Saturday, February 10, 2018

ARC Review: The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher's Flight
Author: Tom Miller
Publication: Simon & Schuster (February 13, 2018)

Description: 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. “Like his characters, Tom Miller casts a spell.” (Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club and The Last Bookaneer)

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.

My Thoughts: This is a story of alternate history with magic. Robert Weekes has a goal of joining the US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service. He has a number of obstacles in his path. First of all, he is male and empirical philosophy and sigilgry is a predominantly female pursuit. Second, he is stuck in rural Montana assisting his war hero mother who is the Empirical Philosopher for her region of Montana.

One night Robert is drafted to fly with his mother to rescue a family of empirical philosophers who have been attacked. He manages to rescue a number of people and fly them to the nearest hospital. Then he has to turn around and rescue his own mother who had a flying accident. His daring rescues wins him a place as a contingency student at Radcliffe - a female college noted for educating empirical philosophers.

He has a very uphill battle to reach his goal. He is harassed by women who don't want him at the college at all. But he makes friends too. Felix Unger is another contingency student who is a theoretical empirical philosopher who isn't able to make sigils work for him. He is also befriended by Danielle Hardin who is a war hero who is turning to politics.

This is a troublesome time. The Trenchers who oppose the use of empirical philosophy for any reason are gaining a political foothold. They are also perpetrating attacks on empirical philosophers which trigger attacks by vigilante empirical philosophers. Meanwhile, World War I is dragging on and on and half of the women who are in Rescue and Evacuation are killed or gravely injured. While the more dangerous sort of empirical philosophy - smokecarving - has been banned in warfare, there are fears that the Germans will loose their empirical philosophers and escalate the war.

I enjoyed the world building in this story. I also liked the role reversal for the genders with Robert being the definite minority in his college and in his future career. The format of the story with a prologue written by a more mature Robert retelling the events of 1917 and 1918 and the chapter beginnings being excerpts from other history books written about the time, added a sort of reality to this fantasy story.

Fans of alternate history and magic won't go wrong reading this novel about a young man with a goal and the turbulent times he lives in.

Favorite Quote:
We rode the streetcar into the transporter arena together. We were a couple of dull young people in love, besotted, barely conscious of the hubbub around us.

But that's just the sort of moment when the gods decide they ought to lay you low.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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