Summarizing such a sweeping and epic novel is a bit like saying Moby-Dick is about a fishing trip. Much of the grandeur is left out. Anderson's stylistic accomplishments should be acknowledged, particularly the way he sustains an almost Homeric voice…Then there is Anderson's suppleness of tone, as he slides from the comic in the opening pages…to the tragic in the conclusion…Here, too, you will be amazed by how much Anderson seems to knowfor example, about Africa, from the warrior-women of Dahomey to uses of the kola nut. And all this virtuosityin Octavian's voice, rememberis not showing off but serving the novel's purposes…It may be hard to conceive of making the claim about a young adult book, but I believe Octavian Nothing will someday be recognized as a novel of the first rank, the kind of monumental work Italo Calvino called "encyclopedic" in the way it sweeps up history into a comprehensive and deeply textured pattern.
The New York Times
With an eye trained to the hypocrisies and conflicted loyalties of the American Revolution, Anderson resoundingly concludes the finely nuanced bildungsroman begun in his National Book Award-winning novel. Again comprised of Octavian's journals and a scattering of other documents, the book finds Octavian heading to Virginia in response to a proclamation made by Lord Dunmore, the colony's governor, who emancipates slaves in exchange for military service. Octavian's initial pride is short-lived, as he realizes that their liberation owes less to moral conviction than to political expediency. Disillusioned, facing other crises of conscience, Octavian's growth is apparent, if not always to himself: when he expresses doubt about having become any more a man, his mentor, Dr. Trefusis, assures him, "That is the great secret of men. We aim for manhood always and always fall short. But my boy, I have seen you at least reach half way." Made aware of freedom-fighters on both sides of the conflict (as well as heart-stopping acts of atrocity), readers who work through and embrace Anderson's use of historical parlance will be rewarded with a challenging perspective onAmerican history. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Volume I, The Pox Party, which won the National Book Award, introduced readers to a most unusual slave named Octavian, educated as a child by intellectuals in Boston as a social experiment. When he becomes a teenager, he runs off to join the Revolutionary Army, but is captured and cruelly restrained, then escapes with the help of his tutor. Volume II begins in the summer of 1775 as the two of them flee toward Boston. Octavian joins the Royal Ethiopian Regiment, led by Lord Dunmore, who promises to free slaves who join his forces. As Octavian fights in the desperate battles of the Revolutionary War, he experiences and contemplates the many meanings and ironies of "liberty." In the end, Octavian encounters one of the men who educated him, and finally, seeking to escape both England and its colony, he writes, "I light out for the unknown regions." Told through Octavian's diary entries as well as through letters, documents, and the diaries of others, this great, tragic, sometimes even darkly humorous tale of an extraordinary young man's experience of slavery in America is related in the language of the 18th century, making it a demanding but rewarding read. An author's note at the end explains that while the characters are mostly imaginary, the events are based on reality. As with Volume I, this examination of racism and the Revolution is sure to garner awards and provoke readers into a new understanding of American history, sharing Octavian's (and Anderson's) anger at injustice. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
Having left readers hanging at the end of Volume I, Anderson begins this book with Octavian and his tutor Dr. Trefusis running through an intense rainstorm, leaving the College of Lucidity behind. They arrive in downtown Boston, with Octavian having saved both their lives. He then finds a place to live and acquires a position playing the violin for concerts at Faneuil Hall. But this period of stability does not last long. Unrest surrounds them, and Octavian must decide whether to join with the British or the Patriots (thereafter called the Rebels). Dunmore, the British commander, is offering freedom to slaves who enlist. Most of the book is composed of Octavian's journal writings as he endures the atrocities of war as he hopes to come through it as a free man. The elaborate writing style of the eighteenth century and the extensive amount of detail Anderson includes make for difficult reading. The content offers intriguing and seldom-explored viewpoints about the Revolutionary War. This unusual perspective will likely be appreciated by scholars of this historical era. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
VOYA - Teresa Copeland
The second Octavian Nothing novel jumps in where the last left off, with Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escaping his former masters and fleeing back to Boston. They fend off starvation during the Revolutionary Army's siege of Boston and then escape to the fleet of Lord Dunmore, who has promised freedom to any slave who joins his Loyalist army. There Octavian re-encounters former fellow slave, Pro Bono, who had been given away as a gift during the first book. He meets many former slaves who have fled to join this regiment in the hope of securing freedom. Octavian spends his time among harrowing battles, foraging expeditions, and many narrow escapes, collecting the often-horrifying stories of these slaves, events primarily presented as Octavian's diaries. He realizes just how well treated he was, despite being an experiment. He also learns from Pro Bono more about his mother and who she actually was. Nothing goes well for Lord Dunmore or his army, but in the midst of all the death, loss, and misery, Octavian realizes he is no longer without an identity. He has found his own. Anderson includes an afterward about the historical circumstances that inspired the novel and explains his choice of endings. More cohesive than the first book, it is a wonderfully written story with immersive descriptions of life during the Revolution, but it is still a challenging read that touches on some truly difficult topics. Reviewer: Teresa Copeland
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up
Octavian Nothing's astonishing story, begun in M. T. Anderson's The Pox Party (2006), winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, continues in The Kingdom of the Waves (2008, both Candlewick). With references to the action in the first volume, the story flows smoothly into this new aspect of the American Revolution. Octavian escapes to Boston and joins the Royal Ethiopian Regiment with the promise of attaining his freedom. This first-person account is written from Octavian's perspective in 18th-century prose. The language and Octavian's philosophic meaderings may be challenging to some listeners. With themes of oppression, slavery, freedom, and identity, the experiences and horrors of war are realistically presented. Peter Francis James does an admirable job of bringing Octavian to life; the other characters are not uniquely voiced. In the author's note at the conclusion, Anderson restates his own views concerning liberty and provides significant historical background. A powerful story.-Anita Lawson, Otsego High School, MI
In the sequel to The Pox Party (2006), Octavian Nothing escapes the College of Lucidity and flees to British-controlled Boston, where he will swear fealty "to whoever offers emancipation with the greatest celerity." When Lord Dunmore offers manumission to slaves joining the British counterrevolutionary forces, Octavian joins the Royal Ethiopian Regiment off the coast of Virginia. He not only fights the rebels but records the stories of his fellow Africans and escaped slaves so their names and stories will not be lost. In so doing, Octavian receives a first-hand education quite different from his classical training and offers readers an African-American perspective neglected in most sources on the period. Elegantly crafted writing in an 18th-century voice, sensitive portrayals of primary and secondary characters and a fascinating author's note make this one of the few volumes to fully comprehend the paradoxes of the struggle for liberty in America. Prefaced by an outline of volume one, this can stand alone, but readers who finish both will feel that they have been part of a grand and special adventure. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Read an Excerpt
The rain poured from the heavens as we fled across the mud-flats, that scene of desolation; it soaked through our clothes and bit at the skin with its chill. It fell hard and ceaseless from the heavens as the deluge that had both inundated Deucalion and buoyed up Noah; and as with that deluge, we knew not whether it fell as an admonition for our sins or as the promise of a brighter, newly washed morning to come.
I left all that I knew behind me. Though the ways of the College of Lucidity were strange to the world and the habits of its academicians eccentric, they were familiar to me; and I traded them now for uncertainty and strife. Though I returned, indeed, to Boston, that town best known to me, its circumstances were changed, now that it was the seat of the King’s Army and sat silent and brooding in the Bay. We knew not what we would find therein.
Dr. Trefusis and I stumbled across the ribbed sand. Treading through seaweed mounded in pools, we slithered and groped, that we might retain our footing; and on occasions, we fell, Dr. Trefusis’s hands bleeding from the roughness of rock and incision of barnacles.
We wound through the meanders that led between stubbled mud-banks in no straight or seemly course. I pulled Dr. Trefusis out of the ditches where water still ran over the silt. We crawled over knolls usually submerged by the Bay. At some point, soaked, he shed his coat.
After a time, there was no feature but the sand, corrugated with the action of the tides. We made our way across a dismal plain, groping for detail, sight obscured.
But that morning I had been a prisoner, a metal mask upon my face, and my jowls larded with my own vomit, in a condition which could hardly have been more debased; but that morning I had watched the masters of my infancy and youth writhe upon the floor and fall into unpitied slumber, perhaps their bane. A sentence of death might already rest upon my head. The thought of this appeared fleetingly — the memory of those bodies on the floor, bound with silken kerchiefs — and at this, I found I could not breathe, and wished to run faster, that I might recover my breath.
Tumbling through the darkness of those flats, revolving such thoughts amidst utter indistinctness, I feared I would never again find myself; all I knew was lost and sundered from me; I knew not anymore what actuated me. We ran on through the night, across the sand, and it was as Dr. Trefusis had always avowed in his sparkish philosophy, that there was no form nor matter, that we acted our lives in an emptiness decorated with an empty show of substance, and a darkness infinite behind it.
Forms and figures loomed out of the rain: boulders in our path, gruesome as ogres to my susceptible wits, hulking, pocked and eyed with limpets, shaggy with weeds.
We came upon a capsized dinghy in the mud, mostly rotted, and barrels half-sunk. My aged companion now leaned upon my shoulder as we walked, his breath heavy in his chest.
Once, I started with terror at a ratcheting upon my foot, to find a horseshoe crab trundling past in search of a pool, its saber-tail and lobed armor grotesque in the extreme. Dr. Trefusis, wheezing, greeted it, "Old friend."
His amiability to the crab, I feared, was merely a pretense to stop our running. He did not seem well.
We could no longer detect the city, the night was so black, so full of water and motion, so unsparing was the drench. Our senses disorganized, our frames trembling with cold, we calculated as best we could the direction of our town and made our way across that countryside of dream.
Once I was shown by the scholars of the College a rock, spherical in shape, which, when chiseled open, revealed a tiny cavern of crystal; and they told me that these blunt stones often held such glories; that though some were filled only with dust, others, when broke open, enwombed the skeletons of dragons or of fish, beaked like birds. Thus I felt in approaching my city; that place which seemed known stone, but which, when riven after its long gestation, might contain either wonders, or ash, or the death in infancy of some clawed terror.
We found ourselves at the brink of the returning tide. We walked through it without notice, so thick was the very air with water, until the flood reached Dr. Trefusis’s knees, and there he halted, swaying. "I cannot continue," said he. "I will return to shore."
Thus his offer; but well did I know that he had no intention of returning to the bank, and could not unassisted, did he wish to. I was aware that if I left him, he would sink to the ground and allow the waters to cover him.
I instructed him to climb upon my shoulders.
"I will drag you down, Octavian."
"You have risked your all for me, sir; and it is only right that I do the same for you."
He considered this, and at length, we now feeling the motion of the tide through our legs, said, "When I become burdensome, cast me off backwards."
I leaned down as best I could with the waters rising, and he clambered atop me, clawing at my head and neck for purchase. When he was situated, I stood again and began striding through the returning sea.
THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, VOLUME TWO: THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES by M.T. Anderson. Copyright © 2008 by M. T. Anderson. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Somerville, MA.