The Philosopher Kings, by Jo Walton

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also, the author is a personal friend, and I read this previously in manuscript form–you’ll notice me in the acknowledgments. So that’s full disclosure for you.

This is a sequel that will fill in the backstory for you rather well in terms of practical details you might have forgotten since you read The Just City. In terms of emotional weight, I’d still recommend reading The Just City first, and it’s a bit difficult to figure out how to talk about The Philosopher Kings without at least some Just City spoilers.

Okay, so: most of the book is what’s gone on since the end of The Just City. One of the POVs (Maia) does exactly what she does in the first one: filling in the gaps between the “then” and the “now” of the rest of the book, telling the pieces of story that fit thematically and need to be given to the reader for context and yet are much more interesting as 1/6 book slightly out of order than they would be if it was all in a lump at the front. The Children of The Just City are now middle-aged with their children (The Young Ones) finding their places as golds, silvers, bronzes, or irons of their city–or more properly cities–doing their own thinking about justice, vengeance, consent, theology, and excellence.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the characters running into the rest of the world and having it be something of a shock, after all these years, that there are people who are not in any way attempting to recreate Plato’s Republic. It has come to seem utterly, indisputably normal to them. And…I think we can all come up with aspects of our unique lives that feel totally normal until we compare them with the outside world and remember. It’s done really well, the shock of the new coming from an unexpected direction and yet feeling entirely in-character.

And I love Arete. The new POV character for this book is fifteen, not even thought of when the titular Just City was founded, and her assumptions and worldview are so perfectly rendered. She is striving so hard and is still figuring out what, exactly, she’s striving for. My other new favorite is Neleus, fully human in a family where all of his siblings are part-god. The family dynamic there is just perfect, and it’s not something we see in fantasy much, although we should, because it logically fits.

I’ve been pleased that so many people have seen the first book as something to start a dialog, because that’s so very thematically appropriate, and I hope it’ll happen here too. Meanwhile since this is such an early review, I don’t want to do too much of it myself and spoil major elements that I’d like people to enjoy discovering as I did.

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