Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Philosopher Kings Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Jo Walton
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Literary Science Fiction
Series: Thessaly Book Two
Pages: 352

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(An advanced copy was provide by the publisher).

(Spoilers for The Just City are below).

I was “wowed” by The Just City, and once again I’m saying “wow” after finishing its first sequel The Philosopher Kings. Just to be clear when I say wow I’m talking about the word that expresses admiration and astonishment and not the acronym for a popular MMORPG by Blizzard. The Philosopher Kings introduces a great new narrator in Arete, continues with the thoughtful questioning that made the first book so much fun to read, and concludes with a gutsy ending.  If you enjoyed The Just City, and you still have a craving for ancient mythology and philosophy, then you’ll be right at home with the sequel.

Twenty years have passed since the Last Debate, the abrupt departure of Athene and Kebes, and Sokrates’s metamorphosis into a gadfly. New cities near the Just City spring up and slight variations on the ideals presented in Plato’s Republic manifest in all of them.  Due to all the priceless artwork being found in the Just City, and the inhabitants there being unwilling to share it, art raids breakout and with that there is an increase in violence.  During one of these raids Simmea is killed, leaving Apollo to endure maddening grief. Believing that Kebes is responsible, he leads a party with the children that have remained with him on the Just City, along with Maia, Ficino, and other inhabitants on an “exploratory” mission for vengeance.

Within the first chapter it’s quite clear that this is going to be a different book.  Sokrates and Simmea were the heart and soul of the last book, now that they’re gone it’s left to the others to fill that gap. Enter our new narrator Arete, the only child born by Apollo and Simmea (Apollo still has a myriad of other sons from the Hera festivals, and Simmea had one other son, too). Arete is months away from becoming a full-fledged adult, and while she eagerly awaits the initiation ceremony. She, like her father and the rest of her siblings, crave revenge for what happened to their mother.

Revenge is the emotion that drives a larger chunk of the novel.  When I think of revenge in storytelling it gets brought down by the cliche that revenge is a shallow and empty thing … kind of like how it’s presented in The Count of Monte Cristo or Wuthering Heights. Fortunately Walton reverts from that, quite graphically in fact, and it’s one of things I really appreciated. The other half is driven by peace, and the desire for sustainable relations between all of the newly springing up cities that were part of the Just City.

New cities springing up everywhere becomes a huge issue, not just because of the city-to-city fighting, but because of the possible historical implications. Considering this novel takes place around the time Troy was believed to have been in existence, and the fact that you have people from all over history’s broad timescape creating new cities, readers are constantly left wondering, how does the butterfly effect come into play here? This is a question that’s wisely left in ambiguity. Is the creation of Christian cities thousands of years before Christ was born going to change history? Who knows? Apollo doesn’t think so, but others do.

The ending is pretty explosive, and it kind of comes out of nowhere, which is a nice contrast to the last book which was building to an eventual confrontation with Athene about the Plato experiment. There’s not much I can say that wouldn’t be spoilery, but whether or not this ending works will solely depend on the quality of the last novel. I believe its a quite a risky jump, but if these last two books have proven anything, Walton’s definitely up to the challenge.

Score: 9.2

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