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The Philosophers Series #1

The Philosopher's Flight

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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.

422 pages, Hardcover

First published February 13, 2018

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About the author

Tom Miller

3 books218 followers
Tom Miller grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. He graduated from Harvard University and went on to earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of Notre Dame and an MD from the University of Pittsburgh. While writing The Philosopher's Flight, he worked as a travel guidebook writer, EMT, and college English instructor. He's now an emergency room doctor in Madison, Wisconsin. The Philosopher's Flight is his first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 901 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
December 16, 2021
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?
Why indeed?

Eighteen-year-old Robert A. Canderelli Weekes lives with his mother, Major Emmaline Weekes, in Guille’s Run, Montana. Mom is something of a legend in her chosen profession, that being Empirical Philosopher. Of course, the word philosophy is used a bit differently here from what most of us are used to. It refers to a special power, the ability to order the world about using sigils, or hand-drawn designs. The major sigil skill at issue here is flight. There are plenty of others, but flying is prime. Also core is that it may be a man’s world, but sigilry is most definitely a woman’s domain. Enough so, that many conflate it with witchcraft, to the sigilists’ peril. This makes life a bit challenging for Robert. Think the equivalent of a female left tackle for the Steelers. Sure, it is theoretically possible, but, for now at least, it is just not done. Mom passed along enough DNA, from her, and her forebears’ pool, and considerable training and practice, so that Boober—yes, really, this is the poor guy’s nickname in the family (palms to face, looking down, shaking head slowly left and right, while sighing deeply)—is actually a pretty decent flyer. A talent that comes in handy when emergencies arise that require rapid transport of aid in, and/or evacuation of the injured, or people in danger, when wheeled, winged, or aquatic vehicle-based transport is not a possibility. Serious, important, and challenging work.

Tom Miller - photo by Abigail Carlin-image from Simon and Schuster

The Philosopher’s Flight falls into the alternative history category. The closest thing I have read to it is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, which imported magic into 19th century England. This one refers to roots in earlier times, but adds bits of magic mostly to the early 20th century in the USA, specifically in the days leading up to the USA entering World War I. I am sure there are plenty more of this sort, but you will have to rely on better-read reviewers to ferret them out. These two novels differ from works like Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which considers what the world might look like had the Axis powers won World War II, sans incorporation of fantastical elements.

Miller looks at how the presence of this strange ability, sigilism, might have changed events, how it might have been harnessed by governments for military purposes. The American Civil War is the first major application. Later, sigilry becomes subject to international treaty restrictions, sigilists being removed from combat, but employed as a sort of Red Cross. When the USA enters World War I, Robert, 18, is eager to join the Rescue and Evacuation Department of the US Sigilry Corps. Mom is aghast, knowing from painful personal experience how unsafe the war theater can be, and, in any case, they would certainly turn their noses up at a male applicant in an all-female group.

Robert may have serious sigilist talent, but is rarely taken seriously. After all, sigilry is woman’s work, and Robert is just a man. A nice twist on the usual gender-based trope. And Miller has a lot of fun with it. The serious aspect of this being a look for the reader at sexism as if through a photo negative. The imagined illuminates the real.

The major action of the novel takes place after Robert is accepted into one of the handful of colleges that trains sigilists, Radcliffe. It is at school where he not only makes some lifelong friends, but must overcome personal and institutional bias to prove his mettle. A love interest enters while there. I am not certain if this book is being marketed as YA or not but the sexual element struck me (heathen that I am) as tame enough for a YA audience, most assignations, thankfully, taking place off-screen, with lots of winking, nodding, and euphemism.

There is another seam that permeates. A dark side to the bright light of sigilry. There is a group that breathes brimstone and is determined to restore the world to its pre-sigilry state, and if that means slaughtering all sigilists, they are perfectly fine with that, eager in fact. The Trencherists. Think KKK mixed with misogynist Death Eaters. Atrocities happen. There is a significant body count. The politics of bigotry certainly has resonance with the real world. It is what happens when hatred and fear turn kinetic that we must worry about. There is plenty of kinetic here.

We know that Robert survives it all, as the book opens with him telling his nine-year-old daughter about the history of sigilry. But we do not know the fate of anyone else. And some of these characters will make you care, will make you want to know.

The age grouping here is late teens, early twenties, with most teachers and leaders being a generation or more ahead. The age difference of the primaries separates this a bit from the Harry Potter target demo by at least a few years.

I was very much reminded of a science fiction writer of note. Robert Heinlein, who wrote a passel of books featuring young and young-ish characters. Starship Troopers stands out, but there are others. The group camaraderie is reminiscent of boot-camp-bonding and allegiance under fire. An older female character stands in for the cigar-chomping Drill Instructor who is tough as nails, but truly concerned for the safety of his charges, and a softie underneath. In many instances, Heinlein’s teen heroes shared a sort of gung-ho, let’s-go-kill-the-enemy vibe. That feel permeates here, with the significant difference that, despite having to engage in actual battle at home, the wartime activity that our hero and heroines aspire to is not mass murder but search and rescue. As with many such novels, the gung-ho mindset gets exposed to actual mortal peril and has to face up to the reality of war, battle, and group hatred.

My primary gripe with the book is that the characters seemed a bit thin, with the exception of Robert. There are enough edges, hard and soft, to go around, but some of them seemed lacking in texture or color. Also, the mechanics of sigilry seemed a bit clunky to me. I don’t really see the sort of writing devices sigilrists use ever matching up against wands. I expect, though, that much of the hardware can be downsized or eliminated with some creative writing in future volumes. Too much hardware resembled contemporary digital devices. On the other hand, the costuming was pretty sweet.

I don’t want to leave you with a narrow view of what sigilists can do. Flying is definitely way cool, but there is a thing called Smokecarving that is pretty impressive, and a transport talent that comes in quite handy. Definitely a grimoire or two short of the Potter range of magical capability, but this is the first in what absolutely has to be a series, so I expect that range of magical possibility will fill out in time.

One item of note is that each of the chapters is introduced with a quote from a noted personage, some of whom are characters in the book. These offer some interior history and a bit on where this alt-history diverges from the one we know. One thing these quotes provide is a glimpse into both what came before and what lies ahead in the big-picture story arc, seeding material for future sequels and prequels.

In short, this was a delightful read, fast-paced, engaging, with a few nifty core themes and concepts to add substance to the mayhem. My only real disappointment here was that the book was not due for release in time for Christmas. It would have made an outstanding holiday gift. Next year, for sure. I’d sign out, but don’t want to chance making a mistake and transporting myself into a boulder. Tom Miller is a major new talent. The Philospher’s Flight is the opening gambit in what promises to be a brilliant new fantasy series. It soars!

Review posted – 12/22/2017

Publication date – 2/13/2018

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Miller maintains a minimal on-line presence. I am hoping that as the release date nears, that will change. When it does, I will add the appropriate links here.

In addition to the absence of on-line activity, there is a singular absence of interviews with the author. I am also hoping that this changes ‘ere long.

Found one from February 13, 2018 - Interview with Tom Miller, author of The Philosopher's Flight

The book was formerly titled The Philosopher’s War, which maintains the focus on one character and would have been a better fit, IMHO, but not by a huge margin. They could use it for a subsequent volume....And it came to pass that it was done. Book #2.

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Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
December 5, 2018
This WWI era SF/fantasy novel is a 2018 book and a worthwhile read. A strong 4 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Many historical eras ― particularly the Regency and Victorian, with World War II in the mix as well ― have been reimagined through the lens of fantasy and science fiction: alternative history, with magic or superpowers as the focus for recasting historical events. World War I has, I think, been underserved in this genre. Tom Miller’s The Philosopher’s Flight does a creditable job of shedding new light on the Great War era. Miller uses not only magic (here thinly veiled as a branch of science called empirical philosophy), but also the fact that these powers are primarily controlled by women, to enrich the story. Men are at a profound disadvantage in this science, with the women by and large extremely reluctant to allow men into their ranks, if not actively hostile.

Robert Canderelli Weekes is the eighteen year old son of Emmaline Weeks, a war hero and now a county philosopher in rural Montana. Philosophers in this world are not merely academics who study the nature of existence and knowledge; they are people who actually warp the laws of probability using sigilry, magical symbols that enable human flight, teleporting of groups, and other extraordinary powers. Robert has inherited the power of using sigils to fly, assisting his mother in her day-to-day work of responding to accidents and other local problems that require her services. He’s a decent flyer, not nearly as powerful or fast as his mother, but good enough to dream of following in her footsteps and joining the US Sigilry Corps, which assist in wartime evacuations and rescues. Emmaline is dead set against it; not only will the women in the R&E Department almost certainly reject Robert just because he’s a man, but the R&E wartime work has an extremely high death rate.

Robert finds a path that may lead him to his goal of joining R&E: the Contingency Act pays for philosophers to go to college, provided you serve an equal number of years afterwards in an area of the U.S. that’s short on philosophers. He applies and is accepted to Radcliffe College, a woman’s college that is now accepting a limited number of men as Contingency Act students.

So Robert heads off to Radcliffe in September 1917, joining a large group of women ― and a scant handful of men ― who are studying the philosophy and practice of flight. During his time at Radcliffe, Robert makes new friends, falls in love, and diligently works on improving his flight skills. He’s better than all but the fastest women, but still is faced with rejection and persecution from many women who don’t want men to join their ranks. This reverse sexism is a running theme in The Philosopher’s Flight, adding an unusual twist to the tale, particularly since women are the more militant group in this discipline.

On the flip side are the Trenchers, a stubbornly fundamentalist and bigoted group that rejects all brands of philosophical science and insists that women should return to hearth and home, leaving jobs to the men. The Trencher movement has gained power over the years since the Civil War, and its members are now engaged in a bitter and murderous feud with the philosophers. I would have preferred Christianity being left out of the Trencher’s belief system ― religion is too often used as a convenient punching bag in speculative fiction.

Miller makes liberal use of actual historical events throughout The Philosopher’s Flight, weaving them into Robert’s family history and as a backdrop for current events in the novel, sometimes with a few changes to fit the story. The Civil War’s Battle of Petersburg becomes a watershed event in the development of philosophical science and using it (and women) in wartime, when Lucretia Cadawaller used her powers to create a poisonous gas to kill 40,000 defenders of Petersburg. She intended to quickly win the war with a single, fearful blow … but she also inspired the rise of the Trenchers. I appreciated the way history informs the events of this story, with Miller frequently giving them a half-twist to shed new light on topics such as women’s rights and warfare practices. As gung-ho as Richard is to join the Sigilry Corps and the war effort, there are other characters cautioning him against the horrors of war and the likelihood of death or disability.

The Philosopher’s Flight is a well-paced tale, with the blend of magic and science giving it a somewhat retro feel that fits the time setting. Robert’s varied adventures and his developing relationships with others make this an engaging and original read. As far as I can tell this is currently a stand-alone read, but Miller has left the door wide open for a sequel.

I received a free copy of this ebook from the publisher through NetGalley for review. Thank you!!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,159 reviews2,007 followers
April 18, 2019
My reason for reading this book was that I saw and requested The Philosopher's War on Netgalley and then discovered it was book 2! So a quick trip to the library gained me book one The Philosopher's Flight and how lucky was I! It is a really good book and I have the next one all ready and waiting for me!

The story is a delightful mix of fantasy and history with very well handled world building and an intriguing magic system. It is a magic which belongs chiefly to women and Robert, our main character is a rare male who has excellent abilities. He also has ambitions which lead him to try and excel in a woman's world. The reverse sexism which results is handled well and is believable.

Robert is a great character. He manages to stand firm when the people closest to him are trying to change him and he sticks to his principles against all odds. I liked Unger too. He is the really smart sidekick who saves the day with his genius ideas.

I enjoyed this book and am pleased I came across it. Recommended to anyone who likes their magic clever and powerful and set in a steampunk kind of universe.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,004 reviews2,596 followers
March 18, 2018
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2018/03/18/...

The Philosopher’s Flight might be my first genuine surprise of 2018. Backed by a fascinating premise that blends together historical fiction and fantasy, this novel held my attention captive from beginning to end. Set in an alternate World-War-I-era America, at the core of this tale is “magical science”, also known as empirical philosophy, a system of magic that uses the artform of “sigilry” to perform amazing feats like summoning the wind, sculpting clouds of smoke, teleporting from one place to another, or even defying gravity.

Told in the form of a memoir, the book stars protagonist Robert Weekes who recounts his time as a young man at Radcliffe College studying to pursue his dream of flying Rescue and Evacuation for the US Sigilry Corps. But here’s the twist: in this world, empirical philosophy is a field dominated by women. The greater affinity for magic in the female sex means that they are stronger and more powerful philosophers, which also makes them better conditioned to become flyers—a discipline that few men can master. Robert, however, has flying in his blood. His mother, the indomitable Major Emmeline Weekes is his inspiration and role model, a war hero who has served many years as part of the elite all-women R&E team saving countless lives on the battlefield. Determined to follow in her footsteps, Robert decides to apply to Radcliffe, becoming one of only three men enrolled in the school.

And here’s where the story gets interesting. Few things in this book unfold the way you’d expect, despite the frosty reception Robert finds on his first day. Facing strong pushback from some of his professors and fellow students who believe he doesn’t belong, our protagonist must work twice as hard to prove his worth and be accepted in a role that’s traditionally been closed to men. How dicey, I initially thought, to have story centered around a male protagonist who must struggle against gender discrimination, considering the current feminist movement and how these days books actually tend to feature the opposite scenario. And yet, at the same time I found it to be a refreshing change, not to mention the gender-flip was executed in a thoughtful way that treats women with respect and reverence. With the exception of the Trenchers (more on them later), the world generally views empirical philosophy as a gift—and women, as the wielders of that wonderful and magical power, are held in high esteem. They are America’s greatest heroes and legends that girls (and boys like Robert) look up to and dream they can become.

However, the author also does not patronize his readers by glossing over the situation. Every slice of the population will have its bad eggs, and Robert encounters his fair share of prejudice, intolerance, and injustice from some of the women at Radcliffe, and some social norms are just so ingrained that they are hard to break. In addition, there are the aforementioned Trenchers, a radical group that opposes everything related to empirical philosophy (hence many of their messages are also anti-women) and they aren’t above resorting to violent means to achieve their ends. Among these tactics is a hit list targeting well-known philosophers like Robert’s mother Emmeline Weekes and his girlfriend Danielle Hardin for assassination. Ultimately, it’s the Trenchers who are the main antagonists of this book, whom Robert works tirelessly and passionately with his fellow Radcliffe students to oppose.

This is a multi-faceted story with lots of positive messages about fighting for change, serving your fellow citizens, doing good for the world, and reaching for your dreams—all done in an unconventional yet sympathetic way. It’s also a tough book to categorize, because of its many themes. At its heart The Philosopher’s Flight is a coming-of-age new adult tale about growing up, which also has elements like sweet romance (experiencing first love), pulse-pounding action (training to perform dangerous and daring aerial maneuvers), light-hearted humor (making lifelong friendships), as well as thrilling adventure (competing in school spirit events and flying contests). All this is set before an alternate historical fantasy backdrop that feels genuine and well-realized. The college setting also makes me think this would be great for readers looking for a more serious and mature “magic school” story—think Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, except a lot more fun and not as soul-suckingly depressing (not to mention with decidedly more likable characters).

It is my hope that this book, like its protagonist, will reach new heights because it is certainly deserving of all the praise. Tom Miller has written a complex and deeply nuanced debut that examines the way lives can be shaped by social beliefs and experiences, but it is also a wild tale full of warmth and fun. I was glad to learn that The Philosopher’s Flight is the first book of a new series, because I am absolutely on board for more.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 47 books154 followers
November 26, 2017
This was excellent, and I'm really glad I took the risk with it.

It was recommended by a fellow writer on a forum we both frequent, and when I saw it was on Netgalley I picked it up. My big concern was that the genderflip inherent in the premise - women are, for unexplained reasons, the best at magic, and a young man tries to establish himself among them during the period of the First World War - could so easily have gone terribly wrong. (I'm thinking of that awful raceflipped Pearls thing from a few years back.)

I'm relieved to report that for me - and you have to remember I'm male - it succeeded in not being horribly tone-deaf in its treatment of the genderflip. First of all, many of the female characters, including the protagonist's mother, sisters, colleagues, and friends, are the kind of pragmatic, competent women that my own mother, sisters, colleagues, and friends are. Secondly, they're not idealised; though they're fine people in all the ways that really count, they're often coarse, they make bad decisions at times, and they struggle with assorted character flaws and blind spots. Other female characters are petty, selfish, silly, shallow, manipulative, all the things that real people (of both genders) are. If you're going to portray people who are not like you, this is the way to do it: make them feel like real people.

Then the genderflip itself, the man struggling to succeed in a woman's world, is well done. I found Robert instantly relatable; he has a noble dream, to be part of the Rescue and Evacuation Corps who save wounded soldiers on the battlefield, using "sigilry" (the magic system) to fly them to safety. It looks like he can't have that dream. Even the women who support him becoming the best sigilrist he can be don't believe he can be accepted to the Corps; even his mother, his hero and inspiration, doesn't believe he should be accepted, even if he qualifies.

He'd be a distraction to the women. He wouldn't fit in. He'd be a curiosity. It would be an exercise in political point-scoring, not a merit-based appointment. He wouldn't be able to do the work as well as a woman. If he was accepted, he'd have to be called a Sigilwoman; that's the name of the rank, and you can't simultaneously ask for equal treatment and ask for special treatment, now can you? Women bully him, haze him, threaten to boycott a major sporting event if he takes part, mark him down unfairly, strip him of an honour he's won by tremendous effort. He has to be better than most women to even be considered. He has, in other words, the experience of any outsider trying to enter a social space that's traditionally been closed to people like them.

It's a story about family, and love, and friendship, and overcoming prejudice and injustice. Apart from a very early infodump, there's not a craft misstep in it; the author has both an MFA and an MD, which is an unusual combination, and draws on his knowledge of emergency medicine to make the multiple rescue scenes gripping and realistic. I loved Robert's competence in a crisis, demonstrated very early on and repeatedly after that, and so clearly learned from his mother.

Robert doesn't just have societal prejudice about gender roles to contend with, either. The Trenchers, a political/religious group opposed to sigilry of all kinds and willing to take extreme measures against those who practice it, are constant threats, with some terrifying encounters that test Robert's values and ideals severely. This, too, is established right out of the gate and persists as a strong thread throughout.

I enjoyed the epigraphs to the chapters, quotations from various invented documents which give intriguing glimpses into the characters' future and make me want to read more of their story - if I didn't already want to do so because of the excellent quality of this book. I very much do want to read more, and I will eagerly await a sequel.
Profile Image for LeeLee Lulu.
620 reviews35 followers
March 1, 2018
Imagine a world where women's lib happened ages ago because women were able to do magic. (Some men could do it too, sometimes, but to a much lesser extent.)

Women were on the front lines of wars, rescuing men and doing spells to create smokescreens or weapons. Women were making transportation and communication efficient. Women were leading medicine, using spells to save lives.

Imagine a story set in the middle of a women's college in the early 1900s, with someone learning this magic.

And then... make the protagonist... a dude.

On one hand, one typically wants to root for the underdog.

On the other, ugh, this feels like some kind of a Harry-Potter-themed Men's Rights kind of thing?

Like, do we need men mucking this up? Especially because, in other areas of this world, men are still ahead. They're making fun of the magicians, even as they rely upon them. There are religious zealots that are essentially still arguing that women belong in the kitchen. It's not like the women have Taken Over The World or anything. They just have very cool specialized jobs that make them feel empowered.

So anyway, I felt conflicted about this. I also felt like the protagonist wasn't spectacularly engrossing. He was a yokel from flyover country who wanted to join the Lady Flying Army (not its technical name) because his mom was in it. He just kept stumbling through everything.

The dullard's quest to be the First Dude in the Lady Flying Triwizard Cup (not its technical name) is NOT compelling. Especially when compared to the MUCH MORE INTERESTING ADJACENT PLOT.

This OTHER plot involves a giant battle between the Lady Magicians and the Religious Right. Like, an all-out MURDERFEST. And it turns out (not a huge spoiler) that his retired army mom had gotten in on this murderfest. The protagonist gets involved on the fringes of this thing several times.

I feel like the murderfest, plus a more interesting lead, would have been an AMAZING book. The WORLD BUILDING, guys. Opportunity missed.

Toward the end, there's an inkling that maybe the second book might be more about this epic battle, but I don't think I'll be tuning in for that installment.
Profile Image for Juli.
1,858 reviews473 followers
February 8, 2018
I love books about alternate history. But The Philosopher's Flight is something more....a combination of fantasy, sci-fi, alternate history...and pure magic.

The Basics: Certain symbols, called sigils, can be used to focus power. That power can be used for mundane things like making plants grow larger, curing illness or even flying, but also for more destructive actions like killing 40,000 enemy soldiers in one battle during the Civil War. Although some men can wield the power, women are much more talented at being Empirical Philosophers and using sigils. Most counties in the United States have a resident philosopher to help with emergencies. Maj. Emmaline Weekes is a county philosopher in Montana in 1917. Her son Robert helps by ordering supplies, cooking and being support for his mother. America is entering the Great War in Europe. President Wilson has just announced a declaration of war against The German Empire. Robert;s dream is to fly Rescue & Evac, but women are much more talented at flying than men. The elite unit has never accepted a man into their ranks. After a emergency rescue following an attack by Trenchers, a group of vigilantes against sygilists, Robert proves that a male just might be able to make it in R & E. When he's accepted into college to become a philosopher, he realizes his dream might just come true!

OMG! I love this book!! The mix of real history with the fantasy of sigils and philosophers! Such a creative and awesome story! The book is filled with action and excitement -- trencher attacks, rescues, training and war -- and kept my attention from beginning to end. Reverse sexism adds an interesting angle to the plot as well. Robert goes through a lot being a male in college studying philosophy and wanting to join R&E when they don't accept males.

The Philosopher's Flight is Tom Miller's debut novel. I loved the story and his writing style. I will definitely be reading more by this author!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**
Profile Image for Laura L. Van Dam.
Author 2 books133 followers
December 23, 2017
I know I'm in the minority here, but didn't like it.
I give two stars because it's really well written, but couldn't connect with the story at all. Sorry, but couldn't suspend my disbelief for one moment.
I found the use of certain words irritating ("Sapphist", "cartogramancer" for example, why choose so many archaisms, euphemisms and invented words?) and the weird physics was too much for me (Example "at the same time you're braking, you are also accelerating toward the ground", wtf? how can someone accelerate and brake simultaneously?). I know it is supposed to be a fantasy book, still had trouble buying the story or the characters. Even if it is an alternate history book, the fact that these teens are so liberal and XXIth century-like it's too weird for me.
The end was a bit predictable and I didn't find it exciting at all.
To sum up, I struggled to finish it since the beggining. Was tempted to quit all along and just finished because i got a free copy from the publisher.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free ARC (advance-reading copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review) #NetGalley #thephilosophersflight
Profile Image for Books on Stereo.
1,268 reviews173 followers
February 18, 2018
A high-fantasy, Harry Potter-esque story about a female-centric world. Although Miller's worldbuilding is unparallel, the lack of characterization and plot made The Philosopher's Flight a complete misfire.
Profile Image for Simone.
528 reviews683 followers
January 6, 2018
I honestly and truly wished I loved this book. I felt like there's a lot of potential for it being a great series, but after only reading the first novel from both the author and the series I wasn't all too excited. This was definitely more like Harry Potter where magic (also known as Empirical Philosophy) exists alongside the very real world. This "magic" is not inherited, but learned and anyone can basically pick it up. It requires the use of sigils and specific minerals. For example, using a particular sigil with cornmeal will help you to fly and how you write your sigil will determine how well you fly. It's a practiced art and you don't need a certain birthright to do it.

I will say that the story did hold my attention and there definitely was some practical use of the philosophy. But a lot of what was happening in the book felt like a direct reflection of what's going on today. Women being the dominant gender to use Empirical Philosophy, Robert Weekes is one of only three men at his college. He's constantly teased and talked down to because men just don't do Empirical Philosophy. It just feels like a role reversal for what's happening nowadays; women being overlooked because they're women. 

The bad guys in this book are called "Trenchers." These dudes remind me of the extreme right movements in America right now. They are constantly fighting against Empirical Philosophy and trying to make it illegal. They think it's unnatural and the women kill their babies. It's against God and the Bible and people who study it are abominations. They're out trying to kill philosophers so that their numbers dwindle and they disappear. It really reminds me of the news and everything that's going on recently. There was even a march where philosophers went down to Washington DC to march for their rights to use this philosophy.

I think this really bothered me the most in this story especially since it's fiction and really could draw from anything and it's just a reflection of what's going on today.

Being that this is the first fantasy novel, I feel like a lot of this story was just explaining the universe as well. There was a lot of history that coincided with the very real United States history. The wars being fought are also fought by philosophers. There was a lot of explaining the philosophy, what it does, how it works, how it can be manipulated. I feel like I was in a class listening to a lecture about Empirical Philosophy than actually seeing it in action.

When you do see it in action, it's great. The fighting against Trenchers and even The Cup was fun to read. However, reading passage after passage of Robert learning how to fly at a certain speed, his training regiment, or reading about him carry 100-lb bags for practice all just seemed to keep the story very still. The pacing was pretty slow and even though every few chapters had headers with how much time went by, it feels like no time at all. 

I get with new fantasies there's a lot of groundwork to cover. There's a lot of creating how each sigil worked and how the transporters moved and how flight paths can be determined. I don't want to discredit this novel because it's the first and the first always shares some of that knowledge. I just wish there was more excitement or something to move the story forward.

Reading about a young country boy going to college in a big city for the first time is basically all I'm getting from this story. Aside from the fact that he can practice philosophy which is uncommon for men, it really just reads like someone's first adventures being alone and falling in love and learning new skills that he wouldn't have learned before. There's definitely growth for everyone and everyone miraculously knows what they want in life, but it took a long while to get there and a lot of reading.

We learn a lot by the end that will probably set you up for the next one, but really it could have happened right in the middle of the book rather than the end. Honestly, at less than 100 pages left in the book I was worried that nothing would happen at all and that I'd have to wait for the next book. Perhaps then we'll see a lot more action for Robert and can chalk up this first book to first-time jitters.

I'm going to be looking out for the second book in the future. I really want to like this book and that's why I'm rating it with three stars. The book kept me interested albeit a little wobbly at times, but I did find the whole Empirical Philosophy thing to be interesting and the battle with the Trencher party compelling. I hope I'm just as compelled in the next one.

I received this book from Simon Books in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the method I received this book and I was not paid to write this book review.
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
225 reviews1,392 followers
January 17, 2020
4 Stars

The Philosopher's Flight is my first surprise read of 2020. I really enjoyed this reimagined fantasy novel set in the World War I era that follows Robert Weeks as he strives to become the first man to be part of the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue, positions that have only ever been filled by females.

This books plays on this form of reverse sexism as the world of magic is mostly performed by women and men are considered to be lesser in their abilities. So the majority of this book is about Robert Weeks and his struggles dealing with adversity by being one of the few men practicing empirical philosophy (the author's fancy term for a science-y magic). This theme is an enormous part of the plot and in a lesser writers hand this premise could fall very flat and seem almost comical. It's like hold up you want this world to be about men dealing with the same adversity, I as a woman has faced my whole life? Even more you want me to sympathize and be on this male character's side? Ha Ha Ha. But kudos to Tom Miller because not only was I fully sympathizing with his male lead but I was actively routing against the women that were standing in his way.

This book was fun and clever. Throw in some great supporting characters like the nerdy roommate, genius and eccentric Dean, and the lovely blunt Jake and it was just all around a great fantasy novel. I will definitely be returning to this world in the future!

Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,713 reviews638 followers
January 10, 2022
The following longish quote from the introduction of The Philosopher’s Flight may be all you need to know to determine whether this book is right for you. My thanks to friend, Will Byrnes, for spotlighting it.

“A FEW WEEKS AGO, my daughter, who is nine years old and learning to fly, asked me the question I’ve been expecting for a long time: Why do so many people hate empirical philosophers?
“She and I were out drawing koru sigils on the tomato plants in the garden, the sun hot on our backs, each of us with a little square of glass in our hand and a mister filled with distilled water. I’d spent so many hours drawing them as a boy that the rhythm came back to me automatically: four sprays to coat the glass, aim at a single seedling, then trace your finger through the beads of water, forming the elaborate curlicue that is a koru sigil. Draw it right and the tomatoes will grow to four pounds each and mature twice as fast as an ordinary plant. That sort of miracle is the most common thing in the world to my daughter, who was born down here in Matamoros in 1930, two miles across the Mexican border, raised among malcontents and renegades, women (and a few men, like myself) who were made outlaws in the United States. All of us are empirical philosophers, or sigilrists if you prefer the common term. 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 energy, while the sigil, drawn sometimes with beads of water, sometimes with cornmeal or sand, catalyzes the movement. You can do a thousand useful things with philosophy: 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? But, of course, not everyone feels that way. Sigilry only came into widespread use around 1750 and right from the start women were better at it than men. That upset a lot of folks, who thought sigils must be some form of witchcraft. Most people, though, saw the usefulness in empirical philosophy and were content to allow it.”

This novel is part of a series of (at least) two. It is a coming-of-age story within an alternative history fantasy---ambitious and fast-paced. I was captured by a single short paragraph: “She was the first of two exceptional, lifelong friends I made that day. I met the second only a few minutes later.”

In brief, author Miller goes all-in on an alternate history of the United States of America. He imagines that after this country is founded there is the discovery of “empirical philosophy.” This is a “branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured and even fly.” Part of what I mean by all-in is that the end of the book contains an addendum that includes instructions for the most frequently used “sigils.”

Empirical philosophy, in Miller’s world, is almost exclusively controlled by women. We follow the experiences of young Robert Weekes who learned the rudiments from his mother and sister in rural Montana. The time is now the midst of World War I. The Civil War of the 1860s was won with the crucial help of these empirical philosophers and ever since there has been a running conflict (both physical and political) between these philosophers and those who thump their Bibles and mark these philosophical women as “harlots” and their science as “deviltry.”

Most of the book is devoted to Weekes time at the all-women’s college, Radcliffe. There he is subject to discrimination and sometimes persecution. Miller does all of this more than adequately and his imagination of the “science” is given full vent to my delight.

There is plenty of conflict and thrilling events. If this type of yarn fits your needs, The Philosopher’s Flight checks almost all the boxes.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,817 reviews224 followers
February 13, 2018
*3.5 stars

A unique reimagining of history that blends science fiction, fantasy as well as historical fiction.

In this story, sigilry, or empirical philosophy, is a branch of science which came into widespread use in 1750. Since women have always been much better at this powerful technique than men, a group of fanatics calling themselves Trenchers seek to eliminate it as being witchcraft or some other dark art.

But just what is empirical philosophy? "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 with it...including fly!

"To the men the earth, to the women the sky, as God willed it." Yes, it is a woman-dominated field, but in Montana in 1917, there is an eighteen-year-old man named Robert Canderelli Weekes who can fly and dearly wants to perform rescue and evacuation in the war effort. Here is "a man, self-taught, all natural ability and raw power," and that ability as well as his fierce desire to serve is recognized and he is awarded a scholarship to study at Radcliffe, a virtually all-women college in Boston.

From the start, he is the brunt of jokes, insults, and other forms of sexual harassment and prejudice, so he not only has to study hard but must prove over and over that he is worthy to be there. Sound familiar, ladies?

Even his hero says: " A rescue flier? Don't be ridiculous. A man's place is on the ground. In the army a man in R&E would be an abomination. Not in my corps." And when his goal is in sight, will he have to choose between love and a career?

A delightful twist on what women face in our society when they go for a dream that is unusual for their gender, and the choices that must be made. There is lots of humor as well as friendship, romance, adventure and danger. There is a little bit here for every reader. This book cannot help but remind you of the Harry Potter series, Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and others of a similar type.

Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read an arc of this new book.
Profile Image for Linda Zagon.
1,314 reviews99 followers
February 4, 2018
My Review of “The Philosopher’s Flight” by Tom Miller Simon and Schuster, February 2018

Tom Miller, Author of “The Philosopher’s Flight” has provided a unique story that combines the Genres of Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Illusion, Magical Realism, and Fiction. The author has woven these genres in a coming of age tale of a young man fighting for his dreams in a women’s world.

The author describes his characters as complex and complicated. The time-line for the story is around World War One and goes back in history, and speaks a little of the future. Women have been able to be “practitioners of empirical philosophy”….”Used to summon the wind, shape, clouds of smoke, heal the injured and even fly”(Blurb from NetGalley) The women have been able to win past wars and battles using these skills. Of course this has caused dangerous opposition from others that would want these women destroyed.

Robert Weekes was only a child when his mother, considered a hero, taught him to fly and apply this philosophy. At eighteen years of age, Robert’s goals are to become part of the elite medics that fly and Rescue and Evacuate during the war. Unfortunately this is a women’s branch in the government and most men don’t fly and use this philosophy. Robert is determined to enter an all Woman’ s College, and learn more philosophy and sharpen his personal flying skills. Many of the women bully him, and make fun of him. Society doesn’t really approve of a man being able to hover and fly.

What would it take for Robert’s dreams to come true? What are the risks for him. This is an unusual story, and if you try to imagine what if……..Can you imagine women having the power to fly their own bodies to save other people’s lives? Or women using smoke to cast an illusion or fight or heal others? I would recommend this novel for those who appreciate Science Fiction, Magic and Historical Fiction. I received An Advanced Reading Copy from NetGalley for my honest review.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,811 reviews360 followers
January 7, 2019
Netgalley #57

Many thanks to Tom Miller, Simon and Schuster, and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
Philosophy is not magic the saying at the beginning of the book tells the reader. Some thought it was straight devilry; others that it was science. Regardless it helped women to fly. During battles. And rescue missions. And they could go to school for this. Until one year there was a young man with skills, untrained skills, who could perform as well as if not better than they could. And that didn't go over well. This is his story.
I liked the imagination put into this. I think he took ideas from several areas (the military, runes, Girl Scouts, etc.) and jumbled them all together to create a satisfying story. As a first novel it shows great promise. I'd like to see what he come up with next.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 156 books37.5k followers
February 5, 2018
Empirical philosophers--the term 'philosophers' used in the historical sense, which could include the practice of the sciences alchemy, astrology, etc.

In this alternate world of ours, magic works, has been developing rapidly and scientifically alongside the industrial revolution all through the nineteenth century, and it is mainly used by women, who are better at it than men.

The time is now early twentieth century, with World War I dragging on bloodily in Europe, and wars flaring fitfully elsewhere. Including at home.

Our first person narrator, Robert Weekes, is a teenager having grown up in Montana with a tough mother who has not only been fighting in every war, but fights on the home front, as men called Trenchers, who feel that magic is evil and women need to return to their place, use violence to carry out their views. And the philosophers use violence right back.

This is a wildly imaginative, colorful, often funny and even witty, rollercoaster of a book, with whipsaw emotions as well as violence, as Robert--who longs go to into Search and Rescue despite its being staffed mostly by women, and despite its death rate being roughly 50%--ends up going to college at Radcliffe as a Contingency student.

He's a token male in a female environment, and so he catches plenty of prejudice, but he also makes friends both male and female. We follow him in his studies, as the country boy gets used to the city, and all its complexities. And of course he discovers love.

The second half is somewhat more jerky in pacing than the first as things escalate in all directions, but it's such a fast and engrossing read that I sped right by.

An impressive first novel, in a fascinating alternate world, filled with interesting characters. The end seems to set up for more. If so, I will read them.

Copy provided by NetGalley
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews255 followers
May 18, 2020

4 Stars for Narration by Gibson Frazier
4.5 Stars for Concepts, Details & Characters
4 Stars for Story

The Philosopher's Flight was an interesting spin of alternative history. What would the world be like if alchemy was developed and applied in various aspects of life between everyday, work and war? What if women were more likely to be skilled in alchemy in practice and application?

Robert Weekes grew up wishing to be a good enough philosopher to join the US Sigilry Corps' Rescue and Evacuation Department. It's not hard to see why. Both of his parents had been a part of past battles, and he has grown up practicing philosophy and helping his mom. Except men are not known to be skilled at the practice of empirical philosophy and all of society is slanted against men doing what is considered women's work.

The story totally delivered! It's a great mix of coming of age, romance and political thriller that will transport you to a familiar world to our own but not. I loved the themes that were woven into the story and how it all felt like a natural part of the tale vs bullet points that had to be established. I would not have guessed that this was a debut novel because it is a polished piece with great characters and interesting world. I loved the technical details about alchemy that was explored and explained.

A great, unexpectedly fun read to add to my favorite list.
Profile Image for wishforagiraffe.
205 reviews50 followers
May 23, 2018
This book is fantastic. It's an alt-history with a truly excellent grasp on the social impacts the discovery of "empirical philosophy" (alchemy/magic by any other name) might have on the course of history. And we get snippets of history throughout the book, not just the course of the story, but all the epigraphs as well.

Our protagonist, Robert Weekes, is the son of a war hero - a woman who we're told did some pretty terrible things in previous campaigns. Women are usually the best at philosophy, and he's been helping his mom with her rural practice in Montana after she retired from the military. Shit hits the proverbial fan, and he ends up with the chance to study at Radcliffe College.

As one of three men who're accepted to Radcliffe at the time, Robert is in the thick of some pretty interesting gender politics, but he navigates them very well. There's plenty of other social upheaval as well, as the US is getting ready to enter WWI and philosophers are being targeted.

There are so many parallels to the current socio-political climate that I don't really want to get into them in a review, but suffice it to say that Tom Miller did a great job being true to the source material/history as well as saying something relevant about today.

The characters are wonderful, even the ones who are wonderful to dislike because of their prejudices. The relationships are great as well - romantic, platonic, mentor, and family. I cared deeply what happened to folks, and cried more than once.

The stakes are deeply personal, as Weekes has such lofty goals for himself, but it's easy to see the impact of the personal on the larger stage with how the book is written.

I'd recommend this book for people who like magic schools, those looking for alt-history set in the late 1910s, folks who like fish out of water stories, and fans of strong worldbuilding.

My review copy is courtesy of Net Galley.
102 reviews3 followers
November 28, 2017
Trying to like this book, but finding it a bit challenging. I know, I know. The other reviews are great. And while I promise to come back when I've finished and layer more review on top of this brief one, I have some pet peeves for now. The main one is the use of unknown words that made me have to stop reading to go look them up. Emanuensis? Stasied? Never did find what that meant. Why not just say secretary? The other peeve was character development. I wasn't sure if I liked the mom or found her harsh. Maybe she is both. Need the development.
Profile Image for Ian.
1,341 reviews188 followers
January 20, 2019
Moderately entertaining YA fantasy.
The author subverts a lot of the norms of gender and race, but it's so in your face and obvious that he's doing it that it doesn't quite work.
Still it's a debut novel and I can forgive a lot in a first try.
I've picked up book 2 and will see how that goes.
Profile Image for Clare.
72 reviews7 followers
January 13, 2019
OVERALL AVERAGE RATING: 5/5 (This book is too good to pass up, just sayin’.)

World-building: 5/5
The book was an imaginative historical fantasy set against the backdrop of WWI. Miller’s world-building was one of the best I’ve read in a long time. He wrote with such convincing authority about the history of and science behind empirical philosophy that it was easy to buy into the authenticity of the world. An interesting feature was the way in which Miller opened each chapter with an excerpt from a prominent empirical philosopher, effectively adding depth and richness the story’s historical and sociopolitical contexts.

Characters: 5/5
The compelling cast of characters was one of the stronger points of this book. The protagonist, Robert, was unassuming, resourceful, and possessed genuinely admirable qualities that made him an easily likable character. And although Robert shined as a main character, he did not take away from the assortment of equally admirable, thoroughly interesting, and formidable women that filled this book.

Plot: 5/5
This was a classic underdog story, and I always love a good underdog story. That women were inherently better sigilrists than men was the prevailing truth in this world. This didn’t stop Robert from dreaming of joining the U.S. Sigilry Corps’ Rescue & Evac Department. The book essentially followed Robert’s journey as he strived to hone his flying skills, earn the respect of his peers, and prove that he had what it takes to be a hoverer in R&E. It’s got all the best elements of an epic tale like warring factions, romance, and steampunk-esque innovations. The plot overall was very well-paced and included enough high points to keep the story engrossing.

Writing style: 5/5
Miller’s writing was insightful, witty, and humorous. I definitely found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. He has a very nuanced approach and is clearly a masterful storyteller. The story was written in first person and was surprisingly reflective without being limited in scope, which I think is always a risk with this POV.

Entertainment: 5/5
Sadly, this book is an unsung tale that deserves so much more recognition than it’s gotten. This was a book I could not put down. I missed it when I wasn’t reading it, and I was both giddy and sad when I finished it. Tom Miller, if you’re reading this, thank you for writing such a magnificent book. I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting anxiously for the sequel.
Profile Image for Jack.
282 reviews21 followers
October 1, 2018
Okay, I'm a bit tired right now, but lets try and get a coherent review down on paper, while I can still remember the story.

I have to admit it's been an age since I last binged a book. And boy, does it feel good to just sit down with a book and just devour it. I wonder if it's due to it being a historical fantasy, set in this world, and the writing style that idea generally generates. Mm, not sure.

Anywho, The Philosopher's Flight is the story of Robert Weekes going off to college with the dream of becoming the first male Flier in the Rescue Corps. I'd ignore the blurb, it's much more dramatic than the actual story. It's more Slice of Life/Romance/Training Sequence than action and intrigue. Anyway, more on that later. You see, in this world, there are people who can and can't use magic, and for some reason men are generally much weaker at this than females. While it's never explained why (I think), I didn't really mind, as it gives you a new perspective on things can work. Flipping the roles of everyone, so to speak. But only too a degree. It is still a political novel at it's heart, and on the sides you're always reminded that there are sections of the country that abhor magic and talk about how women should stay at home when it comes to war, and men should do the fighting. They're fun.

So basically, you have Robert going off to college, showing everyone he can fly, and then meeting some nice women. Well, one woman in particular. I did say romance. It's moderately well done I feel, with the major detracting thing I felt being the absence of feeling time pass. Everything more or less blurs into one, so it's hard to judge how things are progressing, or how long things have been happening.

Typing this out, I'm realising there are a number of things that I thought could have been done better. You have characters that aren't developed as fully as they could have been, Jake and Unger for two. Jake is set up to be one of Robert's best friends, yet we rarely see her after the first little bit. Unger is his housemate who he spends time tutoring magic, and yet it's only towards the end does he serve a function.

All that said, this is one of the most fun stories I've read in such a long time. The writing is better than good, the plot is always centred on an end goal, and the story, aside from the above points, is well done. Eagerly anticipating the next in the series.
Profile Image for Travis.
Author 4 books19 followers
November 23, 2017
I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley, but my opinions are my own...

...And my opinion is: Mr. Tom Miller needs to write more books in this world!

This is a 4.5 rounded up. The only reason it isn't a solid 5.0 is because I wanted the plot and story to cover a little bit more ground, but I expect that this is the first in a projected series.

If you liked the depth and texture of Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, then this is the book for you. The character's are realistic and the world is like a marvelous tapestry with tidbits of worldbuilding woven into every bit.

Check this book out, you'll love it.
Profile Image for Queen.
334 reviews82 followers
March 4, 2018
Robert dreams of becoming a flying Rescue-and-Evac specialist. Even though females are better at arcane magic/science. We spend the bulk of this book at Radcliffe college where Robert trains among formidable women. The gender issue could have easily been mishandled, but the author does a commendable job. For some readers, this book may hit too close to home about social issues in current-day America. It's spot on. Also of note, this book is similar to Lev Grossman's The Magicians but a lot less emo and generally more entertaining. Strong start to the series.
Profile Image for Deanna.
924 reviews53 followers
November 18, 2019
Yet another dnf, but at over 50%.

Much about this should have worked for me. It really feels like a case of, Its not you, novel, it’s me.

Maybe I’m not in the right mood? Maybe the juxtaposition to some delightful, heavier reads lately?

But I still have to walk away.

It felt like a kids’ book, though clearly it isn’t meant to be. Even there, I’m a Harry Potter fan, my ace card for, See, I do like some juvenile lit.

Just couldn’t warm up to this even though the idea of it still has me wanting to read the book, only not the actual book I was reading.
Profile Image for Rachel Stansel.
977 reviews15 followers
November 27, 2017
This is one of the most fun books I have read this year. A unique alternate history where "philosophers" use special combinations of chemical or compounds to do what we would consider magic. Smokecarving, hovering, transporting and lots more. Women are the lead sigilists with some men having basic abilities. Robert is the son of one such woman, but he gets the chance to show he is just as capable. Throw in their enemies, traditionalists men who want things done the old way, and you have a terrific story layered with religious and gender debates which added to the story. Robert is easy to love, and the story unique and well told. A wonderful first novel.

Full disclosure - I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Chrissie.
936 reviews31 followers
April 10, 2018
Subtly executed, Miller turns gender domination on its ear in the most delightful way. A fantasy novel that reads with the detail of historical fiction . . . this one needs more attention!

The Philosopher's Flight is an absorbing mix of Harry Potter and a Patrick Rothfuss. The detail and length at which so many topics are covered, along with the span of years explored, this could be considered historical fiction—it’s certainly written that way, but with its fully-constructed alternative history.

In fact, it is really heavy on the fictional histories as the novel sets up. Though I found the concept immediately interesting, I did find the pace to be a tad slower than I would've liked for the first chunk of pages. But, especially once Robert begins his studies at Radcliffe, the narrative levels out of early boredom, and you soon realize that the interest and encapsulation rides steadily upward.

One thing I am always aware of during some point with historical fiction, which this is on the same level as—or near it, is that amount of work the author has put into this. If books were created from someone’s essence, Miller would’ve experienced long moments of feeling rather drained. As the book moves forward and my investment in Robert gains interest, I found there was more and more depth to be had with every turned page. I felt some of the author here, and I think it paid off in spades.

Surprisingly, I found this society so thought-provoking because of the subtly applied to the role reversals. I was constantly intrigued to be reading about Colonel or Lieutenant So-and-So and know the text refers to a woman. The mention of the year when women got the vote was inserted in one little blip that could easily be overlooked and moved the date of the ratification of the suffrage amendment back to 1864!

Plus, the understated reversal is brought upfront with passages like this:

“You could be the very best flier in the entire world, but—oh, it’s not your fault. You just can’t put a man in close quarters with thirty-five women. You can’t.”

They’re not even close to some Amazonian warrior beheld to glory in Wonder Woman; they’re the same as now, but with a small change. The men still hold some kind of power, they aren't relegated to the back the way women actually have been throughout history. Female-dominated Philosophy demonstrates just a sliver of the domination over women previously, and most of it stems from the fact that women seem to be simply naturally strong in philosophy and more attuned to it on the whole. From this book, I can't tell if the change arose simply from the key role philosopher's played in the alternative Civil War, or if it was always leaning this way, but the take on women at the helm is refreshing to say the least.

“Missy the Missile looked back to make sure Macadoo was watching. She planted a big kiss on my cheek and slapped my bottom. The crowd roared.”

On one hand, I find this reverse sexism and harassment hilarious...looking at the typical situation through a funhouse mirror rather than a lens, but on the other hand I feel bad for poor Weekes—because what woman hasn’t had to endure that level of misogony and freedom-to-touch bullshit?

Robert is told not to pursue his dream of flying for Rescue & Evacuation with the Corps (obviously a prestigious and life-or-death job), simply because of the fact that he's a man and all that that one aspect signifies for this matriarchal society.

It would be unfair to yourself, to expect so much when you're just a man.

No man would be able to do it.

No woman would want a man there.

Go pick out a wife, settle down, and be there for her when she gets home. Having a supportive husband is really important for a woman like that.

When you look back at real life and remember all the reasons why women shouldn't be allowed to be on the front lines or in a submarine, remember that those are mainly focusing on the inconveniences for the male soldiers and the apparent insatiable sexual appetite men have and cannot apparently control. It was never really about protecting the women around these animal men, nor about the feelings and difficulties for women. So, when Robert is questioned throughout the book about being able to handle himself around so many women—at school, in the locker room (of which there is only one and it's for women), and in the Corps he so desperately wants to join—it's interesting to see it from a point of view of protecting the women and not inconveniencing the women, despite the fact that it still points to men as being uncontrollable sexual animals.

On top of all of this, his love interest during the book puts him right in the middle of a political battle that is threatening the rights of philosophers in America. Protests, marches, and a strong violence-versus-peaceful strategy argument, this book feels especially relevant today, now.

Interest and intriguing quality only goes up! By the end I was lapping it up, word by word.
Profile Image for Out of the Bex.
232 reviews122 followers
January 22, 2018
In a world much different, yet entirely similar to our own, debut author Tom Miller crafts a story for the ages.

Between a spellbinding front and back cover, 405 pages explore artfully crafted characters and phenomenal world-building. The play between science and magic introduces a myriad of previously unexplored technologies, inventions, and unique perspectives. Additionally, Miller’s choice to experiment with an alternate reality where standard gender roles are reversed made for a thought-provoking, and at times political, read.

The Philosopher’s Flight had plenty to offer for a debut fiction novel: captivating characters, a pleasant writing style, and absolutely fantastic world-building.

What it lacks, however, is a sense of imminence. There is no driving factor that makes you feel a need to know what happens next. As a result, the plot can begin to feel slow in the latter half of the novel. I think this is a weakness in the overarching narrative. As a debut author, Miller may have misunderstood just how much attention to give to one plot over another.

If you are a general fiction reader and enjoy a slower pace, this will be an incredible read for you. I can imagine you getting pleasantly lost in these intricate pages. However, if you enjoy a fast-paced read (like myself) you may still find it fascinating, but likely a bit tiresome.

The world-building alone makes this a worthy and entirely memorable read. It’s the perfect book to borrow from your local library and would make for a great discussion piece at your book club.

3.5 Stars
Verdict: Borrow It

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for sending me this for review!

Profile Image for Stephanie.
355 reviews224 followers
August 26, 2019
(The publisher provided a copy for me to review)

In this alternate history novel, empirical philosophers have discovered how to manipulate energy with sigils to send messages, grow better crops, control fire - even flight. Although women have an overwhelming ability for sigilry, our main character Robert is a rare man who has an aptitude for it and wants to pursue it. His dream is to join the elite Rescue and Evacuation team (just like his mother) and help in the Great War. This leads him to the women's college, Radcliffe, where he must prove himself.

One of my favorite things about this book is the rich history Miller creates. A lesser author might have written a "man tries to make it in an all female world" book and I would have rolled my eyes and moved right along. Instead, this book feels like a drop from a much larger story - one where Miller imagined a unique ability, only available to women, and thought through all the nuances and consequences. The women have gained the right to vote, are essential in the war effort, yet a large part of the story is the conflict between the philosophers and the men who want to strip them of rights and power.

I loved the characters and the university setting. I laughed, I clutched my pearls when the thrilling adventure was too much, I actually cried out "no!" several times because I was so invested in the story. And that's what tips the scale for me from "really good" over to five stars.

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