Review – The Philosopher Kings

Cover of The Philosopher Kings by Jo WaltonThe Philosopher Kings, Jo Walton
Received to review via Netgalley

I should probably additionally note before I write this review that I consider Jo a friend, but I was a fan of her writing first. Actually, surprisingly, I have pretty mixed feelings about this one. It’s surprising to me, anyway — but everyone seems to connect to different books even just among Jo’s bibliography, because she’s written such a range of things. Only a little while ago I was talking about how strongly I connected with The King’s Peace/The King’s Name, which my friend Bun wasn’t nearly as enthused about.

I do like this trilogy, and I’m curious to see what the final book does with this set-up. I love the whole idea of it, and it makes me want to have Sokratic debates with everyone (in which case my mother would probably dearly wish to be able to turn me into a gadfly). I’d love to know my metal, I’d love to get the education that they have in the Just City. And I love the characters, the way everyone is learning, the way nearly everyone has subtleties and can surprise you.

My main problems with this book were to do with the pacing and one particular character. As the book starts, there’s a major drive to do a particular thing. That’s resolved by 70% of the way through, maybe even a little before, and so the rest of the book had the curious feel of being an epilogue. The emotional drive of the story, the whole tone of it, just changes — and yet then there was another climactic moment in the last 10%, after I was expecting it to end, and this one really was a gamechanger.

As for the character, I felt like I didn’t understand him anymore. Up to that point, I had understood him, and even half-sympathised, but there was a sudden moment when he felt less like the character I ‘knew’ from reading The Just City, and simply made up of the worst parts of that person, magnified. And I didn’t really see where the change came in — the problem being, of course, that none of the narrators saw him for years between The Just City and this book. It just didn’t quite ring true, for me, like there was a step missing.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading The Philosopher Kings very much, and will deeply enjoy talking about it and debating about it with my partner and anyone else who wants to.

Rating: 4/5

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