I’ve always been worried that if Hogwarts was a real place and people could get into it that I would be one of the unlucky people who wouldn’t get in. Let’s also keep in mind that I’m American and that already disqualifies me.
But what if magic was studied instead of inherited? What if you stumbled across a sigil while playing in the sandbox and you realized you have a predilection for something called “empirical philosophy?” What if you were a man and you realized that this is a very female-centric area of study? What would you do then? This is one story from one man who answered all of these questions for himself.
A little bit more about the story
Eighteen-year-old Robert Weekes is a practitioner of empirical philosophy—an arcane, female-dominated branch of science used to summon the wind, shape clouds of smoke, heal the injured, and even fly. Though he dreams of fighting in the Great War as the first male in the elite US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service—a team of flying medics—Robert is resigned to mixing batches of philosophical chemicals and keeping the books for the family business in rural Montana, where his mother, a former soldier and vigilante, aids the locals.
When a deadly accident puts his philosophical abilities to the test, Robert rises to the occasion and wins a scholarship to study at Radcliffe College, an all-women’s school. At Radcliffe, Robert hones his skills and strives to win the respect of his classmates, a host of formidable, unruly women.
Robert falls hard for Danielle Hardin, a disillusioned young war hero turned political radical. However, Danielle’s activism and Robert’s recklessness attract the attention of the same fanatical anti-philosophical group that Robert’s mother fought years 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.
I honestly and truly wished I loved this book. I felt like there’s a lot of potential for it being a great series, but after only reading the first novel from both the author and the series I wasn’t all too excited. This was definitely more like Harry Potter where magic (also known as Empirical Philosophy) exists alongside the very real world. This “magic” is not inherited, but learned and anyone can basically pick it up. It requires the use of sigils and specific minerals. For example, using a particular sigil with cornmeal will help you to fly and how you write your sigil will determine how well you fly. It’s a practiced art and you don’t need a certain birthright to do it.
I will say that the story did hold my attention and there definitely was some practical use of the philosophy. But a lot of what was happening in the book felt like a direct reflection of what’s going on today. Women being the dominant gender to use Empirical Philosophy, Robert Weekes is one of only three men at his college. He’s constantly teased and talked down to because men just don’t do Empirical Philosophy. It just feels like a role reversal for what’s happening nowadays; women being overlooked because they’re women.
The bad guys in this book are called “Trenchers.” These dudes remind me of the extreme right movements in America right now. They are constantly fighting against Empirical Philosophy and trying to make it illegal. They think it’s unnatural and the women kill their babies. It’s against God and the Bible and people who study it are abominations. They’re out trying to kill philosophers so that their numbers dwindle and they disappear. It really reminds me of the news and everything that’s going on recently. There was even a march where philosophers went down to Washington DC to march for their rights to use this philosophy.
I think this really bothered me the most in this story especially since it’s fiction and really could draw from anything and it’s just a reflection of what’s going on today.
Being that this is the first fantasy novel, I feel like a lot of this story was just explaining the universe as well. There was a lot of history that coincided with the very real United States history. The wars being fought are also fought by philosophers. There was a lot of explaining the philosophy, what it does, how it works, how it can be manipulated. I feel like I was in a class listening to a lecture about Empirical Philosophy than actually seeing it in action.
When you do see it in action, it’s great. The fighting against Trenchers and even The Cup was fun to read. However, reading passage after passage of Robert learning how to fly at a certain speed, his training regiment, or reading about him carry 100-lb bags for practice all just seemed to keep the story very still. The pacing was pretty slow and even though every few chapters had headers with how much time went by, it feels like no time at all.
I get with new fantasies there’s a lot of groundwork to cover. There’s a lot of creating how each sigil worked and how the transporters moved and how flight paths can be determined. I don’t want to discredit this novel because it’s the first and the first always shares some of that knowledge. I just wish there was more excitement or something to move the story forward.
Reading about a young country boy going to college in a big city for the first time is basically all I’m getting from this story. Aside from the fact that he can practice philosophy which is uncommon for men, it really just reads like someone’s first adventures being alone and falling in love and learning new skills that he wouldn’t have learned before. There’s definitely growth for everyone and everyone miraculously knows what they want in life, but it took a long while to get there and a lot of reading.
We learn a lot by the end that will probably set you up for the next one, but really it could have happened right in the middle of the book rather than the end. Honestly, at less than 100 pages left in the book I was worried that nothing would happen at all and that I’d have to wait for the next book. Perhaps then we’ll see a lot more action for Robert and can chalk up this first book to first-time jitters.
I’m going to be looking out for the second book in the future. I really want to like this book and that’s why I’m rating it with three stars. The book kept me interested albeit a little wobbly at times, but I did find the whole Empirical Philosophy thing to be interesting and the battle with the Trencher party compelling. I hope I’m just as compelled in the next one.
I received this book from Simon Books in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the method I received this book and I was not paid to write this book review.
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Poppy (December 5, 2017)
- Rating: 3/5 stars
- Buy Instructions for a Secondhand Heart on Amazon
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