Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Philosopher Kings - Jo Walton

Published; 30th June 2015, Tor Books

Source; ARC copy kindly provided by NetGalley

My Rating; 4 out of 5 stars

The Set Up;

Having abandoned her great experiment of The Just City, Pallas Athene has not been seen since the Last Debate nearly twenty years before. Apollo as Pytheas has been living as a family with Simmea and their many children. The Republic has split into factions forming their own cities based on how they believed Plato should be interpreted and now there is unease and fighting between factions. A voyage to find the group that set sail on The Goodness turns up more than a few surprises including the long lost Kebes. Apollo may be facing his toughest choice and hardest test in his quest to truly understand humanity yet...


After The Just City - in particular after The Last Debate! - I wasn't sure exactly where Jo Walton had left for herself to go with this subsequent volume. As it turned out their was plenty left to say, both on Plato, the Republic and on what it is to be human. This book examines the nature of permanence, both in terms of as viewed by an immortal and by those who are by nature, impermanent - mortals. As an added twist we also have the children of a god who are just learning what it means to have the choice to become gods themselves or remain mortal.
Since the Last Debate when Athene went off in a god-sized snit, nothing has been seen of her. Instead the free thinkers of the Just City have split into factions that have very different ideas on how Plato's republic should be run, with some interesting results. On top of the now five 'republics' there is also the Lost City which is how those who remained think of the group - led by Kebes - who boarded the Goodness and sailed away. A group not heard of for twenty years. 
After an incident that sends Apollo - still human and living as a family with Simmea and their children - into a madness of grief and furious desire for vengeance, envoys from the original just city discover that Kebes has been very busy indeed and that the islands around Khallisti boast many more civilized societies than they had thought.
Once again this follows the mode of Greek plays - playfully including classic tropes whilst also poking some well deserved but affectionate criticism at them. The final scenes are especially resonant of this although I won't spoil it for readers and scholars by giving them their literal and classical terminology here!
Apollo still struggles to be human and now his children struggle with their dual nature as well. Overall this is a treat, thinking fantasy at its best - although I'd recommend reading the Just City first. 

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