The Kingdom on the Waves: Octavian Nothing, Vol. 2

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Kingdom on the Waves: Octavian Nothing, Vol. 2 Book Poster Image
Brilliant, brutal sequel set during Revolutionary War.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The book brings to life an almost forgotten part of the American Revolution from an equally forgotten point of view -- that of the slaves, whom both sides attempted to use. The book's literary style and language will also challenge teen readers -- as will the greater questions this book raises about freedom.

Positive Messages

Octavian's hope for the betterment of humanity remains in spite of his almost uniformly horrific experiences. The main character will help readers connect deeply with the horrors of slavery and also get them thinking about some big identity questions. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Octavian further comes of age in this smart sequel. He has been damaged by his experiences but remains hopeful.


Men are brutally beaten and killed in various gruesome ways, including hanging, decaptiation, being cut in half, shooting, and stabbing (once through the eye). A major character is killed, his jaw and part of his skull being blown off. A father tries to strangle his son. A pregnant woman is beaten, causing her baby to be stillborn. A young girl is gang-raped, another is raped. A dog is bayonetted. Men are whipped, then the wounds are scoured with hay and salt water. Others commit suicide through starvation.


A scene in which sex is overheard, with the various parts of the act compared to military maneuvers. The lyrics to a very bawdy song are included. Details of French kissing, references to homosexuality and sodomy, and witticisms about the nature of the penis.


"S--t" and "f--k" each used once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and drunkenness; pipe smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this award-winning book is told from the perspective of an escaped slave who fights in the Revolutionary War to gain his freedom. The intense subject matter means that there's plenty of grim, graphic violence -- including hanging, decapitation, rape, and torture. A major character is killed, with his jaw and part of his skull blown off. There are also sexual references, racist attitudes, and swearing.  But through this mature material -- which is written in a dense but lyrical style that will be challenging to teens -- readers will get an incredible story that not only tells of a teen coming of age but also offers a unique perspective on the American Revolution.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written bytokidoki May 7, 2011

for young adults i think

I had to read this book for a school project. It was kind of confusing at first to be honest. But when I kept reading it, it got interesting. It is actually a g... Continue reading

What's the story?

This sequel to the National Book Award-winning The Pox Party finds Octavian escaping with Dr. Trefusis, with the two making their way into beseiged Boston in 1775. After a stay there filled with privation, illness, and some fleeting moments of happiness, they head south to Virginia to join Gov. Dunmore, who has promised freedom to any slaves who join his army to fight against the rebels. But Dunmore is incompetent -- and only interested in freedom if it helps him win.

Is it any good?

That this is a brilliant historical novel there can be no doubt. Complex narrative structure and sophisticated, often lyrical, language are employed to bring to life an almost forgotten part of the American Revolution from an equally forgotten point of view -- that of the slaves, whom both sides attempted to use, and neither side considered human.

Through nearly 600 pages of misery, illness, violence, and witty philosophical discourse, Octavian's hope for the betterment of humanity remains, in spite of his almost uniformly horrific experiences. This is a dense book, and the literary style will make it a challenge for many teens. Keep a dictionary at their elbows. 


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical event and point of view. How is this view of the Revolution different than the one we usually see? Did it make you think about it differently? Why don't we usually hear this view?  

  • This book includes a great deal of violence. Is it gratuitous or necessary given the subject matter? Are there limits to how graphic the content should be in a book aimed at teens? 

  • What makes this a young adult book? Why would the publisher decide to market it that way? What separates YA from adult fiction?

Book details

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