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The Philosopher Kings

by Jo Walton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Thessaly (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4453256,400 (3.98)27
"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. The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as "Pythias" in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it's evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief. Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers--including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence--Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find--possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves "Greek." What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover...will change everything. "--… (more)
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» See also 27 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Not as interesting as its predecessor novel, [b:The Just City|22055276|The Just City (Thessaly, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1416448145s/22055276.jpg|39841651]. I don't think I'll pick up the next book any time soon. ( )
  Treebeard_404 | Jan 23, 2024 |
Not quite as good as the first book, but still very much enjoyed this! ( )
  zizabeph | May 7, 2023 |
For a fantasy/Greek mythology book that began with my favorite character from the first book getting killed off and ended up in space in the 25th century with some aliens, this was surprisingly enjoyable. I don't usually find myself interested in book series as book two, book three, etc. can have a hard time living up to the quality of the first book, but The Philosopher Kings is definitely a worthy continuation of The Just City. I can't wait to find out what happens next. ( )
  torygy | Mar 31, 2022 |
Great read.
Liked it better than the first one ([b:The Just City|22055276|The Just City (Thessaly, #1)|Jo Walton|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1416448145s/22055276.jpg|39841651]): partly because in the first book I was trying to navigate "what the heck kind of book is this, anyway?" whereas I knew what I was getting into with this one.

Partly because the primary theme in this book was grief and loss, unlike the disturbing rape theme in the first book. And partly, I think, because one of the viewpoint characters -- perhaps the primary character? -- is Arete, who as a child of Pythias and Simmia who has been brought up in the Just City is less morally ambiguous than all the main characters in book one.

There's also more action than I recall from book one: a voyage of exploration, political negotiations, Apollo's children taking the first steps towards godhood, a musical duel; as well as the variations of the Just City and the issues they face. ( )
  VictoriaGaile | Oct 16, 2021 |
The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clever and detailed, not to mention elegantly written, but ultimately the narrative is constrained by the very strictures it sets out to explore and (I felt) a little lacking in emotional depth, despite being in first person.

I have a pretty high tolerance for musing, thoughtful, character novels which ramble gently without heavy plot, and of course the promise of Socratic dialogue in spades was a huge draw.

However, the book did drag in places even for me; I found myself skimming Maia's sections but avidly reading Simmea's and Apollo's.

What definitively knocked the last star off for me was Sokrates. Any story which includes him as a character is always going to be taking a risk, since he is a phenomenally influential character for whom readers will have high expectations.

Matt Hilliard once said that authors should be careful about writing messianic messages or sermons unless they are themselves Messiahs. A similar comparison springs to mind re authors and philosophers. The didactic rhetoric and Socratic dialogue often fell flat for me, with logical disconnects between arguments. I would also argue that Socratic dialogue isn't really debate; it's artificial and constructed to prove the main speaker's point. Walton seems to have aimed for a halfway point between true rhetoric and group discussion, but didn't quite nail either in many instances. Sokrates versus Athena carried well (the Final Debate) but not so much Sokrates and Simmea/Apollo.

The novel did offer a robust defense of the Republic which often gets much flack, although in the end it did come down firmly on the side of Plato's ideas being too unworkable in many cases.

I think its other strong point (I don't usually say this) is the thoughtful and scintillating examination of feminism in this context, with full nuance and no easy answers.

I would happily recommend to any fans of Jo Walton's other works, or fans of literary and/or philosophical science fantasy.
( )
  Sunyidean | Sep 7, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jo Waltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sanzio, RaffaelloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stafford-Hill, JamieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Quid me mihi detrahis?" Ovid, Metamorphoses.

"What a wondrous and sublime thing it is to be human, to be able to choose your state, whether among the beasts or among the angels." Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Awesomeness of Humanity (Oratio de Hominis Dignitate)

"I am voyaging too.
We will need the foundation as much as the dome
For these worlds to come true."
Ada Palmer, Somebody Will

"Nothing befits a man more than discourse on the soul. Thus the Delphic injunction 'Know thyself' is fulfilled, and we examine everything else, whether above or beneath the soul, with deeper insight." Marsilio Ficino, letter to Jacobo Bracciolini.

"I had a queer obsession about justice. As though justice mattered. As though justice can really be distinguished from vengeance. It's only love that's any good." Elizabeth Von Arnim, The Enchanted April.
Dedication
This is for Ada, who has the best thoughts.
First words
Not many people know that Pico della Mirandola stole the head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

"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. The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as "Pythias" in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it's evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief. Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers--including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence--Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find--possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves "Greek." What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover...will change everything. "--

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