Review: “The Philosopher Kings” by Jo Walton

PhilosopherThe Philosopher Kings
Jo Walton
Tor, 2015.

I’m liking this trend of releasing sequels in rapid succession. Just six months after Jo Walton’s magnificent The Just City kicked off the year with a five-star review, she is back with the sequel.

The Philosopher Kings takes place 20 years after the events of The Just City, which chronicled Athene’s attempt at recreating Plato’s Republic with slave children and philosophers from throughout time on the soon to be destroyed island of Atlantis and Apollo’s attempt at understanding humanity. The experiment ended badly at the end of The Just City, with Sokrates debating Athene over the nature of humanity and getting turned into a gadfly as a result.

The City has splintered, with adherents of varying degrees of zealotry to Athene, Sokrates and Christ founding separate cities. Apollo, under the human guise of Pytheas, has married Simmea, the thoughtful devotee to the City that studied rhetoric with him under Sokrates, and they have raised a family. Simmea’s friend Kebes has rebelled and sailed off to found his own community somewhere in the Aegean.

And all of the cities have fallen to warring. Over artwork. The original City houses many lost treasures from throughout time, and the other cities want to share. So they raid each other, stealing sculptures and paintings periodically.

During one of these raids Simmea is killed, and the grief drives Apollo mad. Unable to understand his grief and reconcile it with his divine nature, he and his family set off on a quest to find vengeance against the perceived wrongdoers, namely Kebes.

Their voyage, which echoes the Argonauts’ adventures, takes them across the Aegean, discovering primitive Greek civilizations, as well as the latent demi-godhood of Apollo’s children, especially his daughter Arete.

just cityThey also discover that Kebes and his followers have instituted a particularly brutal version of Christianity, millennia before Christ’s life. Kebes, now the warrior monk Matthias, and Apollo face off in a duel of music that features some nasty double crosses, ending badly for both sides.

Apollo ends up finally understanding why his beloved would not allow him to sacrifice himself to restore her, and his children begin to understand their place in the pantheon.

And that’s when The Philosopher Kings gets weird. Walton pulls an amazing deus ex machina to end the book (the only appropriate ending for a book about Greek gods meddling in the affairs of men, really) that gives the book an unusual sci-fi twist. I don’t want to give it away, but I suspect the upcoming Necessity will be mind-blowing.

And hopefully as good as the first two entries in the “Thessaly” trilogy.

—Michael Senft

Buy The Philosopher Kings

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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2 Responses to Review: “The Philosopher Kings” by Jo Walton

  1. Jeanne says:

    I thought it got weird when she killed off Simmea in the first few pages. The deux ex machina is fun, and that’s of course the right thing to call it!


  2. That was tough because Simmea really was my favorite from The Just City.


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