ability to do empirical philosophy, so no man has ever served on R&E before.
But Robert has a lot of philosophical strength and talent for a man, so he wins a scholarship to Radcliffe College to study. He quickly showes himself to be a strong flier (yes, some philosophers can fly) and sets off determined to prove himself to his classmates and the R&E leaders. Meanwhile, those who are religiously opposed to the use of philosophy — led by an old, dangerous, bible-wielding fanatic — are ramping up their opposition (politically and physically).
At first, I was really unsure about the whole men-as-victims-of-sexism positioning of the story. Do we really need a book about men struggling for their rights? (Answer: Not really, no.) But what makes this book not feel weird or distasteful is that in the universe of this book, the entire world outside of empirical philosophy still views women the same way — the anti-philosophers want actual philosophers to go back to their homes, kitchens, husbands, rightful place, etc. They use sexual violence to intimidate women. That part of the world is the same. So seeing both of those power struggles play out simultaneously was really, really interesting and kind of just threw into light the fact that whenever one group has more power than another, there are going to be injustices.
Ultimately, this is a hero’s journey story about overcoming biases and examining power. It’s also about family and friendship and love and dreaming big dreams. I really did come to care for a lot of these characters, and I can’t wait to see them again in book 2.