Review: The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just CitySeries: Thessaly #1
Published by: Tor Books
ISBN: 1466800828
ISBN 13: 9781466800823
Published: January 2015
Pages: 369 pages
Format reviewed: eBook (bought)
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended
Related Reviews: Books Upcoming: The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2)

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, so when the chance came to read a preview of the second book on NetGalley, I requested it immediately – so then I’d have to read this. And I’m so glad I did! This has jumped into being one of my favourite books of the year, and considering the year we’ve had, that’s pretty high praise indeed.

This is going to be a hard book to review. I can talk plot and characters and writing, sure, but what makes this novel incredible is something I know so little about, and I suspect there was a lot of clever stuff going on that went over my head as I know so little of the original material.

This book is about a time-omitted city named The Just City which is created in the Mediterranean somewhere, by gods Athene and Apollo. They take over ten thousand children who are all roughly ten years old who were to be sold as slaves. They also take a few hundred adults from all over time – right from the early hundreds in A.D., right up until what one can guess is our time currently. The adults are all incredible and were either under-valued in the time, or were too excellent to be left to die in their proper time and they were to be known as Masters. They create the laws and decide how the city shall work, then they instruct the children until they themselves can take over the city… when? There’s certain texts they can’t read until they’re 50, so perhaps then?

The children, now freed and to be shaped by the greatness the city shall give, are always to be known as The Children (even as adults as it comes, though it was planned for the best to be known as The Philosopher Kings, which is the title of the second book). Apollo himself chooses to be reborn so he can experience the city and discover the finer points of being human, as he often doesn’t understand many things that a God never has to deal with. Athene inserts herself also into the city but remains slightly apart from it. Apollo strips himself of his powers which he’ll only get back when he dies and collects them again from Hades, whereas Athene retains hers, and lives mostly in the library (which is full of all amazing texts they’ve recovered and saved throughout time, including the library of Alexandra).

In the book we follow a few characters, mainly Maia who is one of the Masters, a young woman in her early 20s from Victorian times, when women weren’t supposed to seek knowledge.

We also have a young girl who was one of the first children, at 10 years old, known now as Simmea. She is beyond excellent and chosen by Sokrates as a student of his. She also befriends Apollo (known as a child as Pytheas) and another slave child known as Kebes, a very angry child who attempts to run away and bring as much destruction to the city as he can. He hates the slavers for killing his family and taking him away, so by extension he hates the Masters and cities for buying him. As he can’t reach the slavers, he’ll reach them. Even his friendship with Simmea and his eventual respect with Sokrates doesn’t completely heal this hurt.

Throughout we see Maia and the other Masters create and achieve amazing things with the city, and we also see the struggles and changes they make as things don’t go quite as planned. Having so many adults from throughout history is certainly not easy as many are so fixed in their ways on subjects such as where woman belong, slavery, and the age one should be for certain things such as sex and giving birth.

This experiment the gods run (and hence, the Masters) in The Just City is endlessly fascinating to explore the choices made, the results and what possibly could have been better (or much, much worse). I just wish I knew more about mythology and the philosophy side of everything – Plato’s Republic (that The Just City is based on – the city itself I mean, rather than this book’s title), the writings of Sokrates, etc. The book is enjoyable without knowing anything about all that (clearly) but I suspect there are clever little digs that those with an understanding would have giggled at throughout the book.

If you want to give this book a go I strongly recommend you either get a sample sent to your eReader in the usual fashion, or you can read the first three chapters up on Tor.com right here. Highly recommended!

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