A historical science fiction that reimagines the our world during WWII if people, mainly women, had the power of magic and flight. This is a book I just cannot stop thinking about and I am so excited to get my hands on the second in the series.
HE’S ALWAYS WANTED TO FLY LIKE A GIRL.
Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is one of the few men who practice empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, heal the injured, and even fly. He’s always dreamed of being the first man to join the US Sigilry Corps’ Rescue and Evacuation Department, an elite team of flying medics, but everyone knows that’s impossible: men can barely get off the ground. When a shocking tragedy puts Robert’s philosophical abilities to the test, he rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study philosophy at Radcliffe College—an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his flying skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable and unruly women. Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young hero of the Great War turned political radical. But Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought against decades 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. Amazon
I am finding it difficult to put into words the many ways that I enjoyed this unique historical fiction work. The blend of history, science, and magic paints a beautiful background for the exploration of gender in America during the 1910s that still resonates as we continue to work for equality today.
Nicknamed Boober by his sisters and with a last name that sounds like the antithesis of strength, Robert is often described as having feminine features. Since he is one of the few men in America that can manage to find any success in the feminine practice of empirical philosophy he has spent all of his eighteen years wanting to desperately belong to a female dominated field and simultaneously mocked for his limited participation.
And this book explored that idea so well. It reminded me of the premise of The Power – what would happen if women were naturally more gifted at something that men just simply couldn’t perform? But, unlike The Power, empirical philosophy didn’t just change women into the dominant gender. Instead, philosophy is one aspect of a total world view but, since it is magic, it is simultaneously not needed but also arguably necessary. If a single woman can transfer out a thousand soldiers and save all of their lives isn’t that power something you want in the world? But, the power to save and the power to harm will always be two sides of the same coin.
This book certainly explores how the male psyche would be threatened by such gender related gifts and the response from people of both genders terrified by what they cannot see or control. A whole group, The Trenchers, have dedicated their lives to eradicating the practice of philosophy.
Meanwhile, the author did an admirable job of showing the many strong and secure women who would welcome a talented male philosopher into the fold. Still, there will always be those in any group which will want to hoard power and the story highlighted how some women would guard this power from men. Occasionally, it felt wrong the way the conversations Robert was having mirrored so many stories of women performing traditionally male feats. But, the more I turned them over in my mind, the more I saw them as authentic.
Beyond the questions of gender this book also has hilarious characters, action packed drama, romance, and intrigue. Honestly, though, what really made this book a winner was the main character. Robert could use his uniqueness to find a lucrative position or to be a more active combatant in the War effort. But all Robert wants, all he has ever wanted, is to join the ranks of the US Sigilry Corps’ Rescue and Evacuation Department. Because when Robert is given the choice, he wants to use his ability to fly to save people.
And, if at times, Robert’s small town mentality got him into trouble (occasionally hilarious trouble), it is that roll-up-your-sleeves-and-help attitude that defines so many wonderful characters in literature. And, for me, Robert certainly belongs in their ranks.
Every time I had to stop reading it, the story consumed my thoughts and I couldn’t wait to get back to this book. This story will certainly be one of my favorites this year!
Tell me, please!
Have you read this book or The Power?
How do gender reversals resonate with you?