Title: The Just City (Thessaly #1)
Author: Jo Walton
Publisher: Tor Books (Macmillan)
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Acquired Via: Publisher
"Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent."
Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future—all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.
The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome—and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.
Meanwhile, Apollo—stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does—has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.
Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives—the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself—to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.
The Just City is a fairly amazing book that I really don't know how to describe, sadly. I was drawn to the book because of all of the wonderful things I have heard about Jo Walton (I hate that I missed her panels at ALA in June) and my love of Greek mythology. What I found was a novel that made me want to be smarter to appreciate it more, and I also wish that I had read it ten years ago in college, when my brain was at its peak.
I know I have The Just City labeled as "time travel" at the bottom of this review but don't expect it to be something where the characters hop around through time. The only time travelers are Athena and the masters of the city who are doing her work. The masters are great teachers and philosophers throughout time, like Marcus Tullius Cicero, Marsilio Ficino, and Socrates. (I would have recognized more names in the book if I had been fresh out of my philosophy classes.) Anywho, their goal is to create this great city based on Plato's The Republic, so the masters travel through time to buy slave children who are ten years old, gather lost pieces of art, and whatever else they need to get the city going.
Being as the city is filled with humans with human fallibilities, things don't exactly go as planned.
The Just City is told through alternating points of view from Apollo (yes, the Apollo), Maia, and Simmea. If there were any other narrators, I am awful and have forgotten about them. Apollo, Maia, and Simmea are the most important anyway, excepting Sokretes (that's how it's spelled in the book). Apollo came to the city because he requires better understanding of how human mind's work (and why no means no, period). Simmea is the character who believes wholly in the system, even though she doesn't always get her heart's desire, because she sees the fairness of it. Maia begins to question much about the city once she is there because Plato did not take everything into consideration when he wrote The Republic.
There are many philosophical questions in The Just City, like what it means to be human, what it is to have a soul, and the problem of slavery. I know it all seems pretty cut and dry, but when the questions arose in the situations in the book, I was scratching my head. (Except for the slavery bit - that's just wrong.)
So if you're interested in a really intelligent adult novel, I recommend The Just City. It's unlike anything I've read before, and I cannot wait to get my hands on The Philosopher Kings.
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To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an digital copy of the book for reviewing purposes from the publisher through Edelweiss. This has in no way affected the outcome of the review. All opinions expressed are rambling, honest, and completely my own.