The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

4.2 32
by M. T. Anderson

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Such is our task, and such lies before us all: Liberty or Death.
In the summer of 1775, fleeing from a death sentence, Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escape through rising tides and pouring rain to find shelter in British-occupied Boston. Sundered from all he knows Octavian hopes to find safe harbor.…  See more details below


Such is our task, and such lies before us all: Liberty or Death.
In the summer of 1775, fleeing from a death sentence, Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escape through rising tides and pouring rain to find shelter in British-occupied Boston. Sundered from all he knows Octavian hopes to find safe harbor. But in the midst of war, no place is safe. The city of Boston itself is under siege. What follows is a tale of skirmish and flame, flight and fury, and battle on sea and land. Seeking both the truth of his past and some hope for his future, Octavian encounters generous thieves, pious carpenters, delicate lords, noble cowherds, bedazzled scientists, and murderous rebels–as this astonishing narrative escalates to its startling climax.

From the Compact Disc edition.

Editorial Reviews

Jerry Griswold
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 know—for example, about Africa, from the warrior-women of Dahomey to uses of the kola nut. And all this virtuosity—in Octavian's voice, remember—is 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
Publishers Weekly

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.)

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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

Kirkus Reviews
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)

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Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Series, #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.80(d)
1060L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

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.

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Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Mdesmondobrien More than 1 year ago
Put it this way - no amount of praise, ever, in a million years, could come close to doing this book justice. I mean, holy crap. It might not be a page-turner, per se, and I certainly had to keep my dictionary handy - I mean, how often do you find dialogue like "I can see that if we allow the slightest divagation on the subject of your charms, we shall never have time to hear the tale of your escape" in YA lit? - but wow, was it worth it. I might have enjoyed this book even more than the first installment - everyone's characters seemed more fleshed out, Octavian came into his own, and it chilled me to the bone in a way that The Pox Party never did. But maybe I liked it better because I knew what to expect - I remember having to pick up The Pox Party several times before I made it all the way to the end, which for the record, never happens to me. Either way, in The Kingdom on the Waves, M.T. Anderson's narrative is at once terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful in its prose, casting a harsh eye on the hypocrisy of our Founding Fathers' ideas of liberty. I was also impressed with the extensive mythological and literary sources Anderson drew from. Octavian's voice was authentic and polished in a very Colonial American way that had me forgetting, at times, that I was reading fiction. (Yes, that's a cliche, but in this case it was true.) With his nickname of Buckra and his desperate attempts to find belonging, Octavian won me over 100%. Even though on the surface we're very different, I started compiling a mental list of the ways we were the same - overachievement, perfectionism, social awkwardness, etc., etc. The fact that I was able to do that is a testament to what an incredible writer M.T. Anderson is, for sure! Sad is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel after reading this, and knowing that there's not going to be another sequel. What makes it worse is knowing that the author has carved out a niche so deep and so unique that I will probably never find another book like this in my life. But that's what re-reading is for, right?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was uninteresting at first plus hard to follow and confusing. But as the reader learns what he or she is reading about and the pieces fall into place, it proves to be a chilling trip to the past and also challenges advanced readers. Most books were pretty easy to read and finish but this one was a step up. I would recomend it to 13-15 year old gifted students as a challenge. I would not recomend this to anyone whos lookibg for a fun dystopian read like divergent or the hunger games. Learn to take risks people! Dont back away just because it seems boring and confusing
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Im usually into books that are easy to read and quick. But this book changed my while persepctive on reading. I admit it was quite a challenging read but i promise if you love to read you will love this book. I feel every thing octavian feels. This book is not for the simple minded or for those whose do not reading. By this book you will not regret it i promise. If the book seems a little strange at the beginning dont stop. The more you read it the easier it is to understand. It also should help you build your vocabulary. This book will definately be a book that through the years will be a classic and will be required read in highschool next to shakespeare.
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Awesomeness1 More than 1 year ago
have to admit that I was very reluctant to read this book. It's been on my to-read list since it came out, and I would repeatedly pass it by in the library. Eventually, it stared me down and I was forced to check it out. The reason I kept putting it off was because I didn't particularly enjoy the first one. Yes, I appreciated its artsiness, but it was very long and quite boring. In this installment, we follow Octavian as he runs away once again, but this time with his tutor Dr. Trefusis. Instead of joining up with the rebels, he becomes a soldier in Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment with the promise of his freedom. I can honestly say this novel surprised me. I was expecting this novel to be even more dull than the first one since it was even longer. Instead, I ate it up. I think its because I actually got it this time. Perhaps I didn't like the first one because I was distracted and couldn't get into it. This time I realized the humor and was genuinely invested in Octavian's journey. It was funny, tragic, and philosophical. Nothing was sugar-coated, and sometimes the writing was brutal. The writing, tedious in the first book, was fully appreciated here. The 18th century style fitted the story and time period perfectly. Octavian grew up in this book. He really loosened up in this one and was finally showing some emotions. Also, through out this whole book, it reminded me of something else I read. I couldn't put my finger on it until I saw the title in another person's review. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. They were alike in the sense of style: both were written in 18th century style, and featured letters as a technique. And the plot was alike too when I think about it. Octavian and Frankenstein's monster are both elegant experiments searching for their place in the world. I have to say I did enjoy this book more though, so if you hated Frankenstein feel free to read this one. I whole-heartedly recommend this novel. It is a very unique young adult book and a must for historical fiction fans looking for a challenge. It is in no way an easy read, for both the prose and material is difficult. I felt like I needed a dictionary a majority of the time. Whether you liked or disliked the first one, give this second installment a shot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
For those of you who immersed yourself in the world of THE POX PARTY, you must read M. T. Anderson's second volume, THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES. I would highly recommend you read the two volumes in order. In volume two, Octavian escapes the cruelty of Mr. Gitney and, with his former tutor, Dr. Trefusis, on his back, flees across the mud-flats to Boston. Once there, they are able to find lodging, trading only upon the name and reputation of the deathly ill Dr. Trefusis. With war closing in on Boston and their hostess in dire need of payment, Octavian once again finds himself with violin in hand, earning a small amount to apply toward their room and board. At this point, I was still cheering for Octavian, the escaped slave, hoping that he finally would find joy, peace and, most of all, freedom; yet at the same time, knowing that there must be more challenges ahead. As the Revolutionary War advances, Octavian hears that the Royalists are promising freedom to all slaves who fight for the King of England. He joins and dons his uniform, a shirt inscribed with the words "Liberty to Slaves." We are immediately immersed in the struggle to prepare an ill-equipped regiment for war. He becomes a member of Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment. Here, for the first time, he is surrounded by other slaves who speak other languages. They tell glorious tales of their homes in Africa and sing rousing songs that make his heart pound. They see him as different, a white man in a black body, and brand him with the name Buckra. Octavian marches into his first battle behind other regiments, amazed that those first to confront the Rebels are little more than a sacrifice. He does not understand the logic behind this type of fighting. It's not long before they are in retreat, fellow soldiers dead and dying all around, and something inside Octavian changes. How can it not? With the Rebel force surging into Boston, the Royalists take to their ships. Octavian and the Ethiopian Regiment find a new level of darkness in the bowels of their ship. They spend weeks, nay, months, aboard their watery foundations. Rations are less than sparse and sickness begins to spread. It's a relief to row ashore, even if it is to burn Boston out from under the rebels who have claimed it. Men die. Men kill. Octavian knows not whether it be his bullet or another which steals life. Back aboard ship, the monotony begins anew, broken only by the occasional duties on deck, and the visits of women as they gather laundry, including Nsia, the woman of beautiful voice and dance who takes his tongue and ties it in knots. He is relieved when Dr. Trefusis visits his ship and bades him fill the empty void with studies while they listen to stories of bravery and ingenuity. Stories of slaves escaping their masters to join the promise of freedom offered by Lord Dunmore and his Royal Navy. Octavian learns much about his mother's tribe in Africa from another soldier from that nation. And as small pox devastates the Ethiopian Regiment, he learns more that he would have liked about the burial customs of his brothers-in-arms. **Read the full review at
MrPotter07 More than 1 year ago
I read the first Octavian Nothing book on a whim when I was working at Barnes & Noble. I loved it! I thought it was an original and compelling subject matter, beautifully written, and dripping with vivid characters. I was ready to die for the second one to come out. It was not a disapointment. The mystery was gone, but it was replaced by action. The basic subject matter was still there. I just can't explain the originally of the story line. Nothing short of brilliant! I didn't get the feeling that there would be a third one, which makes me sad. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, I want more and I would be first in line if there was!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a book with an interesting concept, but flops badly by not appealing to the target audience and suffering from bad pacing issues. The ending was so anticlimatic that it made me want to avoid the sequel, rather than excite me for it.