29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2008
THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES is the second volume in M. T. Anderson's historical epic The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, which is set in colonial America on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Octavian is a slave who has been raised in isolation at the College of Lucidity. In the first book, THE POX PARTY, Octavian comes to realize that he is part of an experiment on ethnicity and intelligence. After the death of his mother, he leaves the college and experiences the difficulties and hazards of living in the outside world. Recaptured, bound in chains and silenced with an iron mask, THE POX PARTY ends with one of his teacher's helping him to escape.
This follow-up begins with the two fugitives running to British-occupied Boston, where Octavian finds work in an orchestra entertaining British officers. It is not long before Boston comes under attack from the colonial rebels. When Octavian hears that Lord Dunmore is raising a troop of African soldiers, he enlists with the British on the promise that he will earn his freedom by fighting for the Crown.
Instead, Octavian learns that serving as a soldier is another kind of bondage, especially for the dark-skinned Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Consisting primarily of escaped slaves, the promise of freedom wanes as the fortunes of war turn against the British. THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES features the Revolutionary War as readers have rarely encountered it. It is a tale of desperate yearning for freedom among those who will be returned to slavery should the colonial rebels attain their goal of independence.
The Royal Ethiopian Regiment is the first experience Octavian has spending time with a large group of his fellow slaves. They come from a variety of nations and backgrounds, and English is often the only language they share in common. He is quickly given the name 'Buckra,' "...which is their word for a white man;" Octavian writes, "for having seen me read, they say that I am a white man hidden in a black skin.... And I have just called them 'they.'"
Octavian is moved by the experiences of other men in his regiment and writes down their stories in his book. Some are funny, some poignant, but many speak to the brutality of enforced servitude. Among his companions he finds someone who is from the same Oyo nation as his mother. Before she died Octavian used to beg her to tell him "One true thing." He discovers she deliberately hid the truth about her origins to protect him, telling him instead that she was a princess and he a prince.
Other truths emerge: That freedom is not promised to the slaves of loyalist subjects, only to slaves escaped from rebels. That half the regiment is to be sold to the "Sugar Isles" --- the sugar plantations in the Caribbean where human life is so cheap that slaves are often worked to death instead of being given adequate shelter and sustenance --- to recuperate British financial losses.
Octavian's idealism disintegrates amongst the stark realities of warfare. Starvation and disease wrack the troops. He has chosen the losing side of the conflict, eventually observing, "It is a fact easily discernible that governments are instituted to commit the crimes that their citizens require for gain, but cannot countenance committing privately." When asked about the "Rights of Man," which were a big part of the revolutionary rhetoric at the time, he responds that nature recognizes no rights. "Our rights are unnatural, or we should need no government to defend them," he says. "Look abroad in the fields.... What may kill, kills; what may eat, eats. All things are born unequal and there is no low but that inequality.... The world is the house of the strong."
The strength of M. T. Anderson's work is built on Octavian's eloquent narrative voice. It reminds me of another tale, in which the creation is more eloquent than its master: Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. Both Octavian and the creature in FRANKENSTEIN are scientific experiments and products of a classical education. Both struggle to find a place for themselves in a hostile world. Both provide a bridge from the scientific rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment to the more emotional and deeply personal world of Romanticism. Both seek the value of human life. Is the value of human life measured by its input and output, or the price it will buy at the auction block? Or is a life measured by the insight of its narrative? At the end of THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES, Octavian returns to the college where he was raised to replace the tomes detailing the weights and measures of his youth with the two-volume narrative he writes about his experiences in the world.
This is one of the best and most difficult books I have read all year. The 18th century English the book is written in will be a challenge for some readers, as is the difficult subject matter and open-ended conclusion. In an interview with the Washington Post, Anderson defended his work and the intelligence of his readers by saying, "'It's insulting to believe that teens should have a different kind of book than an adult should....' Teens like challenges, he says. They know the world is complicated, and 'they can tell when a book is simplifying life.'"
Likewise, Anderson offers an assessment of his own work at the end of THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES:
"If this were the fantasy novel it so much resembles, there would be a third volume. In that book Octavian, Pro Bono, and Nsia would come forth from their place of hiding; they would orchestrate the desperate clash of these two great nations and engineer the toppling of both governments. There would be gargantuan, cleansing battles, and in their wake, our heroes would found a new realm. All people would be free, their shackles would fall from every wrist, and bounty would return to the land.
"But of course, this is not what happened. Instead, slavery persisted in this country for another four generations. And a full century after the general emancipation, nearly two hundred years after the Revolution, federal legislation finally ensured legal equality for black and white."
The most difficult aspect of this novel is not the artifice of fiction, but that it gives a face to facts. Lord Dunmore's Ethopian Regiment was real, as were the ethnographic studies performed to justify the unequal treatment of our fellow humans. Octavian is a character in a book, but his story speaks to the larger forces of history in which we all play a part. Closing the covers on his fate I couldn't help but reflect on how many other voices will emerge in indictment of our own times.
Anderson ends the author's note with the following:
"History is not a pageant arrayed for our delectation.
"We are all always gathered there.... We are gathered at the river, upon those shores, and the water is always moving.... Nothing will cease. Nothing will stop. We ourselves are history.
"The moment is always now."
--- Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2009
Gold Star Award Winner!
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.
There is so much history bound up in this volume that it is almost overwhelming. Take your time reading. Savor the beautiful language. Immerse yourself in history from a perspective rarely considered. It is evident that M. T. Anderson spent much time researching his topic before putting pen to paper. Although Octavian is fictional, I feel he is real. I am grateful for the diary he left behind that lets us glimpse what life must have been like for the Ethiopian Regiment. And I am grateful that Mr. Anderson shared a slice of this perspective of our Revolutionary War.
I said it when I reviewed the first volume, THE POX PARTY: Mr. Anderson is brilliant. I can imagine him immersing himself in the history, entertaining his friends in the old English language. There would be no other way to write such prose with this level of accuracy and detail. I am a huge fan of Mr. Anderson and look forward to reading anything he writes. You will, too.
Don't expect it to be easy. It wasn't easy for the Ethiopian Regiment. THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES is an immensely satisfying read in so many ways. Octavian is real to me. He will stick in my mind for months. There is no question that this book deserves the Gold Star.
Reviewed by: Cana Rensberger
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"The Kingdom of the Waves," M. T. Anderson's second volume in the series, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, is an intense, highly personal novel. It provides the reader with a very different perspective on the American Revolution and its meaning to various groups of the citizenry.
Continuing the story of Octavian Nothing, following his escape from The Novanglian College of Lucidity, the book begins as he, along with his tutor Dr. Trefusis, seeks safety in Boston. With the city under siege, Octavian decides to cast his lot with the British who promise freedom to rebel-owned slaves joining the King's forces. However, as the Revolutionary War progresses, Octavian begins to realize that his sheltered upbringing is of little use in the midst of the struggle. Although a slave and the subject of the Novanglian College of Lucidity's experimentation, he was raised as an educated dilettante. Thus, Octavian possesses few practical skills and grows to appreciate the clever, sometimes cunning, talents that his fellow soldiers exhibit. It is during this maturing process that he begins to recognize the British promise of freedom is illusory and that he has traded one type of enslavement for another.
The novel is written as a combination of first person narrative interspersed with Octavian's journal entries; these present his view of the Revolutionary War and its import to the slaves who have chosen to side with the British. Additionally, there are excerpts from broadsides and correspondence written between British officers and between colonists which present differing perspectives on the war. M. T. Anderson's writing is complex and intelligent. Using arcane spellings and phrasing, he infuses authenticity into the fictional correspondence and journaling.
Character development moves logically through the various stages of Octavian's emotional growth. Octavian's reactions and his eventual counterrevolutionary activities are consistent with his growing maturity and understanding of his situation's reality. Anderson's portrayal of Octavian's fellow soldiers, all who have different background stories, provides the reader with a glimpse into what slaves endured in their quest for freedom. Emotion can be raw, as can the scenes involving violence against soldiers and civilians. More sensitive readers may find this aspect of the work off-putting. However, it is appropriate within the context of the novel and reinforces the authenticity of the story.
This is a fine historical novel which should be read after "The Pox Party," volume I in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing saga. Even more mature youthful readers will find it challenging both in language and subject matter. It is definitely a five-star read and will be taking its place on my bookshelves.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2011
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?
on December 26, 2010
A fine sequel to the excellent first part of the trilogy. In this book, the teenage Octavian flees into the rebel-besieged Boston, hoping to find safety and champions of liberty for slaves among the British forces. As before, Anderson writes eloquently and with delicious detail, drawing us into 18th century America and its stew of intellectuals, gentry, commoners, soldiers, slaves, and runaway slaves, framed from the fish-out-of-water perspective of a highly educated black boy from a uniquely sheltered background. Through Octavian, we experience a fascinating, little-known substory of the Revolutionary War, and feel his jubilation at the hope of an end to slavery, even while he's fighting for America's "redcoat" enemy. Of course, the reader already knows from history that this hope can only be dashed for him, yet the bittersweet tale of how it unfolds is a riveting one.
As in Book One, Anderson slyly pokes fun at his characters, but isn't afraid to raise adult topics (including some tactful but honest references to sex of various kinds), framing challenging questions in terms of contemporary philosophy, religion, or science. What is freedom and what makes anyone entitled to it? What governs man's nature? What makes us like or different from one another? Is suffering caused by evil, or the mechanics of simple human indifference? These intellectual queries, blended expertly with the more visceral scenes in the book, give it a powerful resonance and re-readability. Make no mistake, this isn't just a book about the 18th century, but one that challenges readers to reexamine America's mythology about the 18th century. Though labeled as young adult fiction, this series shouldn't be overlooked by grown-up readers. Can't wait for the next one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2009
Any Printz Award book is interesting, and this one is really something new and different--a YA book about the American Revolution and Slavery like nothing I've ever read. Excellent, high-quality, and interesting to almost anyone.
on September 28, 2011
With its focus on historical accuracy and flowing language, this is one of the best young adult novels I have read along with the first volume, The Pox Party. The story is told from the point of view of a slave in Boston pre-Revolution and reveals a great deal about the plight of slaves even in the North. This second volume in the story follows Octavian in his bid to win his freedom. Anderson's use of language is simply amazing. I was caught up in it immdiately, although younger readers may find it too cumbersome. I believe Anderson uses the language to emphasize the untenable situation of Octavian Nothing. This is a beautifully written book and one I would recommed to all.
on June 3, 2014
Part 2 of 2, this book Complete's Octavian's truly astonishing journey through the American Revolution. This series is absolutely perfect for anyone who loves history, as it is entirely based on true events, and Octavian's narrative will make you rethink our history, and reveal some shocking truths. What is liberty? Is everyone a hypocrite? Was George Washington really a good guy? Were the British truely anti-slavery? M.T.Anderson has created a beautifully written story that will suck you in and leave you wanting more.
on June 26, 2014
A subject that few ever knew about . Very well written and researched. It often reads like poetry. Another good book to read on a similar subject is :
Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution by Simon Schama
on January 20, 2010
Interesting language (time period) and captivating tale. Revolutionary War and Slavery are two of the main issues in this historical fiction. Some of the issues are difficult to read as entertainment, but a very thought provoking read.