Friday, July 29, 2016

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2), by Jo Walton (author), Noah Michael Levine (narrator)

Audible Studios, July 2016 (original publication June 2015)

Thirty years have passed since the founding of the Just City. The first period of its history ended with the Last Debate, when Athena turned Socrates into a fly and then left. The community split, and there are now four more cities in addition to the original, or "remnant" city. Apollo/Pythias has several grown or nearly-grown children, mostly sons but also a daughter, Arete, with his partner and votary Simmea, originally an Egyptian farmer's daughter.

The book opens with a tragedy, Simmea's death in one of the art raids that have become common in the years since the division. Apollo wants revenge, and goes after it in a seemingly rational, organized way. Those closest to him, including daughter Arete and some of his sons, know he's unhinged with grief. He leads an expedition, using the colony's ship, Excellence, to explore the region and seek "the lost city," the group that left with the other ship, the Goodness, and has never returned to the island.

What Arete and a few others know is that Pythias (only his children know that he's Apollo) blames Kebes, the leader of the Goodness group, for  Simmea's death, and for his rape of her many years ago, during one of the city's Festivals of Hera.

Meanwhile, Arete and her brothers are starting to discover what it means to be the children of a god, heroes with the potential to be gods themselves.

In their travels they find early Greek settlements that lack a lot of what they have in the way of civilization, and they find the multiple cities founded by the Goodness group.

The Just City cities, despite ongoing low-level warfare, are all committed to the ideals of Plato's Republic, interpreted somewhat differently in each of their cities.

Kebes and his companions have abandoned Platonism in favor of Christianity, centuries before the birth of Christ. They've also committed themselves to helping their neighbors; they take in refugees from wars, build cities, and teach the skills they have. In many ways, they've got a higher level of technology than the Platonic cities. They've trained medics and glassmakers.

And they torture heretics.

But they don't wage war with each other. Their goal is to bring all the benefits of civilization that they can to the people of the Aegean.

The Platonic cities do war with each other, and they've avoided contact with local populations to avoid affecting history. They have no slavery, they have a broader vote than the Goodness group, who come to be called Lucians, after their first city, named for St. Lucia.

The Lucians have something that at least closely resembles slavery.

Athena planted the Just City on an island that will be destroyed by the eruption of its volcano, leaving nothing behind to alter the course of history.

The Lucians are actively looking to change history.

Both sides have a case to make.

What follows is a tale of mutual discovery and self-discovery, of cultural conflict and adaptation. Pythias, Arete, her brothers, and Maia, the mentor originally from Victorian England, undergo the greatest growth and change. What change can the god Apollo go through? He's learning the lessons of mortality, grief, loss, and change.

I rarely comment on narrators, but Noah Michael Levine is excellent.

Highly recommended.

I received a free copy of this audiobook from Audible in exchange for an honest review.