Book Reviews

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (Thessaly #2)
Published: Tor Books on 2015, eARC, 352 pages
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Add to: Goodreads

From acclaimed, award-winning author Jo Walton: Philosopher Kings, a tale of gods and humans, and the surprising things they have to learn from one another. Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.
The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as "Pythias" in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it’s evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief.
Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers--including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence--Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find—possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves "Greek." What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover…will change everything.

The Philosopher Kings gets off to a bad start, tbh. The Just City has separated into multiple cities, all with differing ideas about what Plato Really Meant, Aristotle-the-fly disappeared, Pallas Athene never came back, and worst of all Simmea, my favorite character from The Just City, dies. She’s murdered during an art raid. She’s dead! And that really hurt.
Apollo didn’t much like it either, and he spends the majority of the book trying to come back from his overwhelming grief. Maia is also dealing with things, including her rapist from The Just City wanting to apologize and be friends again. Everybody’s depressed from the raids and people dying and it’s just a very downer kind of beginning to a book.
Luckily, Simmea’s daughter show up as a narrator and she turns out to be every bit as amazing as her mother. Arete’s super intelligent and kind and curious about everything and she’s a HERO! Not just because she’s the daughter of a god! (Though that helps.) She’s got everything that made Apollo and Simmea great in The Just City, plus her own unique wonderfulness. And, like, heroic ambition? She wants to be a god, but she’s not sure how it happens and so we get lots of interesting conversations with Apollo (and his kids) about the nature of gods and what happens after you become one, etc.
Apollo’s other kids are also really fun to get to know. Some of them want to be heroes/gods, some of them want to live in terrible versions of the Just City, and some of them want to be a legit philosopher king. Sibling/family stories are some of my favorites, and I particularly liked the family in this book– mostly because of Arete, actually. She loves her family and it comes through in her narration.
The Philosopher Kings mostly takes place away from the Just Cities, as Apollo and his kids (and various other favorite characters) go on a journey to find the group of Just Citizens who left after the whole Aristotle-Athena debacle from the end of The Just City. They go for revenge! And exploration! And self-discovery, as it turns out.
If The Just City was all about consent and the issues surrounding it, then The Philosopher Kings is about the consequences of giving/receiving/not receiving consent. And also the consequences of practically every single thing that happened in the first book. Plus new issues of forgiveness and family and destiny. All good stuff!
It’s maybe not as tight of a story as The Just City was, but it’s definitely just as vibrant and enjoyable. And I very much want to read the third book, after the monster of an ending that was in this one.
Read: June 26-27, 2015


  • Jenny @ Reading the End

    Hahaha, and I didn’t think of The Just City having a tremendously tight story. But that’s okay. Tight storytelling is not Jo Walton’s thing really — she’s more like Robin McKinley where half the pleasure is meandering around the world and characters she’s created.

    • Anastasia

      That’s fair! Maybe I was thinking more of the story ARC? Like, TJC is more of a coming-of-age story line (for both the city itself and for Simmea), with a little meandering for robots and Socrates and such. On the whole it felt more straight-forward to me: birth, puberty, death(/end of an era). TPK felt more chaotic, plot-wise. It’s an exploration story (which some characters think is a revenge story?), so having a lot more meandering does make sense. It’s just that at times it felt a little TOO loose, maybe. idk.

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