The Just City
Release Date: 2 July
368 pages | Paperback Author: Jo Walton Publisher: Corsair
According to this
book’s Notes, Jo Walton came up with the idea of time travellers attempting to set up Plato’s Republic when she was 15.
Reading the resulting novel, it appears she hasn’t actually thought much more about the concept in the intervening three decades. The Just City is an interesting idea desperately in search of a plot.
It kicks off in misleadingly quirky and lively fashion, with the god Apollo perplexed that a nymph would rather transform into a tree than accept his advances. To understand this reaction he decides to spend a lifetime incognito as a human. Handily, sister Athene is planning to use people plucked from different ages to see if they can build Plato’s Republic, which seems as good a place as any to be reborn.
So far, so intriguing. Then… not a lot happens. Various near- interchangeable characters who all speak in the same tone discuss philosophy and morality. A lot. There’s barely anything approaching real drama, apart from a bit of sexual tension, and a subplot about whether robot workers are sentient is largely wasted. There’s no sense of building to a climax, just a final chapter where everything suddenly falls apart, and a finger- wagging “lesson” like something from the end of an old US children’s TV show.
You’ll learn a lot about Plato – the word “agape” is used possibly more than “the” – but like Athene’s plan, The Just City is a failed exercise. Dave Golder The character of Maia ( a Victorian) is based on Ethel May in Charlotte M Yonge’s 1856 novel The Daisy Chain.