A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{December 30, 2012}   The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

kingdom on the wavesPlot: In the midst of the American revolution, Octavian has escaped his masters and fled to British-occupied Boston. The city is under siege but Lord Dunmore has promised freedom to all slaves that join with him against the rebels. Octavian enlists in The Royal Ethiopian Regiment but he is not prepared for the horrors of war.

The Kingdom on the Waves is the second volume in The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation. The first book, The Pox Party, about a young slave boy raised like a European prince in a sick experiment, absolutely destroyed me. It shook me to my core. The second volume was as painful and thoughtful.

This novel, like the first in the series, is written in a series of diary entries, letters and proclamations (some of them real). Anderson perfectly captures the voices of the characters, their ways of speaking and seeing the world, and his writing is exquisite. His 18th century America felt so real, it was like being there. Which wasn’t always a comfortable feeling.

This is not a story about the glory of war. There is nothing glorious about the conditions that the Royal Ethiopians live and die in. They are hounded by the rebels, trapped on ships, riddled with disease and mistreated by both sides of the war. But their anger, their grief and their striving for freedom and a better life really touched me. It is all the worse for knowing that we once treated people like this.

This is a YA book but Anderson never talks down to his audience. His book is incredibly smart, full of references to classic litterature and philosophical reflections. He makes us consider the nature of liberty, of war, of altruism and of identity. Though his characters have many reasons to despair and to lose faith in the goodness of man, the book ends with a measure of hope.

This series is a must read for all fans of historical fiction. It is gripping and eye-opening.

2012 (#117)


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