Book Review: Necessity by Jo Walton

Hello friends!  I’m rounding out my last couple Throwback Thursday posts with a review of Necessity, the third book in Jo Walton’s Thessaly series.

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Rating:  ★★★★

This is a really beautifully told trilogy, and the trilogy I’m giving 5 stars. It starts sort of slowly and without much action in The Just City, but ends on a high note with what is known as The Last Debate. It gives the reader lots of philosophical questions to consider. The action in The Philosopher Kings increases overall, but there are still plenty of philosophical questions to chew on.

We end here, with Necessity, which gives us almost nothing philosophical to consider, yet provides us with plenty of laugh out loud entertainment and an excellent conclusion to the overall story.

We get to meet some new characters and we are reacquainted with some old ones. Apollo is our constant of course. Then we have Crocus, who finally gets to tell us his side of the story. I wasn’t head over heels in love with Crocus’s story, even though I adore him as a character, he just seemed disconnected from the action this go around. The same is true for our other POV character, Jason. He’s not a bad character, but he is a third party observer. He really has very little to do overall with the main plot lines of the book or the trilogy. I found myself questioning the choice to include them as POVs.

Lastly we have Marsilia, Simmea’s granddaughter. Her chapters were my favorite to read. The dynamics between her and her sister Thetis were very well done. Each having or being something the other sort of maybe desired but always ultimately loving to each other.

So what was it that held this back from being a 5 Star read? Well like I mentioned, I didn’t feel like two of the POVs were all that relevant. I wasn’t sure why we were being fed those stories. Crocus’s were sparse enough and gave enough insight to his part in the past two books that I didn’t mind their inclusion, but I really just felt like Jason was an odd choice. He even says at one point: I have no idea why I’m here. Well Jason, I don’t know either. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike him and I thought he was a well done character, but it was like he was included for the sake of having a narrator.

The second reason this wasn’t quite a 5 Star read was that the chapters are told “out of time”. We already know what’s happening or what to expect and then we cut to Marsilia who’s doing something with Hermes that earlier in the story seemed as if it was already done. It was just sort of confusing and jarring to follow.

Everything else I loved. The ending turned me into an ugly crying mess because these characters just grew on me so much through out the trilogy.

These are fantastic, quick books that I would highly recommend to fans of both fantasy and science fiction (as it started in what felt like fantasy and ended firmly in the science fiction department).

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.

Throwback Thursday: The Just City by Jo Walton

In honor of Jo Walton making my hidden gems list not once but twice, with two books from one of my favorite series, I thought it was time for me to post my review of The Just City.  The Thessaly series is a total genre bender- it has elements of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction.  It’s heavy on the philosophy and will leave the reader with lots of things to think about when it’s all over.

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Rating:  ★★★★★

The end of this book moved me to tears because it was so profound and so beautiful and at the end it sort of just smacks you in the face when you realize how very important and relevant it all is.

I picked up The Just City because GoodReads said: hey- you liked Too Like the Lightning, read this! Well- it both is and isn’t like Too Like the Lightning. There is a lot of philosophy involved but I don’t think the plot was even remotely as complex and the philosophy is sort of fed to you rather then engaging you. I don’t mean this as a fault in any way- I’m just saying, it’s different. (This might also have been a difference of reading solo vs reading as a group.)

It starts out sort of slow. By the halfway point I was thinking it was a solid 3 Star book. Then a 4 Star, and it took me all the way to the end to be able to say it’s a 5 Star read. It’s dense. Be patient with it. It’s worth sticking it out.

The premise is this (chapter one spoilers ahead): Apollo is chasing the nymph Daphne and then rather than be raped she prays to Artemis and asks to be turned into a tree. Apollo just can’t believe that anyone would rather be a tree than mate with him so he decides to become a human to find out why. His sister Athene says, well I’m working on a thought experiment, recreating Plato’s Republic. You could go be a human there and figure out why Daphne turned into a tree. So he agrees and the stage is set.

This is largely a character driven novel. All the characters brought something different to the table. Apollo had the knowledge of a god but didn’t understand human struggle. Simmea is a black child from Northern Africa (I know her grandmother is from Libya but the way she phrased it made it seem like she was not) coming to The Just City while she is too young to question the inequalities of the world. Maia is a woman from 19th century England, a world which does not value women who think. And then we have dear Sokrates, who never gets a POV chapter but was always delightful to read.

(I’m going to try and avoid spoilers here but for those of you that don’t want them, I don’t know if I can say what I want to say without revealing some aspects of the book/plot/etc. so read with caution.)

I adored all these characters and their unique perspectives. I enjoyed reading their dialogues with Sokrates and felt Walton did an excellent job of giving them dialogue that would have come from people with their backgrounds. The workers (robots Athene brought from the future) were an excellent literary device to propose the questions Walton wanted us to be asking and truly proved for some thought-provoking reading. What is personhood? Who qualifies? How do you make everyone equal in practice?

Though I suppose the Just City (the city in the book not the book) succeeds in many aspects, it fails in many others. The practice of labeling people: iron, bronze, silver or gold for example is extremely indicative of inequality. Golds pursue art and philosophy and mathematics all day while Irons do all the work. So we have a system that is just based on ability I suppose but by making the city just we have also made it a city of inequalities. Do justice and equality contradict each other? Is it fair to divide people, not on the basis of skin color or sex or sexuality, but on systems of ability? Does the man who is poor at math deserve to be relegated to field work all day? Do the women who don’t succeed at art deserve the job of raising children all day? Is this what they want to do? And how do you reconcile a desire for personal happiness with justice and equality? (This speaks more to the aspects of the novel which touch on eugenics and divisions of labor.)

The more I think about it the deeper it all goes. I would like to add that as an added bonus, Jo Walton thanks Ada Palmer in the Acknowledgements section in regards to help she gave with Plato and philosophy so of course I was giddy with excitement to read that section.

I loved this book. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a read with more substance than action. I’m now off to go see if my library has Thessaly #2 available for download.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite couples!

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

I am so excited for this week’s topic.  The only thing better than one awesome character is two characters with chemistry.  Fair warning- I went way beyond ten with this, and they aren’t all romantic couples.

 

15. Eric & Jenny from S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams – I didn’t love S.  The meat of the book (Ship of Theseus) was boring and didn’t make a lot of sense.  It was only saved by Jenny and Eric and their notes all over the margins.  It’s a slow burn sort of romance and took some time to build.  I love this couple because they fell in love over a book!

14. Thaniel & Mori from The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – I love these two because you’re never quite sure where they stand with each other.  It’s a will they/won’t they, but if you love nothing else about this book, you’ll be dying for a Happily Ever After by the end.

13. Claire & Jamie from Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Ugh.  These two.  Listen- Outlander is a phenomenal book, and I absolutely love how much Jamie loves Claire.  I included them despite the fact that I only ever read the first book through to completion. Why are they so damn long?  (And no I haven’t watched the show.)

12. Caris & Merethin from World Without End by Ken Follett – The Pillars of the Earth series are some of my favorite historical fiction books of all time, and World Without End  remains my favorite of the trilogy.  If you aren’t ugly crying by the time Caris’s face is revealed on the angel overlooking Kingsbridge, there’s something wrong with you.

11. Eugenides & Irene from The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – This is some of the best YA Fantasy Fiction out there.  I’ll admit that when Eugenides revealed his love for Irene, it came as a little bit of a shock, but I really just wanted him to be happy.  I love that Turner left so much to the imagination about their relationship.

 

10. Anita Blake & Jean Claude from the Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton – I know Hamilton drove this series into the dirt after all of 8 books or so.  Honestly I don’t care.  Of all her lovers- Jean Claude remains as one of the ones who loved her first, loved her best, and loved her most.

9. Ken & Mishima from Infomocracy/Null States by Malka Ann Older – This was another slowly, but lovingly built romance.  The best part?  Aside from an odd scene where Mishima physically attacks Ken, it seemed like a totally normal relationship.  No over the top expectations, no premature confessions of love, no waiting until they were ready to get married for sex.  Honestly- they are probably one of the realest couples I’ve seen portrayed in literature.

8. Mira & Carey from The Moon and the Other by John Kessel – Mira and Carey are interesting because their relationship is already somewhat established by the time we join in on their story.  Also- this book will rip your guts out, douse them in kerosene and light them on fire.  It’s that good.

7. Falcio val Mond & Ethalia from The Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell – There are better romantic couples on this list- but in these books Ethalia was badly needed.  Poor Falcio just doesn’t ever seem to catch a break, so his stolen moments with Ethalia always put a smile on my face.

6. Apollo & Simmea from Thessaly by Jo Walton – (MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THIS SERIES) I don’t even know how to label these two.  I think they are platonic friends officially.  But I think Simmea tends more towards romantic love for all of book one, and Apollo completely loses his shit when he loses Simmea.  This is far and away the most complex couple on this list.

 

5. Uhtred & Gisla from the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell – (You didn’t honestly think we’d get through this list without Uhtred making an appearance did you?  Brace yourselves- he’s got two more spots on this list.)  I loved when Uhtred and Gisla were together.  She was like the voice of reason in his life.  The only person he genuinely listened to, and one only woman he sleeps with that he seems to truly respect.  This was not a HEA and it ripped my heart out.

4. Elizabeth Bennett & Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yes it’s terribly cliched.  No I won’t take them off.  It doesn’t require more explanation than that, does it?

3. Kaz Brekker & Inej Ghafa from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – If I’m being honest- the entire SoC crew and their significant others belong up here.  None of the relationships in this book suffered needless angst and I feel like that’s pretty rare in a YA novel.

2. Elma & Nathaniel York from The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal – Instead of explaining this one I’ll leave you with this very short story available free on Tor.com.  You’re welcome. https://www.tor.com/2018/07/02/read-mary-robinette-kowals-the-lady-astronaut-of-mars/

1. Mac & Barrons from the Darkfever series by Karen Marie Moning – No- I don’t care that Barrons suffered a total character assassination in the past couple books.  I don’t care that Moning has run out of ways to pit them against each other.  They remain my favorite book couple of all time, and when I thought about my list they were the first two to come to mind.

But I promised more than romantic couples right?  So here we go:

My favorite frenemies:

 

4. Ballister Blackheart & Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin from Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – From the moment I first saw these two on the same page I was shipping them.

3. Dolores Claiborne & Vera Donovan from Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King – This probably takes second place as one of the more complex relationships on this list.  They love-hate each other, but they have each other’s backs.  Stephen King sort of killed it (okay he actually killed it).

2. Jorg & Rikey from Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – I don’t know if the term frenemies actually applies to these two, but poor little Rikey sure can’t catch a break from Jorg.

1. Uhtred & Alfred from the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell – I told you he’d be back.  These two are honestly one of the most entertaining pairs I’ve ever read in literature.  They need each other, but they hate each other, but they love each other.

But wait!  There’s more!

My favorite bromances:

 

4. Geralt & Dandelion from The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski – These two.  There’s nothing I love more than Dandelion getting into trouble and Geralt coming to save his ass.

3. Jackal & Oats from The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French – That moment when Oats shows up at the Betrayer Moon to fight the centaurs but really it’s just to see Jackal?  Perfection.

2. Kest & Brasti & Falcio from The Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell – This is probably the penultimate bromance.  These guys are literally the three musketeers… rewritten.  And their banter is the highlight of all the books.

1. Uhtred & Finan from the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell – Uhtred and Finan to me are like the book version of Ragnar and Floki.  It’s pretty obvious there’s nothing Finan wouldn’t do for his pal, and I’m happy Cornwell had the good sense to keep him around for more than a single book.

Whew- sorry that was long.  Book couples are one of my favorite things.  But you know what’s painfully, sorely, obviously missing from this list?  Female friendships. (Sistermances- is that a thing? Can we make it a thing?)  If you have one on your list please link to it so I can check it out!