The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

Read: 9 May, 2014

In the second volume of Octavian’s story, we find him escaping from slavery with his tutor, Doctor Trefusis, as the Revolutionary War erupts around them.

I found this volume to be quite a bit more of an emotional rollercoaster than the first – Trefusis providing a great deal of comic relief (and cementing himself as one of my all-time favourite fictional characters) against a backdrop of horror.

While the first book focused on the formation of Octavian, the second focused much more strongly on the theme of freedom – a word used so much in the context of American independence, yet one that is surprisingly fuzzy (as a black man, Octavian naturally notices that the freedom fought for often included the freedom to own other people).

As with the first volume, I found the book to be very informative and it left me with a lot to think about.

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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Read: 3 November, 2013

I was recommended this book and started reading it without any idea of its contents. It made the rather surreal descriptions at the beginning, taking place at the Novanglian College of Lucidity, all the more intriguing.

The story follows Octavian, slave son of an African princess, as he is raised by rationalist philosophers. He is the subject of an experiment investigating whether other races have as much intellectual potential as whites. The potential for social commentary should be obvious.

Anderson uses a number of different narrative styles, depending mostly on the “memoirs” of Octavian, but also collecting some aspects of the story from letters and other media. It added to the aura of “authenticity” of the narrative and, handled well, was quite neat. Though I did much prefer Octavian’s memoirs to the rather lengthy section made up of Goring’s letters.

I really enjoyed Octavian Nothing. It was intriguing, and the commentary was great. Anderson also managed a really good job of replicating the style of writing of the period (barring a few very reasonable deviations for the sake of clarity).

I found it funny, sad, horrifying, edifying, and thoroughly enjoyable. I placed my order for the second volume at the library as soon as I’d finished and am eagerly waiting for it to come in!

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