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


The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves (2008) by M.T. Anderson continues and completes the young adult Revolutionary War saga.  I read the first volume, The Pox Party, earlier this year and it was by far one of my favorite books of the year so far.  This volume picks up with Octavian escaping a death sentence and with his tutor Dr. Trefusis make it into besieged Boston.  There he is a violinist performing to entertain the British regulars.  Octavian yearns for something more and answers the call of Virginia governor Lord Dunmore who has created a Royal Ethiopian regiment for slaves of rebellious masters willing to take up arms to put down the rebellion in exchange for their freedom.

The majority of the book is in the form of Octavian’s diary (interspersed with a few letters written by other actors in this drama).  He describes the hope and optimism of slaves gaining freedom and learning to fight.  His reunion and developing relationship with the older, wiser slave Pro Bono. He tells the stories of his fellow slaves and how they made their escape.  He describes in grim detail the loss of Norfolk and the plague of smallpox the decimates the regiment.  Eventually Octavian’s spirit is all but crushed and he comes to the conclusion that Dunmore has no desire to free slaves other than for tactical purposes.

I have to admit that this book dragged at times.  There was too much verisimilitude in a day-to-day diary of the mundane life of a foot soldier.  I also admit that with the reality of Octavian’s life already established in the previous volume that it loses the unique science fiction edge and reads more like a straight-forward historical novel.  The novel does follow real historical events and recreates them in an admirable way.  Yet, and it may just be due to flashbacks of working at Colonial Williamsburg, I had trouble getting into this book.  If you enjoyed the first volume as I did, I would definitely recommend completing Octavian’s story.

Author Anderson, M. T.
Title The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, traitor to the nation. v. #2 The kingdom on the waves / taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources ; collected by M.T. Anderson of Boston.
Publication Info. Cambridge, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2008.
Edition 1st ed.
Description 561 p. : maps ; 24 cm.