Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Octavian Nothing: Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves" by M.T. Anderson

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

Summary: In Anderson's sequel to his first book, Octavian and his instructor from The College of Lucidity, Dr. Trefusis, have fled and soon hear that Lord Dunmore is offering freedom to any slave willing to join him and fight with the British against the rebel colonists. Octavian and Dr. Trefusis join, but quickly find themselves on the losing side of a war, knowing that the runaway slaves will pay the ultimate price when the rebels succeed.

Musings: I found the second book somewhat easier to read than the first, and also more enjoyable as Octavian begins to assert himself and mature. Although Octavian is thrilled to finally be free when he joins Dunmore's army, he does not find himself completely at home. He is surrounded by other people of African descent for the first time in his life, but he feels like an outsider. His privileged upbringing at the College has clearly labeled him as "different" from the other escaped slaves. Nevertheless, he slowly finds acceptance and friendship among his fellow soldiers.

Because this is a book grounded in historical fact, the reader knows from the beginning that Octavian and the others will not succeed. The colonists will overthrow British rule. It's heartwrenching to read of the men putting forth such valiant efforts knowing that it will be in vain. The British will be defeated and return to England, but for the former slaves, there is no where to return to. They will be killed or returned to slavery. The book ends on a hopeful note that Octavian and his friends will find some form of escape, but in his afterword, Anderson indicates that history points to such a utopian ending being unlikely.

The book does a good job of showing both the hope and despair of a people modern readers know will not be freed until nearly a century later.

- See my review of Octavian Nothing: Volume I.

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