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Twenty year have passed since the goddess Athene founded the Just City to prove the ideas set out in Plato’s Republic. Things have not gone well with many leaving to found their own cities under alternate forms of government. Art raids have become common and in the most recent raid Pythias’s partner is killed. Fuelled with a desire for revenge, he sets out across the sea to hunt down the man he holds responsible...
The Philosopher Kings (2016. 348 pages) is the second in a series of fantasy novels, written by Jo Walton. The book follows on twenty years from the events in The Just City (2015). Her novel Amongst Others won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2012.
The book is based on a number of interesting concepts, the first of which is that the Greek gods actually existed, whilst not a new concept, it is handles well in the story. Pythias is actually the god Apollo who has made himself flesh in order to experience what it means to be human. In doing so he has had to give up much of his power, although this is easily claimed back on his death.
The city based on Plato’s ideas is only partially successful, but it does mean that the book spends a lot of time discussing philosophical ideas. Personally I didn’t find this off putting or dry as the discourses are placed in the mouths of the characters and fitted naturally into the flow of the story. Even so, the reader will get a lot more out of the ideas in the book if they have read the Republic.
Having set off on their voyage, Apollo takes the majority of his children with him; the crew discover that the children being demi-gods have a certain amount of power of their own. Destined to be heroes, worthy of song, they too are on their own voyage of discovery.
The story is narrated from three perspectives, Apollo, Maia and Arete, Apollo’s daughter and each brings their own different take on the events which unfold.
Overall, there is a nice balance between the cerebral aspect of the novel and the action sequences, Walton’s world building is detailed and interesting and the characters are brought to life well. Walton has made the sensible choice to add more action to the second novel which will make the overall venture more accessible.
In the end it’s quite an achievement to be able to write a novel which is both educational and entertaining.