The adventures of Robert Canderelli Weekes continue in The Philosopher’s War, by Tom Miller, sequel to The Philosopher’s Flight. After training hard in Texas, Robert has finally achieved his dream: active duty in the Sigil Corps as a Rescue & Evacuation hoverer, just like his legendary mother. Traditionally, only women are members of the Sigil Corps; it’s believed that men just aren’t talented enough or strong enough to handle the work. (There’s a lot of very satisfying gender reversals in this series.) Robert is the first man to join R&E. But on his very first day in France in 1918, Robert learns what it really means to fly into the aftermath of a battle to evacuate wounded and dying men. He has to do a lot of growing up fast…and not just because war demands it, but because there are people high up in both the German and American armies who want to unleash doomsday weapons to break the stalemate and win the war.
You can almost divide The Philosopher’s War into two parts. In the first part, we see Robert having to adapt himself to life on the edge of the Western Front as a man in the middle of a woman’s world. Robert’s mantra is to keep his head down and work hard while the women who’ve been in France for years tease him and try to wear the newbie shine off of him. Eventually, he and his comrades settle into a working relationship (still with a lot of teasing, but friendlier) as they evacuate thousands off of the battlefield. The man plot of the book kicks off about a third of the way in, when Robert is approached by their division commander, General Thomasina Blandings, tells him about a plot to hit the Germans back with a terrible philosophical weapon if they use one first. Using these weapons, she says, will kills millions and she can’t abide them; then she asks him to join a mutiny. From that point on, Robert isn’t just rescuing soldiers, he’s also working unofficially for Blandings—until he reaches a moral crisis about who he should be fighting with and what he should be fighting for.
I strongly recommend that anyone interested in reading The Philosopher’s War read the first book in the series. This book just doesn’t have time to explain how philosophy works in this world. There’s so much plot that this book is basically cover-to-cover adventure, once the main plot kicks off. Miller doesn’t sacrifice characterization for plot, thankfully. Where Robert was very much a boy-hero in the first book and at little bit at the first book, he matures a lot in this book. Like many soldiers in many other genres, Robert struggles with what he’s been told about war and why they’re fighting. All he can see, from his vantage point as a philosophically-powered ambulance, is a lot of bloody, painful, tragic waste. If nothing else, The Philosopher’s War is a book about how comradeship develops and how strong it can be under pressure. Robert, who had idealized the Corps (mostly because of his mother’s reputation), finds that the people you can trust the most are the people you work and bleed with and not necessarily the people handing out the orders.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.