M. T. Anderson – The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 2: The Kingdom on the Waves
Read my review of:
– Volume 1: The Pox Party
Read By: Peter Francis James
Length: 13h 24min (592 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Started: 22 July 2009
Finished: 04 August 2009
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I read the first volume and am a completist by nature.
Not being a slave
does not mean that you’ll be seen
as fully human.
Summary: Octavian, with the help of Dr. Trefusis, has escaped from the slavery in the Novanglian College of Lucidity, and they head for the British-occupied city of Boston. Octavian quickly comes to realize that his strange upbringing has left him wholly unprepared for a world at war, but he pins his hope on joining the British Army’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment, whose troops are made entirely from freed slaves. Octavian becomes a soldier, but his regiment quickly winds up stranded on a fleet of ships off the shore of Norfolk, and as the war progresses, he is dealt lesson after lesson on the true meaning and cost of freedom, and the true depths of human hypocrisy.
Review: While I did enjoy this volume somewhat more than the first one, I’m still just not left raving. Octavian, while still stilted and tight-laced, is starting to engage with his emotions more as he grows up, which made it easier for me to engage with him. The problem was that not a lot happens for long stretches of the book, which, while probably an accurate depiction of the realities of the period, did not make for super-compelling reading. The gaps are mostly filled by Octavian musing about freedom, and equality, and while these topics are undeniably important, and are generally dealt with in a mature and complex way in these novels… but at the same time, after 20-odd hours of audiobook, I found myself going “Yes, I GET IT.”
The writing continues to be in period style, with long, complicated, shading-to-purple sentences. It’s beautifully done, and certainly shows off Anderson’s skill as a writer, as much as the rich level of detail shows off his skill as a researcher, and the unique perspective and elegant characterization show off his skill as an author. Unfortunately, it’s a little over-long, and I never really got involved enough with the characters or their story to make it really work for me. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If you liked the first volume, this one is the same or better, so have at it. If you didn’t like the first volume, this one is a little bit – but not a lot – of an improvement in terms of relatability, so you may have better luck with it. If you haven’t read the first volume, this one is going to make no sense until you do.
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.