The Philosopher Kings by

Very few people know that Pico della Mirandola stole the head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
–Jo Walton - The Philosopher Kings - c.2015

Thessaly ; book 2

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.

Twenty years have passed since the end of The Just City and a lot has changed. There are now five cities set up, all following their own version of what they belief makes the perfect society. All striving, in their own way, to be excellent, to allow the children to grow up and to become the best possible rulers, the philosopher kings, of the title.

The cities do not agree on much, and none agree on what should happen to the art they rescued from throughout time. And so war and art-raids have become part of life for the inhabitants of the Just City. And with war there is death and grief and loss. All things that Apollo is only learning to understand and comprehend.

And just like the first book this is a fascinating look at humanity and society. We are all products of the culture we are brought up in, but do we have the capability to be more? To do better than our society, our culture expects of us? And how can we learn to be better without different experiences and outlooks?

It is the second book in a trilogy, so it is probably better to read it after the first, but I think you might be able to get away with diving straight in. If you are that way inclined1

There’s also a really interesting discussion in the book about rape culture, and how people brought up in a certain way, a certain society, might not even be able to recognise the fact that they are a rapist. And the great thing is that the book never lessens the impact that this rape has, or says “oh, poor man, he didn’t know any better”, it is all about that man realising what he did was wrong and why. Of course that has been a central part of the books from the very beginning, with Apollo wanting to become human to understand why someone would rather be turned into a tree rather than be raped by him. There’s a lot to deal with in that whole storyline, because society is a huge influence on who we are, and what we see as right and wrong. If you have always been raised to believe that something is right and proper, then it can take a huge amount of internal wrangling to recognise that no, it isn’t. It isn’t right at all and there is another way. And then to try and persuade others of that fact!? That’s a pretty big job. But such an important one.

I’m not too well up on philosophy of any kind, never mind Platonic philosophy. I did read The Republic at one stage in college, but to be honest I can’t really remember much of it. But, and purely judging by the rules in Walton’s version, I don’t think I’m all that impressed by it.

Book 3 in the trilogy has just been released, so I’ll have to add that to Mount TBR and finish the journey.


  1. you mad person you 

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2 Responses

  1. 24 August 2016

    […] maybe there was a bit of that to it, but I recently read The Philosopher Kings, and then Farthing got a mention over on LadyBusiness’ 60 Essential Science Fiction & […]

  2. 23 December 2016

    […] Jo – Necessity. Rec’d by Me! because I read & really enjoyed the previous 2 books in the series. Still […]