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The Kingdom on the Waves The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
The action of Volume I: The Pox Party is summed up neatly in a broadside, allowing the plot of Volume II to stand on its own. The emotional content of this book, though, is probably better understood in light of the first book, but there’s enough going on here to completely occupy the reader.

Octavian, as a character, is a fascinating outsider in the world he occupies. He has the education of a well-to-do white man, he was raised as an object of scientific inquiry, but he also witnessed his mother’s horrific death and suffered his own indignities at the hands of Mr. Gitney and Mr. Sharpe. In some ways he is mature beyond his years, but he can’t bring himself to speak to a girl he admires. He is seen as a slave by most white men, both Royalist and revolutionary. He is seen as a pampered boy by many of his fellow former slaves in Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian regiment. At times he brings a sense of history and philosophy to his situation, and at other times he is overcome by the world around him.

Not only is Octavian a fascinating character, but so are others around him. It’s an overwhelming example of historical fiction – overwhelming because it does not seem to impose our present day understanding on historical figures, but instead shows them as they were understood at the time. Both sides care only for the slaves in as far as they can further their cause. Nothing is glamorized or glorified. The language is amazing – and was the source, along with the character of Pro Bono, of a lot of the humor of the book. “I don’t cut so excellent a figure when I’m vomiting,” says Bono (or Private William Williams, as he is now known). “I bend from the waist, and it interrupts the line of beauty.”

At times the book is a delight to read – and at other times an agony. There’s action, and introspection, and views on the story from plenty of characters. We read Octavian’s testimony, his diary, letters between various characters, and the occasional document from real historical sources. “Sweet mercy in a firkin,” as Bono would say, this is a book worth reading. My own words can’t do it justice.

While it’s not an easy read, teens interested in realistic historical fiction or classics would find this a pleasant challenge. It is, at heart, an unusual coming of age story, concerned with an aspect of history that isn’t covered enough in school.

View all my reviews.

There’s being a nerd, and there’s being a nerd.  This morning, Kitri and I held our own “Octavian Nothing Release Party.”  Just like when a new volume of a bestselling series comes out, and bookstores host parties and kids line up in costumes to get the book at the stroke of midnight.  Just like it.  Except Powell’s wasn’t open at midnight, so we pre-ordered a couple copies and showed up at 9 am to pick them up.  And then we had breakfast and chatted.  It’s the grown-up nerd version of a release party, okay?

So far I haven’t let myself jump into it – there are a lot of other things I should read first.  How long will I hold out?  Maybe an hour.  Already the title page delights me:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

Traitor to the Nation

Taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources

Collected by Mr. M. T. Anderson of Boston

Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

I love holding a book in my hands that I know I will love.  Actually, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of fantastic works of creativity lately.  I inhaled Nancy Werlin’s Impossible on Saturday – and I’m still trying to digest it to give it justice in a review.  My brother and I went to heard the Portland Baroque Orchestra do Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Sunday – an absolute delight.  I started reading Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music on Julia’s recommendation, and it’s made me put all kinds of music on hold at the library to compliment the reading.

And then, on Saturday we’re going to see Swan Lake. Can you believe I’ve never seen Swan Lake live?  It’s an over-the-top confection and I adore it.  Tragedy, romance, impersonation, evil magicians, flocks of swans, swoony music, and a really great party scene – classic Tchaikovsky.  What more do you want from a ballet?

In addition to all that, I’m swimming through piles of children’s books for my classes feeling overwhelmed, not by how much I have to do, but by how many great things there are out there to choose from.

And in addition to my giant pile of library books, I’ve got Paper Towns and White House Autumn being shipped to me.  If I neglect the blog, it’s because I’m too busy reading to come up for breath.

December 2021

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