“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom on the Waves • YA fiction

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. II: The Kingdom on the Waves
by M. T. Anderson
October 2008 • Candlewick Press • YA fiction
Follow Octavian to Virginia as he allies with the British, lured by the promise of freedom.
Fleeing from a death sentence, Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escape to British-occupied Boston. Sundered from all he knows, Octavian hopes to find safe harbor. Instead, he learns of Lord Dunmore's proclamation offering freedom to slaves who join the counterrevolutionary forces.
Seeking the truth of his past and hope for his future, he encounters generous thieves, pious carpenters, delicate lords, noble cowherds, bedazzled scientists, and murderous rebels — as this astonishing narrative escalates to its startling, deeply satisfying climax.

Story behind the story: No one can articulate the story behind Octavian better than the man himself. In his interview with Ingram Library Services at ALA Annual, author M.T. Anderson talks about writing this epic tale that “fascinates, appalls, condemns, and enthralls.”
“Viewed through historical hindsight, Octavian’s final, wounded optimism (‘No other human generation hath done other than despoil, perhaps we shall be the first’) will resonate strongly with contemporary teens.” – Booklist, starred review
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent; please click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say about it -- plus more to come!


Nan said...
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Nan said...

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

Picnic Basket Recommendation: I give it a 4 - Recommend without Reservation. However it definitely could be considered part of the gourmet, decadent picnic basket with the content appealing to a select group of readers.

Recommendation 1: Read Volume I first.
Recommendation 2: Keep a dictionary nearby for deciphering really obscure period language.

I actually couldn’t wait for this book to be released after reading Volume I last summer. Octavian is such a compelling character. In Volume I he is a receptacle of knowledge … an experiment … a puppet … and unbeknownst to himself – a slave. In Volume II you see Octavian’s awakening to his own humanity … his application of and reflection on his vast knowledge … and his desperate quest for true freedom and self worth.

Octavian Nothing is an unusual accounting of the American Revolution through a very different lens. M.T. Anderson subtly interweaves history, historical propaganda and wonderful characters to produce a thought provoking and yes … astonishing but believable story. He explores in depth Octavian’s growing personal awareness as he experiences first love, frustration, jealousy, horror and rage.

I particularly enjoyed Pro Bono, a minor but enlightened character in the first novel. Bono in Volume II shows he is in every way Octavian’s intellectual equal in spite of the fact that he was a slave at the College of Lucidity where Octavian was experimentally educated. Wise in the ways of the world Bono provides Octavian with glimpses of reality which shapes their future.

My only criticism of The Kingdom on the Wave would be the exhausting retelling of the periods of time the soldiers were contained the onboard the ship and on the island. Those parts seem to drag on and on. Enough already with the filth, the illness and the starvation; conditions were horrible we get it.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves is a great satisfying read if you like books that pay attention to detail and challenge common knowledge. M.T. Anderson is a brilliant writer. I’ll always be waiting to see what he comes up with next.

Zion Lutheran School Library. said...

Picnic Basket Recommendation: 5
Strongly Recommend

Historical fiction fans will want to pick this book up, especially those interested in the American Revolution. It’s a thought-provoking read and one I think would be an awesome choice for a book discussion group. While it appears the book will be marketed to young adults from the information on the advance reading copy, I hope that the publisher expands that effort and markets it to adults as well. I think there is an larger audience for the book’s subject and themes than just teens.

Octavian’s pursuit of freedom continues in ‘Kingdom’ with his volunteering for Lord Dunmore’s army against the American rebels in an effort to win his own freedom. The theme of liberty, the incongruity of rebels fighting for it and yet denying it to blacks, is compelling. Octavian’s voice is addicting; when the action in the story lulls, one is inclined to put the book down and take up another. But it would be as if turning one’s back on a friend. Readers will continue just to hear Octavian tell us what happens to him next.

M.T. Anderson has chosen to write Octavian’s voice in the style of an educated young man of the 18th century. This may turn some readers away but I have a feeling they’ll do what I did – skip the big words and keep reading.

I love the cover of ‘Kingdom’. There’s something about Octavian’s face that draws one to the book. It seems to be a look of youthful determination, a looking forward while being mindful of the past. Yet the face seems also like it could break into a ready smile which is what I think gives it its appeal. With the line drawing of a ship on the blue background, I think readers will have a hard time passing this book by without picking it up to see what it’s about.

I had not read ‘The Pox Party’ before beginning ‘Kingdom’ and had little trouble picking up the thread of the action thanks to the opening summary. That given, I think readers will end up doing just what I did as soon as I was done – I went and got ‘Pox Party’ and started reading it. I would definitely encourage readers to read the books in order.

M. T. Anderson has taken a small segment of American history and written a very compelling story for young adults. I heartily recommend ‘The Kingdom on the Waves’.

Karen Sutera
Zion Lutheran School
Marengo, IL

melching5 said...

I am rating The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" a 4 - Recommend without Reservation. However, as Nan said, it "could be considered part of the gourmet, decadent picnic basket." I am reluctantly rating it a 4 rather than a 5 because I teach 5th graders and this book is much too difficult, even as a read aloud.

While I did not read volume 1, the thread of the story is not too difficult to pick up on, although I may have missed certain nuances. An avid fan of historical fiction, particularly the revolutionary time period, I was entranced from the get go. The story forces the reader to see events from a completely different perspective. It was heart-wrenching and mind-changing.

Above all, I loved the language...so poetic and expressive. The very first line, "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," grabbed my attention and never let go. Perhaps others could do without the lengthy descriptions, but I ate it up. Absolutely decadent!

Anonymous said...

In my sixth grade classroom, we have been looking for a book that was a good example of historical fiction that could be used as a classroom read aloud, this book hit the spot!

The language at points was a little dense, but we kept a dictionary at hand, and students took turns being the dictionary detective.

The students and I had not read Vol. I, and that is our next quest. We have found Vol. I and plan on reading it very soon.

Thanks for an excellent piece of literature. I would give it a picnic basket 5... it was a gourmet treat for the sixth graders...and me!

Ari said...

I would rate this a 3 - neutral

I am struggling to finish this book. I was really looking forward to it because so many of my students enjoy historical fiction, but even those are having a hard time embracing the book. I will need to order the first one and then maybe it will be more engaging.

Ms. V
7th and 8th grade ELA
KIPP TRUTH Academy Middle School

Cynthia said...

Anderson’s second volume of Private Octavian Nothing’s life gives voice to a heretofore silent segment of society in US history—the slaves of African descent living along the eastern seaboard around the time of the Revolutionary War. With a keen eye for detail and an ear for language too-frequently missing in current YA fiction, even quality literature, Octavian’s life is narrated through his journals and through letters by and about him. His story is an historian’s delight: detail of civilian life in a besieged Boston; the story of Lord Dunsmore’s Royal Ethiopian Army—told by an enlisted private; the story of a cautious, somewhat reticent, well-educated black man living among the ordinary, illiterate ranks; details of life aboard ship and in battle in the late eighteenth century U.S.; and the multitude of men’s stories given voice through Octavian’s pen.

Scholars of US and African American history will find a multitude of enjoyment within these pages; however, the text is not for the faint of heart. The vocabulary and shear length are challenging, and I imagine a large portion of the students I have taught would abandon the text before finishing. Even so, the two volumes of Octavian’s life belong in public and school libraries nationwide, and on gift lists of readers with any interest in the topic. In my experience, young readers will persevere longer with a book given as a gift, even though it may challenge their abilities, and that tendency could be a viable avenue for bringing these important historical voices to life.

Teachers, this book offers a breadth and depth of knowledge unsurpassed in historical YA literature. With the guidance and assistance of a whole-class or literature circle read, Private Octavian Nothing’s story would be ideal for interdisciplinary study. Addressing the entire text might require the better part of a semester; however, the return on this investment may be astounding. Try it!

Even though the text will be too challenging for many an independent reader, this book earns a 5 from me for its historical accuracy and realism, and its literary merit.

Cynthia Winfield, teacher Massachusetts certified in English 6-12 and Reading K-12