Sunday, November 02, 2008

Book Review: "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Kingdom on the Waves"

M.T. Anderson's second volume of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, The Kingdom on the Waves, is now out from Candlewick Press. It's another beautifully-designed volume and an excellent companion to the first (my review of which is here).

Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, having escaped dire circumstances at the end of the last volume, find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire in the opening chapters of this one as they seek to survive in a Boston under siege from continental troops. When Octavian learns of Virginia governor Lord Dunmore's proclamation offering freedom to slaves who will join the King's army, he and Trefusis make their way south so that the slave can become the soldier.

Much of this volume is written as Octavian's diary during his time with Dunmore's Royal Ethiopian Regiment, and it is as powerful and moving an account of that bold experiment as any I've read. While Anderson takes some minor chronological liberties, and obviously uses speculation to flesh out the details of the narrative, he hews very close to the historical record while still offering a fascinating story.

Literary historical fiction at its very best. Highly recommended.

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