Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation
Taken from Accounts by his Own Hand and Other Sundry Sources
Collected by Mr. M.T. Anderson of Boston 
Volume I: The Pox Party

“At long last, you may no longer distinguish what binds you from what is you.”

Octavian is a prince. He, and his mother, the princess, are cared for by a house of scientists and philosophers who study the world and perform meticulous experiments. Octavian is given the very best classical education, and learns to play the violin exquisitely. However, after a while, Octavian notices that he is not like other people. Only a few people have his dark skin color. No one else is evaluated like he is; even his poop is measured and examined daily. As Octavian grows older, he realizes how very wrong his world is, and he must break his bonds or die in the attempt.

This book was incredible, and not at all what I expected. A boy in a mask on the cover. A society of scientists with a secret. All during the American Revolution. I don't know why I had the impression that this was a fantasy novel. It is not. It is pure grade historical fiction.

The style sucks you back like a time machine. Anderson meticulously uses 18th century vocabulary, capitalization, and sentence structure, and apologizes in the Author's Note for the few moments he does not. More than once, I squeed about a word and vowed to use it more often. Anderson treats the novel as if it were compiled from primary sources. The first half of the novel is Octavian's written testimony. After an emotionally shattering event takes place, Octavian no longer writes, and the only information we receive about his adventures are from letters written in different voices from different parts of his journey. Only later does Octavian take up the quill again to tell his own story.

I do not wish to give too much away. The joy of this novel for me was in the discovery, in shifting my perspective with each new clue that something was not quite right.

It is also an incredible examination of slavery in Revolutionary America, when some were fighting for the freedom of people, others were fighting for their freedom to own property, and the slaves were caught in the deadly crossfire of words and bullets. Though I knew how slaves were treated, I was still shocked by the language and accepted dehumanizing mentality held by Colonial America. The book is an awesome assertion of individuality, an inspiring and brutal journey to freedom.

I can't wait to read the next one!

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