The Philosopher Kings – Jo Walton

About the Book

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.

352 pages (hardcover)
Published on June 30, 2015
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.


The Philosopher Kings is the second book in Jo Walton’s Thessaly series. I recommend that you read The Just City before you move onto The Philosopher Kings. The Just City really blew me away, making The Philosopher Kings an incredibly anticipated read.

The Philosopher Kings takes off years after The Just City ends, and begins with a tragic death. After the events of The Just City, the individuals in that experiment fractured and started their own cities based on various principles that they found the most attractive from before. Societies have evolved, and so have the people in them. Walton touches on how things have changed, and different perspectives bring light to different facets of these new cities and the cultures that have developed since the previous book. It’s quite well done, and interesting to see how the experiment of the first book evolved in some quite unexpected ways over the years.

The Philosopher Kings is interesting, as the dynamic completely switches from the previous book. This one is more family and relationship centered. The world expands quite a bit, but most of the action was between the father and the daughter as they both learn to cope with loss, and their new reality.

Apollo aka Pythias, really kind of falls apart early in The Philosopher Kings. He seemed so put together in the previous book, but here he’s almost completely unhinged and loses sight of a lot of his responsibilities. For example, his young daughter, Arete, who desperately needs his fatherly guidance, is basically left to fend for herself and cope with the tragic loss in her own way, though she is far too young. In so many ways she’s thrust into adult life too soon, and it’s easy to blame her father for that.

Then Pythias thinks of a mission, a journey of exploration to discover what is beyond where they live, and hopefully discover the person who is responsible for the tragedy he is coping with. A small group gets on a ship, and the adventure begins. Admittedly, this is where the book really took off for me. The first part of the story is interesting, but Pythias being rather unhinged loses its interest fast, and Arete felt far more interesting, in a sad, almost frustrating sort of way.

However, when they get direction and dynamic and start on their journey, Pythias sort of comes back to himself, and Arete slowly gets some direction and self-discovery that keeps things interesting and lively. Pythias spends most of the novel moping, but it’s Arete who quickly becomes the heart of events. She gets Pythias back to himself, and gives logic and direction to those around her, often belying her youthful age.

While Pythias and company are searching for Kebes, they run across many other contemporaries of the times, characters that Walton gives a zest and memorable voice. The world expands, and so does the thinking that drives many of the actions that takes place. What brought this book down a notch in my eyes isn’t just pythias and his moping, but the fact that this book lacked a little playful umph that the previous book contained. The thought experiments and philosophy still fuels much of the discourse and action, but it felt a little deflated.

I don’t think it is possible for Jo Walton to write a book that isn’t enjoyable, and while this book didn’t quite thrill me as much as The Just City, it is still a worthy, thought provoking read. Much of the action and interest lies in the relationships, and how strong emotions impact us and drive events. This book is like a game of dominos. One huge event sets off the whole chain, and it’s almost impossible to not want to see where it all ends up.

I missed Pythias through most of the novel, and I absolutely loved Arete, who had all of her mother’s heart and wit. I was frustrated at some points, and awestruck at others. Walton has a knack for creating strong character voices, and a vibrant world for them to inhabit. I love this series, and I’m anxious for more.


4/5 stars

2 Responses

  • Yep, looking forward to reading it, even if you didn’t cotton to it completely. Thanks, Sarah

  • When I first read The Just City, I thought it was going to be a standalone novel, and I’d have been fine with that, because it told a complete story and was just that amazing. Then I found out about The Philosopher Kings, and I couldn’t wait to read it! I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book, though really, not by that much, since I still loved this book to death and back!

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