An even more propulsive follow-up to emergency physician Miller’s imaginative debut, The Philosopher’s Flight (2018).
Alternative history is endlessly malleable because you don’t have to rewrite the whole thing—just change one element and the way the world plays out is completely different. Here, the difference is Miller’s concept of “empirical philosophers,” nearly all women who practice a kind of magic that employs glyphs and sigils penned with silver chloride, not to mention a few more complicated potions, to enable healing, smoke summoning, and, most importantly, flight. Imagine Quidditch on steroids plunged into the First World War and you’ll get an idea of what to expect here. Once again, our storyteller is 19-year-old Robert Canderelli Weekes, who has broken decades of tradition to become a “sigilwoman” in the U.S. Sigilry Corps on the eve of WW1, working in the Rescue and Evacuation Division in a tough outfit full of misfits and hard cases. His job should be simple: fly in, stabilize wounded warriors, and fly them back to an aid station. But things go a bit sideways when he’s recruited by Gen. Tomasina Blandings to become part of a secret faction that Blandings intends to use for armed offense against the Germans, violating wartime codes of conduct. “I don’t need to tell you how they punish those crimes during wartime,” Blandings warns Weekes. Miller has accomplished something really grand here: Despite its lone fantasy element, this is a visceral war novel that blends into a twisty spy novel with brief interludes of heated romance between Weekes and his beloved Danielle Hardin, not to mention the quiet yearnings of Weekes’ best friend, Essie Stewart, who secretly loves him. The combat is incredibly tense, the palpable tension between characters is genuinely authentic, and the character arc that changes Weekes from an eager young soldier to a hardened veteran is truly compelling.
A fantastic example of worldbuilding on a grand scale that combines cinematic action with historical accuracy to great effect.