As soon as I finished The Just City, Jo Walton’s marvelous story of a Platonic utopia gone dystopian, I began counting the days until summer, when the sequel, The Philosopher Kings, would be published. The first book chronicled the building of a society that would live by the rules set forth in Plato’s Republic. Athene gathered founders who sought such a place from across time, and they brought slave children to the city, gave them their freedom, and raised them according to Plato’s edicts. Apollo, living as a human to learn about free will and consent, joins the City as one of these children. By the end of the book, the system’s many flaws had risen to the surface, and the City was fracturing.
The Philosopher Kings picks up the story 20 years later. The Just City is now called the Remnant, one of five “just cities” on the island of Kallist (better known to us as Atlantis). Each city interprets Plato differently and thus lives by different rules. The cities maintain some ties, but those ties aren’t entirely peaceful. Wars over the art collected for the original Just City are common. And some fear the return of the Goodness, the ship that carried away those who decided to abandon the Platonic experiment entirely.
Two of the narrators from The Just City return to tell the story. Apollo, also known as Pytheas, continues to work through what it means to be human as he experiences grief and watches his children grow up and discover their own power. Maia, one of the city’s founders, still strives for excellence but with a greater awareness of how murky morality can be when human beings are involved. They are joined by Arete, daughter of Apollo and Simmea, a young woman just reaching adulthood and trying to decide how best to use her gifts.
I didn’t love this nearly as much as I did The Just City, but I still liked it a great deal and look forward to the next book. (This book had an even more game-changing ending than the last, so I’m very curious as to how it will all play out.) One of the things I enjoyed most about The Just City was watching the city’s people work through establishing their rules and then seeing how they did and didn’t work. This book, however, is about cities with established ways of doing things. It was fun to see the ways the different strains of thinking spun off in different directions, but it wasn’t quite as much fun as being there at the start of it all.
Still, there’s much to appreciate in this book. The moral challenges the characters face are difficult ones, and even when the answers seem obvious (and they often are not), living with those answers is hard. The ending seemed to come out of nowhere, and I’m not sure that I love where it’s heading. But I’m curious enough that I’ll definitely read the final book, Necessity, when it comes out next year.
I received an e-galley of this book for review consideration through Netgalley.