Walton continues her tale of the goddess Athene’s experiment to establish a city based on the principles of Plato’s Republic, inhabited by stray scholars and former child-slaves harvested from various time periods.
Twenty years after the events of The Just City (2014), the original city has splintered into five, each convinced that it's following the correct philosophical path. But instead of the enlightened rule Plato dreamed of, there are petty squabbles and thefts of the art Athene looted from the dark corners of history. When Simmea, the aspiring philosopher who was such a sympathetic narrator in the previous volume, is killed during one of these art raids, her husband, Pytheas (aka Apollo in human form), swears vengeance, believing the perpetrator to be Kebes, Simmea’s jealous former suitor who sailed off to parts unknown. So Pytheas, his children (including his daughter by Simmea, Arete), and a small crew take their one remaining ship on a voyage of exploration. Along the way, they discover the fate of Kebes, and Pytheas’ children learn what it truly means to be the children of a god, just as Pytheas begins to understand what it means to be human. The Just City seemed more thought experiment than novel, practically checking off points in a philosophy lecture. But Walton is more audacious here, launching into her own territory; the plotting and characterization are richer in what begins as a fantasy and then, just at the end, abruptly and intriguingly veers into science fiction. While Kebes remains something of a one-dimensional villain, Ikaros/Giovanni Pico della Mirandola becomes more than the arrogantly oblivious rapist he is in Book 1, and living with and grieving for Simmea has seriously chipped away at Pytheas’ hubris.
There’s still more talk than action, but enough happens that the end result is a satisfying conclusion, with room for more if desired.