Cover image for The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing. Vol. 2, The kingdom on the waves
The astonishing life of Octavian Nothing. Vol. 2, The kingdom on the waves
Library ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2008.
Physical Description:
11 sound discs (ca. 74 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
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Compact discs.
Added Author:
The adventure continues! Dr. Trefusis accompanies Octavian as he flees to Boston, which is occupied by British forces. When Lord Dunmore offers freedom to slaves in return for their service against the revolution, will Octavian be tempted to join?


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Audiobook SCD FICTION AND 11 DISCS 1 1

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Such is our task, and such lies before us all: Liberty or Death.

In the summer of 1775, fleeing from a death sentence, Octavian and his tutor, Dr. Trefusis, escape through rising tides and pouring rain to find shelter in British-occupied Boston. Sundered from all he knows Octavian hopes to find safe harbor. But in the midst of war, no place is safe. The city of Boston itself is under siege. What follows is a tale of skirmish and flame, flight and fury, and battle on sea and land. Seeking both the truth of his past and some hope for his future, Octavian encounters generous thieves, pious carpenters, delicate lords, noble cowherds, bedazzled scientists, and murderous rebels-as this astonishing narrative escalates to its startling climax.

Author Notes

M. T. Anderson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 4, 1968. He was educated in English literature at Harvard University and Cambridge University, and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. He primarily writes picture books for children and novels for young adults. His picture books include Handel, Who Knew What He Liked; Strange Mr. Satie; The Serpent Came to Gloucester; and Me, All Alone, at the End of the World. His young adult books include Thirsty, Burger Wuss, and Feed, which won the L.A. Times Book Award for YA fiction in 2003. He also writes the series A Pals in Peril Tale, and The Norumbegan Quartet.

Anderson Won the 2006 National Book Award in Young People's Literature for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party.

His title Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, was a finalist for the 2016 YALSA-ALA Award for Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 8

Publisher's Weekly Review

With an eye trained to the hypocrisies and conflicted loyalties of the American Revolution, Anderson resoundingly concludes the finely nuanced bildungsroman begun in his National Book Award-winning novel. Again comprised of Octavian's journals and a scattering of other documents, the book finds Octavian heading to Virginia in response to a proclamation made by Lord Dunmore, the colony's governor, who emancipates slaves in exchange for military service. Octavian's initial pride is short-lived, as he realizes that their liberation owes less to moral conviction than to political expediency. Disillusioned, facing other crises of conscience, Octavian's growth is apparent, if not always to himself: when he expresses doubt about having become any more a man, his mentor, Dr. Trefusis, assures him, "That is the great secret of men. We aim for manhood always and always fall short. But my boy, I have seen you at least reach half way." Made aware of freedom-fighters on both sides of the conflict (as well as heart-stopping acts of atrocity), readers who work through and embrace Anderson's use of historical parlance will be rewarded with a challenging perspective onAmerican history. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Read by Peter Francis James. (High School)Narrator James brings great warmth and accessibility to Octavian's continued odyssey. The promise of freedom compels Octavian (accompanied by stalwart Dr. Trefusis) south, where he joins Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment against General George Washington's "rebels." Stalled aboard a smallpox-riddled ship, the soldiers break their tedium by telling stories; James's varied and heartfelt performance of these tales speaks volumes about oral histories' vitality. Octavian also reunites with Pro Bono, who pushes "Prince O" (an epithet imbued with a vast range of meaning -- playfulness, scorn, sympathy, respect) toward self-examination. Octavian's voice, initially tentative and overly solicitous, slowly gains in strength and resonance, an evolution echoed by James's smooth reading of this challenging text. M. T. Anderson affectingly reads his appended author's note. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The story begun in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party (2006), a National Book Award winner and a Printz Honor Book, continues in this volume, which offers more awe-inspiring reinterpretations of America's birth. After escaping the members of an Enlightenment college, Octavian, a teenage black slave, flees with his sympathetic tutor to the imperiled city of Boston, where the pair pose as loyalists to the Crown. As the war escalates, Octavian joins a Loyalist navy regiment that promises freedom to African Americans and enters into battle against the Patriots. Aside from a few essential interjections from others, Octavian narrates in the same graphic, challenging language used in the previous book, which Anderson has described as a unintelligible eighteenth-century Johnsonian Augustan prose. But readers need not grasp every reference in the rich, elegant tangle of dialects to appreciate this piercing exposé of our country's founding hypocrisies. Even more present in this volume are passionate questions, directly relevant to teens' lives, about basic human struggles for independence, identity, freedom, love, and the need to reconcile the past. 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.--Engberg, Gillian Copyright 2008 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

IN 1975, from a canoe floating in the Concord River, the young M. T. Anderson and his parents watched a bicentennial re-enactment of the confrontation between rebels and redcoats at the Old North Bridge. Years later he wondered what it would have been like to be alive on that day when the final outcome of the Revolutionary War was still unclear. The result of those musings was, Anderson joked, "a 900-page two-volume historical epic for teens, written in a kind of unintelligible 18th-century Johnsonian Augustan prose by an obsessive neurotic who rarely leaves his house or even gets dressed." The first volume of "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" went on to win extraordinary praise and a National Book Award for juvenile literature. That book, Volume 1 ("The Pox Party"), tells the story of an experiment by a group of American philosophers upon a black youth named Octavian in order to discover whether Africans are a separate species from white people. A skilled violinist and an able translator of Greek and Roman classics, Octavian is a petted prodigy happy with his tot until he slowly divines his status as a science experiment. In fact, Octavian is a slave. Hearing about a possibility of liberty as colonial hostilities break out, he escapes his keepers (at the wonderfully named "Novanglian College of Lucidity") and joins American rebels who are about to attack Boston; but he is inadvertently betrayed and returned to the college, where he is horribly punished. Volume 1 ends with his escaping once more, planning to join up with the British. When it appeared in 2006, this first volume of "Octavian Nothing" seemed like a comet out of nowhere - an impressive and profound story of race and revolution in America's past. And the writing was dazzling: Anderson managed hundreds of pages in an authentically 18th-century prose style that upstaged even Mark Twain's impersonations of Olde English in "The Prince and the Pauper." Moreover, in an era when teenagers have been increasingly drawn to graphic novels, the book itself was interesting as an object: the narrative had to be traced through an archive of maps, newspaper excerpts, pages with words crossed out by a quill pen, diary entries, scientific reports and letters in various hands. Volume 2, "The Kingdom on the Waves," is even darker than its already dark predecessor. The central event of Volume 1 is a "pox party" where members of the college and their servants sequester themselves in a mansion outside Boston and undergo crude vaccinations against smallpox. What follows is something like Poe's "Masque of the Red Death": nightly balls where occasionally a fevered unfortunate falls down with horrible sores and pustules, a mix of disease and decadence. Anderson loves that particular rhapsodic tone - what he calls the "gothic and fantastic" mood - and he gives full play to his enthusiasm in Volume 2. Hoping to win his liberty by aiding the British, Octavian now secretly returns to a Boston under siege by the rebels; with looting and hunger, wanton sex in abandoned houses and nightly concerts staged while buildings burn, the town seems like Caligula's playground. Hearing that Lord Dunmore will emancipate any slave who joins his Ethiopian Regiment and fights for the British, Octavian flees Boston and joins thousands of other runaways in Norfolk, Va. But Norfolk is besieged and set on fire; then the cowardly Lord Dunmore and company retreat to their ships, where they indulge in luxuries while smallpox ravages thousands belowdecks. That's not to say that Octavian and his fellow black soldiers are virtuous victims; they, too, descend to heinous behavior when hunger forces them ashore to forage. The coup de grâce arrives when Lord Dunmore sells half the Ethiopian Regiment back into slavery, to recoup financial losses. Summarizing such a sweeping and epic novel is a bit like saying "Moby-Dick" is about a fishing trip. Much of the grandeur is left out. Anderson's stylistic accomplishments should be acknowledged, particularly the way he sustains an almost Homeric voice, as when Octavian resumes his chronicles: "Here commences my record - taken down in the hope that a record of such a struggle as here impends shall not be found uninteresting to the eye of future curiosity and the heart which thrills with compassion and is stirred by high deeds." Then there is Anderson's suppleness of tone, as he slides from the comic in the opening pages (in a "Bert and I" sketch between a Yankee fisherman and a classics tutor who insists on referring to the man as Charon) to the tragic in the conclusion (where the deranged leader of the Novanglian College of Lucidity carries on like a broken Lear). Here, too, you will be amazed by how much Anderson seems to know - for example, about Africa, from the warrior-women of Dahomey to uses of the kola nut. And all this virtuosity - in Octavian's voice, remember - is not showing off but serving the novel's purposes. While the Novanglian "philosophers" relied on the ideas of Locke in their experiment, believing they were writing upon the boy's "tabula rasa," the slaveholders and their racism worked in the opposite way, by erasing Africans to a blankness so that, in an important moment of self-recognition, our hero chooses his own last name and henceforth is known as Octavian Nothing. Looking back at his two volumes in a concluding author's note, Anderson observes that the 900 pages have essentially been a meditation on the word "liberty." It was a term bandied about so much during the Revolution that it became meaningless: those who signed the Declaration of Independence were slaveholders whose notion of liberty included the freedom to own slaves; and the British offer of emancipation was motivated not by humanitarian concern but by strategy and double-dealing. But before Anderson can conclude his essay with a defeated "pox on all your houses," an indefatigable "nevertheless" insinuates itself. He concedes that people were willing to die for that ambiguous word and we do enjoy its benefits today to the extent we do not fear the knock on the door. SO, the very last line of this otherwise nihilistic novel is a lingering note of hope in which we hear a deliberate echo of "Huckleberry Finn," with Octavian resolving to light out for the territories. Besides Twain we can also hear in this book echoes of Melville (especially "Benito Cereno") and Hawthorne ("My Kinsman, Major Molineux"). It may also be the only adolescent novel to liberally quote from Hobbes and Heraclitus. The breadth of references is so sweeping that the novel seems symphonic. It may be hard to conceive of making the claim about a young adult book, but I believe "Octavian Nothing" will someday be recognized as a novel of the first rank, the kind of monumental work Italo Calvino called "encyclopedic" in the way it sweeps up history into a comprehensive and deeply textured pattern. If the book has a shortcoming, it is Anderson's occasional wordiness when he is bent on creating moody atmospherics by piling on metaphors and tours d'horizon that begin in Accra and end in Rappahannock. On the other hand, "Moby-Dick," another monumental work, is sometimes loose and baggy too. Jerry Griswold teaches at San Diego State University. His most recent book is "Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children's Literature."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Octavian, the 16-year-old slave whose story began in The Pox Party (Candlewick, 2006), continues his search for identity in this brilliant, affecting, and philosophical sequel. Octavian and his tutor escape from Octavian's master to relative safety in Boston where Octavian finds work as a violinist in a military band. After hearing of Lord Dunmore's promise of freedom for slaves, he enlists in the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Following a loss at Norfolk, they then take up quarters aboard British ships, barely fending off starvation and smallpox. Octavian's uncertainty and doubt are tangible throughout. His detailed first-person narration is written in the richly expansive 18th-century prose introduced in volume one. He records the story while reviewing (and revealing to readers) his diary entries from the past year, so that "none of this shall pass from remembrance." He endures abuse, shame, grief, and humiliation, and comes close to despair; however, he is ultimately hopeful that humanity can aspire to more than warring and despoiling. Teens will identify with Octavian's internal tumult, how he experiences events as being acted upon him, and his transition from observer to participant, from boy to man. More than fascinating historical fiction, this is also a thoughtful and timeless examination of the nature of humanity and a critique of how society addresses (or ignores) identity, freedom, and oppression. Anderson's masterful pacing, surprising use of imagery and symbolism, and adeptness at crafting structure make this a powerful reimagining of slavery and the American Revolution dazzle.-Amy J. Chow, The Brearley School, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Guardian Review

Octavian Nothing is the product of a cruel experiment. Born to a black slave, he was adopted by a group of landowners and self-styled scientists in pre-revolutionary Boston. They educated him, teaching him every gentlemanly accomplishment, intent on discovering the limits of his mind. In this, supposedly the second volume of his diaries, Octavian has escaped his owners and arrived in Boston. "Though the ways of the College of Lucidity were strange to the world and the habits of its academicians eccentric, they were familiar to me; and I traded them now for uncertainty and strife." It is 1775. Lord Dunmore, the British governor, has announced that he will liberate any slaves who join his army and fight the rebels. Octavian signs up for the Royal Ethiopian Regiment and swears to defend the New World against the so-called "Sons of Liberty". Octavian's insular, isolated, intellectual existence is over and he is thrown into the midst of bloody battles. Slowly, skilfully and without any sentimentality, MT Anderson reveals the brutality and iniquity that marked the creation of the US, focusing his attention on one simple irony: the rebels were fighting for their own independence while denying freedom to anyone whose skin was a different colour. As in the first volume, Anderson presents himself as an editor rather than author, collecting letters, maps, proclamations and songs to complement pages from Octavian's diary. (In an afterword, he says that some of these are genuine historical documents, but doesn't reveal which ones.) Octavian's own voice is austere and often cold, as you might expect from a man who has undergone such a strange upbringing. He suffers the torments of first love, but loses the girl because he can't bring himself to speak to her. When he kills his first man in battle, he feels nothing: "there was no disagreement of the temperaments. I did not feel disordered nor divided in the least." These cold, detached descriptions are interspersed with the passionate outpourings of a teenager searching for his own identity. His mother is dead, his father is unknown and he has no home. "I wish to know who I am," he cries. His name is a cruel symbol of his own lack of a personal history. When he joins Lord Dunmore's regiment, the recruiting sergeant is going to record him as "Octavian Negro" until he protests. "If it please you, sir, put down nothing for the surname. I would rather be called nothing than named only for my race." Octavian fights for many months before he realises that he and the rest of the Ethiopian Regiment have been fooled. Having served their purpose, they are discarded. They're not wanted by the British. They can't join the rebels. They have nowhere to go. In the afterword, Anderson writes that if he had written "a fantasy novel", Octavian would have built his own utopia. Escaping the battle between the rebels and the redcoats, he "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." Taken together, the two parts of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing form a long, complex and often uncomfortable narrative, which will demand stamina, concentration and a wide vocabulary from any reader. None of that should dissuade teenagers - or anyone else - from reading these exceptionally interesting and imaginative novels. Josh Lacey's Bearkeeper is published by Scholastic. Caption: article-JLoctavian.1 In this, supposedly the second volume of his diaries, Octavian has escaped his owners and arrived in Boston. "Though the ways of the College of Lucidity were strange to the world and the habits of its academicians eccentric, they were familiar to me; and I traded them now for uncertainty and strife." It is 1775. Lord Dunmore, the British governor, has announced that he will liberate any slaves who join his army and fight the rebels. Octavian signs up for the Royal Ethiopian Regiment and swears to defend the New World against the so-called "Sons of Liberty". These cold, detached descriptions are interspersed with the passionate outpourings of a teenager searching for his own identity. His mother is dead, his father is unknown and he has no home. "I wish to know who I am," he cries. His name is a cruel symbol of his own lack of a personal history. When he joins Lord Dunmore's regiment, the recruiting sergeant is going to record him as "Octavian Negro" until he protests. "If it please you, sir, put down nothing for the surname. I would rather be called nothing than named only for my race." - Josh Lacey.

Kirkus Review

In the sequel to The Pox Party (2006), Octavian Nothing escapes the College of Lucidity and flees to British-controlled Boston, where he will swear fealty "to whoever offers emancipation with the greatest celerity." When Lord Dunmore offers manumission to slaves joining the British counterrevolutionary forces, Octavian joins the Royal Ethiopian Regiment off the coast of Virginia. He not only fights the rebels but records the stories of his fellow Africans and escaped slaves so their names and stories will not be lost. In so doing, Octavian receives a first-hand education quite different from his classical training and offers readers an African-American perspective neglected in most sources on the period. Elegantly crafted writing in an 18th-century voice, sensitive portrayals of primary and secondary characters and a fascinating author's note make this one of the few volumes to fully comprehend the paradoxes of the struggle for liberty in America. Prefaced by an outline of volume one, this can stand alone, but readers who finish both will feel that they have been part of a grand and special adventure. (Historical fiction. 14 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Anderson continues the Revolutionary War saga begun in the National Book Award-winning first volume, The Pox Party. This volume opens with the slave Octavian on the run with his former tutor, Dr. Trefusis. The two land in Boston and later flee the besieged city for Virginia, where Octavian joins Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment in the hopes of winning his freedom. In the regiment, a scourge of smallpox and lack of military readiness decimate the ranks. Why It Is a Best: Six starred reviews are not wrong; the author makes good on the promise of the first book. Octavian's chilling account of the death and deprivation around him and the pure injustice of his situation call into question the values on which our nation was founded. The ending, in particular, relies heavily on the reader's having read and remembered the first volume of the series, but more happens here. Why It Is for Us: Anderson's command of period language and mannerisms brings this time to life through the eyes of a completely unique yet almost archetypal character. Octavian began his journey as an intelligent young man and ends it as an enlightened and empowered (if no better off) one, writing his own story and place in history. The title says it all: astonishing.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. It fell hard and ceaseless from the heavens as the deluge that had both inundated Deucalion and buoyed up Noah; and as with that deluge, we knew not whether it fell as an admonition for our sins or as the promise of a brighter, newly washed morning to come. I left all that I knew behind me. Though the ways of the College of Lucidity were strange to the world and the habits of its academicians eccentric, they were familiar to me; and I traded them now for uncertainty and strife. Though I returned, indeed, to Boston, that town best known to me, its circumstances were changed, now that it was the seat of the King's Army and sat silent and brooding in the Bay. We knew not what we would find therein. Dr. Trefusis and I stumbled across the ribbed sand. Treading through seaweed mounded in pools, we slithered and groped, that we might retain our footing; and on occasions, we fell, Dr. Trefusis's hands bleeding from the roughness of rock and incision of barnacles. We wound through the meanders that led between stubbled mud-banks in no straight or seemly course. I pulled Dr. Trefusis out of the ditches where water still ran over the silt. We crawled over knolls usually submerged by the Bay. At some point, soaked, he shed his coat. After a time, there was no feature but the sand, corrugated with the action of the tides. We made our way across a dismal plain, groping for detail, sight obscured. But that morning I had been a prisoner, a metal mask upon my face, and my jowls larded with my own vomit, in a condition which could hardly have been more debased; but that morning I had watched the masters of my infancy and youth writhe upon the floor and fall into unpitied slumber, perhaps their bane. A sentence of death might already rest upon my head. The thought of this appeared fleetingly -- the memory of those bodies on the floor, bound with silken kerchiefs -- and at this, I found I could not breathe, and wished to run faster, that I might recover my breath. Tumbling through the darkness of those flats, revolving such thoughts amidst utter indistinctness, I feared I would never again find myself; all I knew was lost and sundered from me; I knew not anymore what actuated me. We ran on through the night, across the sand, and it was as Dr. Trefusis had always avowed in his sparkish philosophy, that there was no form nor matter, that we acted our lives in an emptiness decorated with an empty show of substance, and a darkness infinite behind it. Forms and figures loomed out of the rain: boulders in our path, gruesome as ogres to my susceptible wits, hulking, pocked and eyed with limpets, shaggy with weeds. We came upon a capsized dinghy in the mud, mostly rotted, and barrels half-sunk. My aged companion now leaned upon my shoulder as we walked, his breath heavy in his chest. Once, I started with terror at a ratcheting upon my foot, to find a horseshoe crab trundling past in search of a pool, its saber-tail and lobed armor grotesque in the extreme. Dr. Trefusis, wheezing, greeted it, "Old friend." His amiability to the crab, I feared, was merely a pretense to stop our running. He did not seem well. We could no longer detect the city, the night was so black, so full of water and motion, so unsparing was the drench. Our senses disorganized, our frames trembling with cold, we calculated as best we could the direction of our town and made our way across that countryside of dream. Once I was shown by the scholars of the College a rock, spherical in shape, which, when chiseled open, revealed a tiny cavern of crystal; and they told me that these blunt stones often held such glories; that though some were filled only with dust, others, when broke open, enwombed the skeletons of dragons or of fish, beaked like birds. Thus I felt in approaching my city; that place which seemed known stone, but which, when riven after its long gestation, might contain either wonders, or ash, or the death in infancy of some clawed terror. We found ourselves at the brink of the returning tide. We walked through it without notice, so thick was the very air with water, until the flood reached Dr. Trefusis's knees, and there he halted, swaying. "I cannot continue," said he. "I will return to shore." Thus his offer; but well did I know that he had no intention of returning to the bank, and could not unassisted, did he wish to. I was aware that if I left him, he would sink to the ground and allow the waters to cover him. I instructed him to climb upon my shoulders. "I will drag you down, Octavian." "You have risked your all for me, sir; and it is only right that I do the same for you." He considered this, and at length, we now feeling the motion of the tide through our legs, said, "When I become burdensome, cast me off backwards." I leaned down as best I could with the waters rising, and he clambered atop me, clawing at my head and neck for purchase. When he was situated, I stood again and began striding through the returning sea. _______ THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, VOLUME TWO: THE KINGDOM ON THE WAVES by M.T. Anderson. Copyright (c) 2008 by M. T. Anderson. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Somerville, MA. Excerpted from The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.