The Philosopher’s Flight
If you can get past the absurd source of the “magic” that powers this world (sigils drawn in various powders act like electricity, antigravity, and, well, magic), it’s actually a fun ride. The premise sounds at first like a creative-writing thought experiment: the world is powered by the magic that mostly only women can wield, and men act as their helpmates and support staff. But Miller commits to it completely and mostly pulls it off.
Admittedly, this plot-heavy novel follows the Harry Potter formula a bit too closely: our hero, Robert Weekes, enjoys the rare privilege of being one of a tiny cadre of men admitted to Radcliffe to study Empirical Philosophy, and both suffers and benefits from a similar outsider status as Harry at Hogwarts. Robert’s misadventures while learning the extent of his unusual aptitudes also follow a distinctly Potteresque pattern; there’s even an analogue to Quidditch in the risky, competitive “hovering” races that test the students and place them in their future careers. Younger readers should be aware that Robert’s romantic encounters are decidedly adult, but not overly graphic.
Miller has added a solid historical background in the WWII era, and future volumes promise to follow Robert’s adventures on and above the European battlefields. Characterization tends toward the stereotypical, and Robert (like Harry) tends to discover just the right heretofore-unknown talent at the right time. Instead of a Voldemort, though, there is the threat of an anti-intellectual, bigoted, religiously-based authoritarian populist movement against which the Philosophers must struggle, and which adds a timely set of realistic questions about the roots of American fear-based politics. The gender-switching is handled with wit, avoiding offensive oversimplification for the most part. This is a well-paced, satisfying adventure for those who don’t mind a formulaic plot.