Must-Read: Leah Schnelbach: Thinking Through Violence in The Just City and The Philosopher Kings:

In a different book, the narrative would become either ‘Maia’s recovery’ or ‘Ikaros’ redemption’, and Walton would track their lives and relationships with this night as a fulcrum point. Instead, it’s one night in their lives...

...and while it does change both of them, the rest of the narrative continues jumping between Masters and students, and continues focusing on thought and moral development, which allows this scene to mirror Apollo and Daphne at the beginning, Apollo’s assignation with Klymene, Simmea’s experiences on the slave ship, and her later experience with Kebes.

By using scenes of rape (or at least questionable consent) as jumping-off points for intellectual arguments rather than emotional repercussions, Walton forces her readers to focus on questions of will and consent. Apollo and Ikaros spend both books gradually learning the idea that even consent does not imply ownership, that humans are truly unique individuals with their own consciousness rather than being players in others’ lives or pawns of fate. Kebes never learns this, but even in the scene that could have been a moral reckoning for him, Walton complicates things enough that he never becomes a villain, and twists the narrative away from the obvious expectation so that when Apollo murders Kebes, it isn’t vengeance.

Kebes’ death falls at the heart of The Philosopher Kings. Given that the book opens with the death of a main character, the reader is braced for violence and what would, in a different context, be tragedy. But even knowing that what comes in the center of the book is startling. Right in the heart of the book, Pythias finally confronts Kebes. Kebes had good reason to hate the Just City. He remained Christian and preferred his old name and personality to the philosophy the Masters present him with. However, rather than finding a way to work within the context of the city, he nurses his resentment the entire time, insisting the Simmea loves him, and that the Masters are monsters, and finally raping Simmea to try to force her to love him.

He is a leader of art raids, and has converted large portions of the island cultures to his own particular brand of angry, vengeful Christianity. In a final act of dishonesty, he plants armed men among the audience of the music competition, and has them attack the crew of the Excellence after he loses the music competition. The competition itself is a rewrite of the story of Apollo and Marsyas. A battle between a few of the Lucians and the Excellence crew follows so quickly that it’s hard for a reader to get their bearings. This section is told by Arete, Pythias and Simmea’s daughter, and it exemplifies the unusual storytelling Walton uses. Arete obviously wants her father to win. However, such is her Platonic dedication that she first muses on the outfits she, Pythias, and her brothers are wearing, wishing that she’d had time to create costumes to show family unity. Then she loses herself in the music, not only her father’s new tune, but even Kebes’...