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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Just City by Jo Walton

The Just City              

A puzzled Apollo is confused when Daphne turn herself into a tree.  Why would she do that? Didn't she want to mate with him?  When he asks his sister Pallas Athene, she tells him that regardless of how many women might have wanted to mate with him in the past, obviously Daphne did not.  

He tells her that it is a game.  He chases a woman, catches her, and mates with her.  That is the way it has always been, it's fun, a kind of mutual foreplay.  The women have always desired him--so what's up with Daphne hating the idea so much she would rather be a tree?

Athene tells him that although Apollo had chosen Daphne:
"... she hadn't chosen you in return.  It wasn't mutual.  You decided to pursue her.  You didn't ask, and she certainly didn't agree. It wasn't consensual.  And, as it happens she didn't want you.  So she turned into a tree,"  Athene shrugged.
Apollo considers this--the idea of volition and equal significance.  Still a bit confused about these ideas, he tells Athene that he has been considering spending some time as a mortal. He realizes there are some things he could learn.

Perfect timing.  Athene has been considering a surprising experiment.  Some people throughout time have prayed to Athene to set up Plato's Republic.  She has decided where and some ideas about how to go about it.

Apollo decides he will become a mortal and be a part of this grand scheme.  

And so begins the idea of the Just City as Plato described it (mostly).

The beginning chapters are a little slow as characters are introduced and some basics of the plan for organizing the city are put in play.  And at first, I thought the book was going to be a treatise about the place of women over time, their rights, their abilities, societies limitations, but it expands to raise questions about...well, about all the big questions people have.  What is just, what is good, what is right--almost any philosophical question people wonder about is considered.

Mortals are mortals, however, and agreement isn't always easy; even the gods are not always right in their beliefs and efforts.

I ended up reading this as if it were nonfiction, not rushing through the book eager to find out what happens, as I do with most fiction.  I'd read a chapter and stop and think-- sometimes stopping several times within a chapter to "voice" my own opinion about the topics and about how things were proceeding.

Highly recommended if you are interested in mythology and/or philosophy!

Read in Oct.; blog post scheduled for Dec. 30.


Philosophical Fiction.  Jan. 13, 2015.  print length:  368 pages.  


  1. I recently read my first novel by this author -- In Among Others, she talks a bit about Plato's Republic. This sounds right up my alley, actually. :-) Great review!

  2. I'm so looking forward to this! It's good to know in advance that it starts a bit slow; I can be prepared to power on through that.

  3. Great review. It sounds very interesting.

  4. My dad was very passionate about mythology and as a result I grew up on many of the stories. This does sound good.

  5. How interesting! I took a mythology course in college and it was one of my favorite classes. I still have my Edith Hamilton Mythology book on my shelves I couldn't part with it after that class. Great review!

  6. A lot to think about in this book! I'm very interested to see where the sequel goes with all of the questions it raised.