cover image The Just City

The Just City

Jo Walton. Tor, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3266-0

Hugo-winner Walton (My Real Children) explores the temptations and pitfalls of utopia in a genre-bending thought experiment: what if the Greek gods recreated Plato’s Republic with human time travelers? Centuries before the Trojan War, on the volcanic island of Thera, the goddess Athene presides over the Just City, where her devotees from throughout history strive to raise a generation of philosopher-kings. When Sokrates of Athens arrives, as ever a thorn in the side of the establishment, the consequences are far-reaching and explosive. Perspectives alternate among the passionately intellectual Egyptian-born Simmea; the formerly Victorian Maia, one of the city’s first “masters”; and the reincarnated god Apollo, who’s on a quest to learn about “equal significance and volition.” Walton expertly observes the cracks between Platonic ideal and messy reality, but she relies heavily and uncomfortably on sexual violence and its aftermath as vehicles for exploring concepts of consent and free will. Her reductive depiction of the gods—particularly callous, unkind Athene, who’s set up as a straw man for Sokrates to knock down—and an unresolved, abrupt ending prevent this impressively ambitious novel from becoming its own best self. Agent: Jack Byrne, Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency. (Jan.)