The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

The Philosopher Kings is the second in the trilogy by Jo Walton which got off to a fantastic start with The Just City.  Before I even start to review this I’m just going to point out that I don’t think this book would work as well read in seclusion – I really do think you would need to read Just City first just to have some understanding of the relationships at play.

The Philosopher Kings starts about 20 years later than the Just City where Apollo, still living as a mortal named Pythias, is now married to Simmea.  The City, founded by Athene as a social experiment based on Plato’s Republic has, since the ‘great debate’ that concluded the last book, split into 5 cities.  Unfortunately there are occasionally skirmishes between the cities – particularly in relation to where all the great works of art are housed.  (I’m just going to mention that there is a slight spoiler ahead – but one that I think is necessary to the review).  As a result of one of the latest conflicts Simmea is killed whilst trying to prevent yet more theft and this becomes the catalyst for the whole story.

Apollo, is consumed with remorse.  He doesn’t know how to continue his mortal existence without Simmea by his side to explain the little idiosyncrasies of human life – I must confess I was touched by how completely Apollo seemed to have loved Apollo and also for the intense grief he suffers after she dies.  At first I was a little surprised that Simmea had gone – she played such a pivotal role in the Just City that I thought I would really feel lost without her but instead her daughter Arete fills the void quite admirably.

I’m not going to really go into the plot too much other than to say it involves Apollo and Arete, along with a few others embarking on a voyage.  This starts out as a mission of revenge but culminates in revelations and self discovery.

Obviously we meet up with characters from the first novel but added to that are the inclusion of some of the younger characters who are just becoming a certain age.  All Apollo’s children are aware of his true identity and they’ve also been given to understand that they are different as a result of being his offspring – stands to reason really!  Some of them have heroic souls and should they choose to could gain ‘godlike’ status.  I enjoyed looking at this element of the story, it had a coming of age feel to it and was a honest look at the differences that naturally occur between siblings and the rivalry or jealousy they sometimes provoke.

Again, I really enjoyed this, maybe not quite as much as the first book – but perhaps that’s because the first book also had the novelty factor, plus Ioved reading about the City being established.  This is though, without doubt another thought provoking feast with lots to mull over.  There’s the whole issue of just how far people will go to have something which they desire, and in doing so making human life so cheap.  On the other hand there’s how far people will go to achieve revenge and whether or not this ultimately results in true satisfaction.  There’s this issue of what exactly is enough?  Is that piece of art enough to go to war over, is it enough to kill somebody, and it certainly explores extremes.  Just how far will you go, what is acceptable.  A piece of artwork seems trivial and yet here it makes cities rise up against each other.

On top of this i really enjoyed the whole look at the different cities that Apollo and his crew come across.  It was interesting to look at the differences.  Were these new places aiming to achieve excellence?  They had their own religious beliefs, stark poverty was sometimes displayed opposite casual displays of wealth, systems of payment had been introduced but more than that there was in place harsh penalties for those that fall from the straight and narrow.  A demonstration of how a city can be so affected by the whims and inclinations of the person controlling it.

As with my book review for Just City I don’t really think I’m doing this justice.  There’s a lot to think about and I couldn’t possibly encompass it all here without writing a dissertation – which frankly I’m not inclined to do – and I don’t think anybody will want to read!

However, this is an intelligent book that explores many themes all embedded within a story of revenge.

I’m very much looking forward to the next in series.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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