Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thinking About Octavian

Reading Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves by M. T. Anderson made me understand why some readers love serials. While I don't know if I could have read Volume II without having read Volume I first, I definitely could have read about Octavian for months. For years.

I love that the two volumes of Octavian Nothing were a historical fiction serial rather than the more common fantasy serial. Though in an author's note, Anderson says that these books resemble a fantasy novel. I think that's true in that historical novels and fantasies require extensive world building.

The first Octavian Nothing had an incredible premise. It was about a carefully nutured boy who slowly comes to realize he's a slave. The second book is about Octavian's war exploits. The story does slow down, which I find to be the case with a lot of books that deal with war and battles. There's a lot of hurry up and wait. But during the slow times Octavian is moving on. He is searching for and finding the personal history that had been denied him in the first book.

Book II has a feature that is almost as intriguing as the enslaved child in the first book. The Colonial revolutionaries are not heroic or noble by a long shot. No, we do not come off looking good here.

And the book even has a father/son thing going on! Octavian's tutor, Dr. Trefusis, ends up serving as a father(or grandfather--both terms are used)figure to him. This is not a role that he accepts out of the goodness of his heart, but one he seeks out. He wants this young man for his child. "Send my boys back. Send them back to me, save and sound, and I shall grant anything," he writes in a letter when Octavian doesn't return from a foraging trip.

This book has been out for a while and others have already written about the quality of the writing, the incredible characters, and Anderson's accomplishment in writing it. I can't add anything new. I will say that a lot of well-regarded historical fiction is very lop-sided. A great deal of effort is obviously put into the historical setting while the plot is something you've seen before and the characterization is barely there. That is not the case with the Octavian Nothing books. They have everything--setting, plot, character, voice (in abundance), point of view...You name it, it's there.

Training Report: Bad day. I did only one part of one segment. And I only did that because I wanted to be able to say I did something.

Yesterday, by the way, I prepared some materials for one of the Bridget Zinn fundraisers. I'll be contributing books to the middle grade book basket for the silent auction and raffle in Portland, Oregon on May 29th. An on-line auction is underway now.

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