I read pretty much anything, from fantasy (City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett) to romance (Bared to You by Sylvia Day) to classics (Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad). The only genres I don't read are self-help and comic books/graphic novels.
7/11 - For the first 36 pages I was under the impression that this was some kind of dystopian fantasy, not historical fiction. I hadn't read any of the reviews and the book itself doesn't have a summary on the backcover or inside flap like most books do, so I wasn't well-informed on what the plot was to begin with, but that doesn't excuse me for mistaking coul-be-accurate historical fiction with dystopian future fantasy. I was most confused when they started talking about slaves, and then finally I realised that Octavian and his mother were being experimented on because, at the time the 'experts' were unsure whether the 'Negro man' was the same, biologically, as the 'English man'. I don't know what true accounts there are of experiments done to determine how the 'Negro man' differs from the 'English man' (except for the Tuskegee experiments on African American men with syphilis, which I saw a movie about), but these outlandish, trivial and just plain stupid experiments sound like the kind of things these kind of scientists would want to know - does the 'Negro man' have the same susceptibility to smallpox as the 'English man', does he digest and absorb his food the same as the 'English man' and so on, with each experiment exceeding the previous in triviality. To be continued...
10/11 - I think I'm going to have to make a bookshelf called Books I Used to Own, because currently I own this (I bought it at the library booksale), but after reading it I've realised that I probably won't read it again, and if I know I won't re-read a book what's the point of keeping it on my shelves when a book that I do want to re-read could have that space (unfortunately my library shelves are not the never-ending Tardis-like type, they're just the normal non-supernatural type, which means when you buy bargain books as quickly and compulsively as I do you run out of space faster than you could imagine when you built the library to fit twice the number of books you own). I thought it was a good book and I'm glad I read it (first book in my own personal challenge to read every book in my library, not counting my dad's chemical engineering text books, with only a very minimal amount of books borrowed from the local library). I'm on the hunt for a copy of the sequel (from the library or really cheap from Kindle), but it's probably not a physical book I would bother owning. Ooops, hunt over, the library still has copies of the sequel and I've put a hold on one.
Onto the actual end of this review. I lost a bit of interest in the story after Octavian escaped The College of Lucidity and the narration was being done by Evidence Goring through letters to his sister Fruition and mother, from the battlefield. I have to break that train of thought to ask what kind of parents name their children Evidence and Fruition (with their nicknames Ev and Shun)? Maybe it's their idea of a joke (for this joke to work Evidence must be born first) and they had fun introducing their children to visitors as the Evidence of their (the parents) Fruition. Probably not, but it was an interesting idea. Anyway, back to what I was saying before I was interrupted by the absurdity of 18th century New England naming practices. What was I saying? Ah yes, I got bored when Evidence was narrating the story through his long-winded and strangely-formatted letters to his family. I don't understand how capitalisation worked in those days. The following sentences, for example: "Being upon the Docks of Chelsea, we halted to admire the Spectacle of the burnt Schooner grounded out near Hog's Isle, which charred Carcass lays there rolling on the straits for all to see, its Ribs blackened. There has been further Raids upon those Islands in the last Days, & most of the Livestock is got off them now & furnishes Meals for Patriots." Obviously, I know why names of places and the beginning of the sentences are capitalised, but why would you capitalise Meals or Ribs or Days? Or any of the other non-essesntial words used throughout the last 3rd of the book? I'm not questioning Anderson, I know from other books I've read that he was quite accurate in the way he formatted the writing, I'm questioning the real people of the late 1700s.
In the author's note Anderson tells us that while The College of Lucidity is fictional there were some situations where notable institutes conducted experiments on African Americans or Native Americans. For example Geraldine Brooks' book Caleb's Crossing borrows a supposedly real life experiment conducted by Harvard to see if it was possible to educate Native American boys to the same level as European boys. And in the 18th century the Duke of Montagu sponsored a Jamaican student's education at Cambridge with an eye to determining his capcities - sounds just like Richard Sharpe's (the most evil of Octavian's captors) motives.
The last couple of chapters are the most rage-inducing when it comes to Octavian's treatment - he is bound hand and foot and gagged with metal helmet that comes with its own bit (like for horses). I was not expecting Octavian to have a saviour and so when Gitney started to choke I was encouraging Octavian to vomit on the furniture, if he could (in order to make as much mess as possible), and when he noticed Gitney's condition I thought "Don't tell Sharpe or Trefusis, let him choke to death on his tea." (It hadn't occured to me that he'd been poisoned). Yes, I am vindictive, more so in fiction than real life, I generally hope for the bad guy/girl to die screaming (yes, that's a paraphrased quote from Geena Davis' character in The Long Kiss Goodnight, just as the bad guy's about to dunk her in the freezing water while she's tied to a water wheel in only her petticoat - she gets free and he dies, screaming). So, looking forward to seeing how Octavian's story continues. Does he find a job, a woman to marry or does his life continue to be as much of a struggle as it has been so far?