The Philosopher’s Flight – Review

“It’s never mattered that I can’t do it. What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.”

The Philosopher’s Flight is an interesting mix of historical science fantasy, where in our past, we discover the use of empirical philosophy, the merging of magic and science. This particular branch of study is female dominated, and so we get an interesting exploration of gender.

Robert Weekes wants to study empirical philosophy. His mother is a famous war veteran and county practitioner, so he has been an avid student his entire life. In fact, he can actually fly, a feat not many men can achieve. But in this female dominated science, he has little hope of actually being able to achieve his dreams.

But a twist of fate lands him at a scholarship at Radcliffe College. One of four men allowed to study at the school, and he realizes how difficult achieving a station in the legendary Rescue & Evacuation Service will be. Through hard work, the support of his roommate Unger, and a bit of luck, Robert earns the respect of his female peers and professors.

“That must be what made you so brave — a lot of women beating courage into you.”

I finished this book a few days ago and am still working through how I felt about it. I wanted to like it. Hell, I wanted to love it. But I find myself feeling rather indifferent about it.

The idea behind the story is incredibly creative. The smoke carving, the idea of writing sigils to communicate and fly, among other feats is a fun concept. Rewriting history and using real events to examine how these changes would impact the turn of events is also a  fun idea and interesting exploration.

I liked the idea that women were the ones who were the experienced practitioners of this practice. Yet even with this power, or maybe because of it, they are a focus of vile hate and the target of political enemies. The level of hate and prejudice raised against them because of this ability seemed to highlight the struggles women actually went through in those time periods. How different would history be if women had a power men didn’t really have, and were afraid of? How similar?

“The causes were bound together from the first days: civil rights, women’s rights, and philosophical rights.”

However, it was hard for me to really relate or identify with the characters themselves. Unger felt the most well developed to me and he is only a side character. Some of the reactions and dialogue felt very satirical to me. Their reactions varied wildly and didn’t feel real. Like when Robert discovers he’s been miswriting an important sigil his entire life, his response didn’t come across as dramatic as I think it was supposed to.

Rachel is another example of a character that just felt very two dimensional to me. She was his biggest threat and his main opponent really, outside of the Trenchers. But she felt very childish and wooden. She felt more like an idea of a bully and blowhard rather than a real threat to Robert. I just didn’t really feel an emotional connection to any of them. Except Unger. He was the only one who showed heart and genuine depth.

All of that would have been fine, but the way the book started compared to how it ended was a problem of pacing for me. We begin with Robert looking back on his life, so we know this is a memoir of sorts. But the entire duration of the book is him at school. One year. I understand we are being set up for a series, but it felt like maybe this could have been introduced better at the onset. Getting 400 pages of school was a bit tedious in parts, and I found myself bored. I was expecting a more complete story, not the focus of a single year.

I also hated the ending. It was so abstractly abrupt I thought I was missing pages in the book. Especially with how detailed we got in the school portion, it felt like the author just needed to end and picked a chapter to stop writing. It didn’t feel planned. It didn’t feel, other than the hint at the beginning that there was a bigger story, that there would even be more to the story. There is nothing that really makes me close the pages and say, wow, what next. It was a bit frustrating, because when you tell me you’re an exile in Mexico, I really want to know what happened. Not a 400 page memoir of one year.

Overall the book was creative enough that I liked it. And while I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it either. I think for someone who enjoys historical fantasy, this is creative and fun book. I was left with questions of what happened when it ended, but no desire for the next book, if that makes sense. It just didn’t hit all the marks with me, and I don’t think I would rush to read the next one. Especially if they are going to be as slow paced as this one was.

Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for approving a copy to read and review!

Sip – Review

“The sun was up, so the dark could start. All about the ground, all in the same direction, shadows sprawled. And this is what he was after.”

Oh how deliciously dark Sip is! A novel where we find ourselves 150 years in the future. A future where people can drink their shadows and change their bodies to float and distort in ways not possible before. But there is a heavy price. Once you drink, you must always drink. And if you drink too much, you are lost forever.

We follow two main characters, Murk, a shadow addict, and Mira, a girl who can hide her shadow. Mira’s mother is a shadow addict herself, but her fate is far worse than Murk. For when an addict sips your shadow, if they don’t stop they can steal the entire thing. And you are left the shell of who you once were, forced to sip shadows or face the madness beyond.

Of course, Murk doesn’t have life easy either. His leg was stolen from him. Chopped and taken, sold to the black market to be kept alive for a time on a machine invented for creating shadows. But he lost his leg before he lost his shadow, which offers him some protection as his shadow will never be whole.

This world is dark and gruesome, full of violence,  and run wild with madmen. But within this world are pockets of people trying to live normal lives, away from these addicts. Called domers, for they live beneath a dome. Blocking the sunlight and moonlight so that the addicts can’t steal their souls. The perimeter blocked by a perpetually running train and guarded by soldiers trained to shoot if anyone gets too near.

“Bored soldiers slaughtering innocents predates the naming of war, will go on after the words we call it are broken.”

Mira’s ability to control her shadow catches the interest of a domer, Bale. But his interest is expensive, and he gets thrown out of his dome as a penalty for not shooting her on sight.

Now the three of them, an unlikely trio, set off to test the theory that if you kill whomever stole your shadow before Halley’s Comet appears again, after the comet passes, you will return to normal. Mira desperately wants her mother back, and so she sets off on her quest. Time running out, since the comet is due within days.

Sip does not hold back on the brutal reality of a world overrun with addicts. I actually found the use of shadow addicts an interesting way to show the desperation and extremes addicts will go through for one fix, for one more high, for just one more. In a world where they are the majority, things can become chaotic and bleak very quickly.

We don’t see the world outside of the rural Texas area that Mira, Murk and Bale live, but we hear hints of other dome communities scattered about. All with trains running in circles to protect them. I thought it was fascinating how the addiction was also like a virus, contagious and rampant, and hit before people knew how to fight it. It is a unique dystopian unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

This book is dark in nature but shines bright within the characters it creates. Mira and Murk, unlikely friends, but friends all the same. And even Bale, with his knowledge of nothing but life within the dome will cause you to root for them, to root for their success. Because the journey is difficult, and filled with unexpected stops and obstacles along the way.

If you can’t stomach gritty, raw violence or the stark yet simple brutality of an apocalyptic future dominated by ruthless addicts, this is not a book for you. It will make you cringe, and your stomach turn, for death and violence is simply the way of life in this world, and Carr does not shy away from immersing the reader into the full experience of it.

“Some madnesses are so bizarre that they entice witnessing. Those in the bar who had been preoccupied with debauchery, who had been lost in the melee of drinking and lustful deeds, tapered their pursuits in order to watch this grimy operation.”

It is a book that requires you simply accept things as fact without necessarily understanding them. I didn’t ever get the full sense of why people could drink their shadows, or how it made them addicts. It isn’t that Carr doesn’t offer a brief history through the characters eyes, he does. But it is done in the way you would expect stories to be told. Vaguely, details lost or misunderstood with each telling, the decades between the event and the present altering it, diminishing it, leaving only what they deem important. You don’t get science, or factual information. However, not understanding didn’t take away from the rich narration of this world, or make it’s reality any less detailed.

The before and the after are less relevant to this story than the here and now. Which, if anyone has ever dealt with addiction, first hand or otherwise, it felt like this focus on the present story was a nod to the adage ‘One Day At A Time’ that you hear in meetings and therapy over and over. For addicts, there is only today, and so in that same way, we get the present. It felt poetic to me.

If it feels that perhaps the book may be ‘too out there’, or ‘weird’, I assure you it’s my own reluctance to delve into too many details. The world sounds difficult to picture, and the concepts may be hard to envision, but once you dive into this world, as gruesome and violent as it is, it is worth the journey. Once you begin, the characters pull you in and the sheer determination they have to move forward will move you forward too. It is a dark world. A violent one. Full of mayhem and criminality that makes the Wild West look like playtime in preschool. But you still can’t help but hope with the characters that life can always get better.

For my dark readers out there, this is a novel you do not want to miss! I will be reading Carr’s short stories and will for sure read anything he puts out next. I am a fan!

Thank you Soho Press for sending me a copy to read and review.