Ryan's Reviews > The Kingdom on the Waves

The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
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's review
Nov 06, 11

bookshelves: favorites, fic-historical, fic-ya
Read in March, 2009

A fine sequel to the excellent first part of the trilogy. In this book, the teenage Octavian flees into the rebel-besieged Boston, hoping to find safety and champions of liberty for slaves among the British forces. As before, Anderson writes eloquently and with delicious detail, drawing us into 18th century America and its stew of intellectuals, gentry, commoners, soldiers, slaves, and runaway slaves, framed from the fish-out-of-water perspective of a highly educated black boy from a uniquely sheltered background. Through Octavian, we experience a fascinating, little-known substory of the Revolutionary War, and feel his jubilation at the hope of an end to slavery, even while he's fighting for America's "redcoat" enemy. Of course, the reader already knows from history that this hope can only be dashed for him, yet the bittersweet tale of how it unfolds is a riveting one.

As in Book One, Anderson slyly pokes fun at his characters, but isn't afraid to raise adult topics (including some tactful but honest references to sex of various kinds), framing challenging questions in terms of contemporary philosophy, religion, or science. What is freedom and what makes anyone entitled to it? What governs man's nature? What makes us like or different from one another? Is suffering caused by evil, or the mechanics of simple human indifference? These intellectual queries, blended expertly with the more visceral scenes in the book, give it a powerful resonance and re-readability. Make no mistake, this isn't just a book about the 18th century, but one that challenges readers to reexamine America's mythology about the 18th century. Though labeled as young adult fiction, this series shouldn't be overlooked by grown-up readers. Can't wait for the next one.
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