Robert Weekes has a dream: to be the first man to join the US Sigil Corps Rescue and Evacuation Team. But in this alternate version of history, women have dominated sigil work for more than 100 years. In fact, no one believes that men are physically capable of doing the work. The prologue of The Philosopher’s Flight, by Tom Miller, lets us know that he somehow achieves something like his dream. We just don’t know how he does it. If this sounds like it gives things away to soon, there are enough questions about what will happen to provide narrative tension. Plus, Miller creates a wonderful world full of details about the “don’t call it magic” system that fuels this alternate history to make things that much more interesting.
Robert works as his mother’s assistant in Montana in the fall of 1918, when the book proper opens. He wants to do more than just assist the county philosopher, but no one is willing to give him the chance. He’s a man and, in this world, men just aren’t strong enough to do the job—women can fly faster and longer, their sigils are more powerful, and tradition is on their side. When his mother is injured in the line of duty and she finally gets the support from the state she needs to administer her county, Robert uses the opportunity to enroll in one of the few colleges that will accept male students to study sigils. He pays for it by signing up under the Contingency Act, which will pay his tuition in exchange for military service. His family is not thrilled, not with World War I raging on the other side of the Atlantic, but Robert wants to get out there and save lives if the women in charge will let him.
The Philosopher’s Flight covers Robert’s first year at Radcliffe College in Boston, his ups and downs (literal and figurative), and his struggle to get into the Rescue and Evacuation Unit. To make things even more interesting, the novel also sets up a bloody conflict between the sigilwomen and the men who want to strip them of their power and outlaw sigilry. This book is very blunt about its point of view on gender relations and Robert, as a man raised by strong women, is an interesting example of what might happen if the two genders could lay down arms and work together.
I hope Miller writes a sequel (or two) to The Philosopher’s Flight. The story and its world are so fully realized, as well as entertaining, that I want more.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 13 February 2018.