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For those of you who immersed yourself in the world of THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, TRAITOR TO THE NATION, VOLUME I: 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 first.

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.

This review was originally posted at (She posted it under The Kingdom on the Waves.)
#1 - May 10, 2009, 06:02 AM


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