The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton, Book Review

Following last week’s post for The Just City, I wanted to finish posting my reviews of the series.  I love these books and think they have some important messages to share.

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Rating:  ★★★★1/2

The Just City  was just so beautiful and provided so much food for thought. The Philosopher Kings gives you plenty of things to think about but it does so in a much less obvious way. You have to look a little harder for it, and the focus has shifted. I also missed the dialogues between Simmea and Apollo and Sokrates, and really everyone. There seemed to be much less of that this time.

But it was still an excellent read and very much worth continuing if you enjoyed the first book. There is a lot of focus on religion this go around and I think Walton handled it very smoothly by presenting two ends of the spectrum and one in the middle. The likenesses drawn between Jesus and Apollo especially were very thoughtful. I think some of the other themes here are death, grief and mourning. While there are very few character deaths in The Just City, there are a few big ones in The Philosopher Kings.

Later in the book, Art and its importance in the wide world become a big focus. This is a line of thought I found particularly interesting, and made me recall a debate I had in one of my college classes regarding art. How should art, especially art with historical significance be divided up among the world? Who owns it when the creators are long gone? The debate in college was mostly in regards to the Parthenon’s Marbles, now housed in Britain. On the one hand, it’s fantastic that British/UK citizens and UK tourists, can go there and see a bit of Greece, see a bit of history, learn something, and appreciate the greatness and excellence of people that came thousands of years before us. On the other hand, it really is rather appalling that the Parthenon stands incomplete. Those marbles could bring tourism to Greece and elevate their poor economy. However, what of those people who might never be able to afford to go to Greece and see them? Shouldn’t they have an opportunity to see them somewhere else? Somewhere that might be closer to home? I still don’t have an answer for this that feels sufficient, and I was really delighted to see Walton touch on it here. I live not too far from the Boston Museum of Art which houses Roman mosaics, Egyptian sculptures, and at the time I visited, a touring display of Da Vinci. I am sincerely appreciative of my opportunity to lay my eyes on history like that and likely would never have had the opportunity to see them in my lifetime if they weren’t available in one place so close to home, but aside from the paintings, it also seems destructive. What of the people of Egypt and Rome who can’t look upon those places they came from and see them whole? Is it fair? Is it right?

Sorry- tangent over. I adored Apollo in the first book and I still adored him here. Ficino wasn’t somebody I appreciated enough in the first book but his character in the absence of Sokrates was really able to shine.  Arete was truly a wonderful addition to the book. She was similar to Simmea in some ways and completely different in others and I loved her chapters and seeing her thought process.

This book is much more action oriented then the second. There was rarely a dull moment. I didn’t think the climax could possibly come close to the one in The Just City, but even I was impressed. I absolutely can’t wait for the third book and I’m only sorry I didn’t finish this sooner in the day so I could run to the library and pick it up.

Content Warnings: Talk of rape but no actual rape, and a scene of torture. It isn’t graphic in the way of Stephen King, but it was still pretty tough.

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