by Jo Walton
Cover Artist: The School of Athens (detail) by Raphael /
Vatican Musums and Galleries / Bridgeman Images
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765379023
Date: 12 July 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Necessity is the third book in the Thessaly trilogy that started with The Just City and continued with The Philosopher Kings. As the presumably final book, Necessity does not stand alone, as the events grow out of actions in the previous books. The novel is very philosophical, as expected from a work about a city based on Plato's The Republic and counting Sokrates among its cast. The book is an unusual mix of fantasy and science fiction--the Greek gods are real and have magic powers, but the book includes robots, aliens (and alien gods), and spaceships; most of the book takes place in the future on another planet.
As shown in previous books, the Just City is modeled after Plato's The Republic. The original city, inhabited by people from all over time who prayed to Athene, Greek children bought as slaves, and sentient robots, has now split into 12, and has been moved from its pre-Homeric Greece location to an isolated planet named Plato some point in the future.
Necessity opens with the death of Pytheas, the Greek God Apollo's mortal incarnation featured in the previous two books. Restored to his full divine power, Apollo moves outside of time to study the birth of stars. This is interrupted when "my little brother Hermes" tells him their Father (Zeus) wants him to look after Plato. Before obeying Zeus, Apollo tries to visit his sister Athene at a pre-arranged time and place. However, Athene never shows and none of the gods can sense her whereabouts.
Much of the book is devoted to finding out what happened to Athene and the efforts of Apollo and others to collect the clues she has left about where she went. At the same time, a Human spaceship discovers Plato, creating the potential for conflict with a Human civilization that regards the Greek Gods as ancient history.
As in the previous books, Necessity has multiple narrators. The first is Apollo, now able to use his power to travel throughout all of time and space, subject to the limit of not being able to be in a time where he already is. Another narrator is Jason, a Silver who works on a fishing boat with Hilfa (an alien Saeli) and Marsilia, who is one of the other narrators and a step-grandchild of Apollo's mortal identity. The fourth narrator is Crocus, one of robots who Sokrates proved were sentient. Sokrates, restored to human life, is another major character in the book.
At times the book has elements of a soap opera. Marsilia loves Jason, but Jason loves her sister Thetis. Marsilia had a child by Hermes, eight years ago, but Hermes does not recognize her and says he had never been to this planet before. The gods can travel in time, and, when they become aware of such a paradox, are compelled by Necessity to go fix it. However, in this case Apollo convinces Hermes to delay, saying that if he leaves this conception undone, Necessity would prevent him from vanishing when they try to follow Athene who, with the help of an alien trickster god, has gone outside of time to discover how the universe begins and ends.
Each of the books in this series are linked, but set a generation later. Walton does provide enough references in Necessity's early chapters so new readers can follow along, but they would still be wise to start with the first book. There is even less action in this book than in the previous ones as the plot resembles a scavenger hunt combined with a Sokratic dialogue. Necessity has more science fictional elements than the previous books, but I'd still classify it as fantasy since most of the book revolves around gods and divine power.
Necessity once again proves Jo Walton to be one of the most innovative authors in SF/fantasy. It has interesting characters, an unusual setting, and an interesting, unpredictable plot (with a nice twist that plays fair but I did not see coming). Most importantly, the book is full of ideas. The whole trilogy is very philosophical and forces the reader to think.
I highly recommend the whole trilogy. Start with The Just City, go on to The Philosopher Kings, and then read Necessity. There are references online to this being called the Thessaly trilogy, but there is nothing on the book's cover or contents calling it that.