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!