Philosophy in The Just City

The Just City by Jo Walton

4/5 STARS

// GOODREADS //

Book one in the Thessaly series 

Genre: Sci-Fi, Philosophy
Author: Jo Walton
Published: January 2015
Publisher: Corsair
Pages: 368 {paperback}

Originally posted on Goodreads


Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing

This was a ridiculously interesting book. I have quite literally never read anything more thought provoking. All up, it tells an interesting narrative, although the main focus is definitely placed on the philosophical debate around what really is The Just City. I really enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down, that’s for sure! There were many points that made me uncomfortable and I thought the book tackled those well; I’m very interested to see if the next two books add to this story and make it more complete or not. Clever, is the only way to accurately describe this book.


The Just City

The Just City was definitely right up my alley. I found it fantastic how it was such a perfect mishmash of things – a sci-fi imagining of a world created by an ancient philosopher . . . and robots. I enjoyed everything that it had to offer and I really want to continue on with the series. It actually got so stuck in my head that the book practically put me into a reading slump because I just couldn’t handle any other book after this one had blown my mind.

The Just City follows the plot of the Greek gods, Apollo and Athena. Athena wants to build the city Plato writes about in his book, the Republic. Plato is a philosopher if you don’t know. Apollo wants to be a part of this because he doesn’t understand humanity well enough, basically. He decides that by becoming mortal he can learn things and understand humans better.

Imagine Apollo as Kristof here

So each individual, all throughout time, who prays to Athena wishing they could be taking to the Just City (usually because they either love Plato or are struggle in their own times) are transported by her to the city she has created.

This is potentially going to get confusing and I’d just like to say I recommend just trusting me and reading this book if you have any interest in the genres of fantasy or sci-fi. But I shall continue.

Oh come on, I have to have at least one irrelevant gif

The book is multi-perspective and we get to follow a woman from the 19th century now living in the Just City, a slave girl brought to the City, and the gods themselves. The adults are all philosophers – or at least enjoy philosophy – and they’ve fallen in love with the ideals of this City. One of which is gender equality, basically. But the City’s construction calls for the need of thousands of 10 year old children so that they can be raised in this ancient, philosophical way and continue on the legacy.

If you know what I mean, *waggles eyebrows*

But I think it’s fair to say these things are easier said than done. Despite a seemingly perfect world of equality and simplicity, of order where everyone has mentors, friends and house they belong to, there are plenty of problems. And when Sokrates arrives to the party, well, things get interesting.


Amazing Writing

What I was most blown away with was the fact that Walton pulled off this story so well. I was constantly floored by the philosophical debates that went on and the intriguing topics that were broached throughout the book. I especially loved exploring the mind of a character who never stops to think that it’s unusual for women to be equal to men in all ways.

It’s most amazing, however, that the book is never confusing. I never had any difficulty whatsoever with keeping up with what was going on. I think this book is quite literally a perfect exploration of what would happen if you created the “perfect” world. Especially when the adults realised the children were more complex than just things to bring to the city; that they might have their own thoughts and memories and feelings about being taken against their will. Indeed.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed when it came to writing was the fact that Walton changed spellings. Names like Socrates become Sokrates so as to clarify exactly how things would be pronounced. There is also a pronunciation guide in the back of the book just in case. The book is addictive and beautiful and I can’t recommend it enough for its writing.


Thought Provoking: Level 10

The whole book really felt as though someone had laid a city in front of me and released people into it to see what would happen, and we as readers got to sit quietly and observe all the goings on. Interesting is a great word to describe that.

In other words, you can see the potential for things to go pear shaped

Amongst all the amazingness of this book just generally being a fantastic story and imagining of a what if, the thought provoking elements to the narrative were insane. I definitely have a new respect for philosophy, that’s for sure.

The debates that the children had with each other were great but the ones with Sokrates were brilliant. There were so many times when I just thought AHHTHISISAMAZING and ran in circles that I lost count. Sokrates himself was a fabulous character and I need more.

I just love how Walton has created a whole set of characters with unique and independent thought to current day society; their expectations of the world and understanding of it are vastly different to that of you, as the reader. It amazes me that Walton was able to write this.


Character Mash-Up

The thing that absolutely makes this book, though, is the characters. They were all amazing. I loved that they were from all eras -I think that made it really interesting to have people from the dawn of time right to the future all together and sharing ideas. It was amazing. I also really liked the idea of the kids being saved from slavery (but also had issues with this taking-them-against-their-will, essentially, business). Sokrates was hands down my favourite but they were all interesting in their own right. It was interesting to see characters develop in divergent ways – especially when they unwittingly replicated the actions of humans in the real world and the City aimed to eradicate.

Sokrates was great because of the way he questioned everything. I loved how Walton blurred the lines between her fantasy of this City with ancient history and things about the man himself. I loved how he stirred trouble and I especially love his involvement with the robots.

Maia was an interesting character who really acted as a perfect balance to Simmea in that one struggled to recreate a mindset of being suddenly equal and powerful in a world where that was the norm, and the other blissfully unaware of the difficulties of being a woman outside of this city.

I definitely thought aspects of friendship, love, and sex to be interestingly approached throughout the book, and found the way the children were controlled to be interesting. It definitely worked well on a surface level for establishing the City – but at the end of the day there was always going to be so many little potholes along the way.

I loved the contrast between Simmea and Kebes (who is a complete dickhead in my opinion). I thought it was cleverly done by Walton here, because the two have very different opinions of the City but neither are portrayed to be wrong of right about it: it’s very much so left up to the reader to decide what they think about the City.


A few spoiler-y things
SO DON’T READ THIS SECTION IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK!!

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  • I loved that the robots gained a consciousness. Perfect.
  • I don’t like the baby situation and I don’t like the practice of eugenics, at all.
  • I like Pytheas and Simmea together.
  • I do not like Kebes.
  • I think the City is alright, but I think there is a lot wrong with it.
  • I’m super curious to see how events will go after angering Athena, Kebes leading an uprising, and Sokrates turned into a gadfly.

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Summary

This book is so unique and so amazing. I can’t recommend it enough and I really do hope that you decide to pick it up. I can’t wait to continue on with the series because we’re definitely left in an interesting place. So much love for this story; this will, at least, be a book I will reread many times.

View all my reviews

// GOODREADS //

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Booktopia
Wordery
Angus & Robertson Bookworld
Amazon


 You might also like . . .

If you enjoy books that test your mind, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is for you.

If you like books that play with history, Wolf by Wolf is for you.

If you just like your good ol’ Greek gods, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is for you.


 Have you read this? What did you think?

Share your thoughts below!


 One last thing!

I read this as part of The Dragon Hoard box read along (hosted by myself and Casey @ AdoptaBookAUS). The read along happens every month and we read the book in the previous month’s box! Check out the Goodreads group for more info.

Today we’re starting Strings by David Estes – September’s book! Quick! Come join in the fun!


End Note

~~ Kirstie ~~

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6 thoughts on “Philosophy in The Just City

    1. It’s definitely an amazing book! I’m so glad it was introduced to me because I think this book absolutely should be read by everyone. Yes she has!! She reviewed it a little earlier than I did (shush, I’m very disorganised right now) so get scrolling 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I saw Casey’s review of this one. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m a HUGE Jo Walton fan. I only discovered her books last year (and I’ve only read, like, two so far) but OMG, the woman is INCREDIBLE. Highly recommend My Real Children and Among Others. I’m hoping to get the The Just City very soon! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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