Starred Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just City by Jo Walton“The award-winning Walton has written a remarkable novel of ideas that demands—and repays—careful reading. It is itself an exercise in philosophy that often, courtesy of Socrates, critically examines Plato’s ideas. If this sounds abstruse, it sometimes is, but the plot is always accessible and the world building and characterization are superb. In the end, the novel more than does justice to the idea of the Just City.”

Jo Walton’s The Just City got a starred review in Booklist!

Here’s the full review, from the December 1 issue:

Together with 300 scholars from 25 centuries, the goddess Athene sets out to establish Plato’s Republic and build the Just City on the backwater island of Kallisti, known to later generations as Atlantis. To populate it, she imports 10,080 10-year-olds, among them the slave girl Simmea and her friend and ultimate bête noire, Kebes. Another of the children is Pytheas, who is secretly the god Apollo in human form. Simmea and Apollo serve as two of the story’s three narrators; the third is a young woman, Maia, who comes from mid-Victorian England. The children’s raison d’être is to pursue excellence, to become their best selves and ultimately—if all goes well—Plato’s philosopher kings. Providing food and doing the work necessary to maintaining the island’s life is the role of robots imported from the distant future who serve as de facto slaves, a not insignificant point. Five years into the experiment, Socrates is brought to the island against his will to teach the children (now teenagers) rhetoric, and that’s when things get . . . interesting. The award-winning Walton has written a remarkable novel of ideas that demands—and repays—careful reading. It is itself an exercise in philosophy that often, courtesy of Socrates, critically examines Plato’s ideas. If this sounds abstruse, it sometimes is, but the plot is always accessible and the world building and characterization are superb. In the end, the novel more than does justice to the idea of the Just City.

The Just City will be published on January 13.