Is there any magic power more wished for than flight? Robert “Boober” Weekes dreams of it. Not just of flying, but of being one of the bravest, best flyers in the world; a member of the Rescue and Evacuation Department of the U.S.Sigirly Corps. These flyers use magic sigils (inscribed or painted symbols that may have magical powers) to swoop into dangerous situations and save people. But no man has ever flown with Rescue and Evacuation. Even with a war going on, almost everyone is certain that neither Robert, nor any other man, will ever be strong enough for the job. Only the strongest and best magicians (or empirical philosophers) are with Rescue and Evacuation, and the strongest and best empirical philosophers are all women--everyone knows that. It doesn’t stop Robert from trying.
It would be easy to see this book as an inversion of similar stories, where a young heroine attempts something that everyone tells her she can’t do because she’s a girl; books like the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, or All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen, or Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey. But this book treads on trickier ground then those stories. In those stories the patriarchy is pretty clear, men have power and women don’t. In Philosopher’s Flight women have magic, women have power! But many of the forces that shaped our history still act in their history. There was slavery in Weekes’ United States. There was a civil war. There was/is racism. There was/is sexism. There’s street harassment. Women can fly, and teleport, and heal. But they just got the right to vote, and there are plenty of people who don’t think they deserve it.
The study and use of empirical philosophy is seen by some as witchcraft and a sign of everything from promiscuity to laziness. More and more people are joining the Trencher movement, a group that hates empirical philosophy and hates the women (and men) who practice it. The Trenchers hate women who practice empirical philosophy. That could make those women Robert’s allies, but women who practice empirical philosophy are wary of Robert Weekes. Some of them think he’s mocking them. Some are worried about allowing a man into what has been, up till now, a female space. Boober is on his own, except for those few friends and allies he is able to make. Together they face a hostile world where sometimes your heroes let you down, sometimes your plans don’t work out like you hoped, but sometimes you can fly.