The first regiment that successfully breaks free from the LRA.
Age fourteen. A boy of mixed Afro-Arab and Arab-Berber ancestry. At the start of the novel, his parents are killed by the LRA, his brother Kalid taken hostage. Matteo snaps himself out of his grief and hatches a plan to get himself similarly captured by the LRA, thus finding Kalid and smuggling him to safety.
Army life turns out to be nothing like he had expected. To begin with, the LRA wants a completely Christian Africa
; this means that Matteo is forced to kill his fellow Muslims while hiding that he himself is a Muslim, constantly in fear of his own life and in torment over the horrors he commits. As he comes to befriend the boys working alongside him, he realizes that none of them are in the LRA by choice. His desire to save his little brother evolves into a desire to save all the child soldiers. No easy feat when there are thirty thousand of them scattered across the eastern continent.
- Actual Pacifist: He steadily develops the belief that murder is never justified and spends most of the novel exploiting crafty ways to free his friends without having to harm the men who hold them captive.
- Technical Pacifist: Confronted with the man largely responsible for Ruth's captivity and rape, he kills that man in a moment of blind rage. He feels worse after the encounter instead of better, but although he still feels that murder is unforgivable, he realizes he's willing to do it if it means keeping his friends safe.
- Big Brother Instinct: Toward Kalid, Jeremiah, and Nami.
- Body Horror: By the end of the novel, at least 90% of his body is covered in burn scars. His arms and throat are riddled with bullet scars.
- Catch Phrase: "Inshallah" ("God willing")
- Defrosting Ice King: He's kind, careful, and reverent with Ruth in a way that he never acts toward anyone else.
- Determinator: Possibly the poster boy for this trope.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Matteo has a special relationship with his mother that winds up saving his hide in unexpected ways. On a similar note, he can be a brat to other kids his age, but he's very polite to his elders. Except Luo.
- Five-Man Band: The Hero, obviously.
- Subverted. He's set up as the hero, but in the end it's Ruth who saves everyone, not Matteo.
- Foil: To Asher.
- Freudian Trio: With Ruth and Asher. Matteo is The Id.
- God Is Good: Matteo definitely thinks so. It's rather touching that the horrific amounts of violence and loss he undergoes can't even chip away at the surface of his belief.
- Green Eyes
- Hot-Blooded: Reckless, impulsive, and short-tempered, it's hard to imagine that he thought he was the most mature kid in his village.
- Idiot Hero: Matteo is some kind of unusual deconstruction of one of these. He's actually pretty smart—when he has time to think and plan, it almost always works out exactly as he wants it to—but when there's a reason to make a snap decision, his better judgment flies straight out the window. In one such instance, he winds up as one big walking first degree burn. And deaf-mute. He is constantly defying Lieutenant Luo, too, even though he knows he shouldn't.
- In-Series Nickname: Kalid, Eliza, Jeremiah, and Marunde all call him Teo. Though the narration consistently refers to him as "Matteo," the only time he uses his own name, he shortens it to Teo as well.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Kid Hero
- Knight in Sour Armor: He somehow manages to blend an unflinching knowledge of the cruel world around him with a relentless belief that the world can and will change.
- Mouthy Kid
- Na´ve Newcomer
- Puppy Love: With Ruth.
- Skilled, but Na´ve
- Took a Level in Kindness
"I spent a lot of time not really caring about people. Especially people my age. I always passed my classmates off as immature. Did I think I had the right? Now I realize that they're supposed to be immature. As children, that's their right. The children here are not children. And nobody had the right to take that away."
Age fourteen. She's in charge of cooking for the men. A Christian girl from Kampala, she was captured by the LRA three years ago. Since then, she has given birth to two children, both girls, both dead. One was killed by the apparent father while the other was killed by Ruth herself, who didn't want the baby to live the same life she had. It's actually she, not Matteo, who saves everyone in the end.
- Adult Fear: The LRA captured her on the day she skipped school.
- Chekhov's Skill: Her culinary knowledge, specifically the fact that cassava is poisonous when uncooked.
- Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: Averted. She has a big gap between her front teeth.
- Feminine Women Can Cook: Invoked. The LRA is extremely sexist and leaves the fighting to the boys and the domestic responsibilities to the girls. Ruth and the other girls are mostly cooks, gardeners, and porters until Ruth convinces the general, a superstitiously religious man, that the women should fight in the name of God too. (Of course, this is just a ploy to get the girls and the boys more time together, so they can better coordinate their escape.)
- Five-Man Band: She's The Smart Guy.
- Freudian Trio: With Matteo and Asher. Ruth is The Ego.
- Guile Hero
- Humble Hero: Mentioned above, it's really she, not Matteo, who saves everyone, but she doesn't even seem to realize she's done anything noteworthy.
- Important Haircut
- Iron Woobie: She's been through utter hell and never sheds a single tear.
- Mama Bear: Not a fighter by choice, and not particularly adept at combat, but when Nami's in danger, she pulls out all the stops.
- Mercy Kill: To her second daughter.
- More Deadly Than The Male
- Older Than They Look: Played with. Matteo thinks she's a year or two older than him until she tells him her age.
- Puppy Love: With Matteo.
- The Quiet One
- Shrinking Violet: She gets better.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Not until later, though.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: With Eliza. An inversion: Ruth, the machete-wielding Sweet Polly Oliver, is the girly girl to Eliza's tomboy.
- True Beauty Is on the Inside
Age sixteen and Matteo's squad leader. A Somalian boy who, along with his older sister, was captured by the LRA when he and his family were on the Kenyan border. He and his sister immediately tried to escape the army; his sister was shot to death while he merely walked away with a severely mutilated face
. Six years later, he is cold, dry, and unemotional and refuses to step out of line.
- The Ace / Broken Ace: He has picked up a tremendous amount of useful knowledge from his military service, to say nothing of the random trivia he spouts when he's...uncomfortable.
- Body Horror: The whole right side of his face is gashed, he's missing parts of his nose and mouth, his eye droops, and his face is fixed in a permanent scowl. He's so scary looking, he manages to shut up Matteo when they first meet. And Eliza.
- Cynical Mentor
- Deadpan Snarker
- Faith Heel Turn: He mentions that he was raised a Muslim, but a combination of his captivity in the LRA and his sister's death have whittled the faith out of him.
- Heel-Faith Turn: During a later scene, when he's trapped in a foxhole with his squad, he starts praying to Allah.
- Five-Man Band: He's The Lancer.
- Foil: To Matteo.
- Freudian Trio: With Matteo and Ruth. Asher is The Superego.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Like an Old Married Couple: With Eliza.
- No Sense of Humor
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Again, with Eliza.
- Sex Is Evil: Played for laughs. In contrast with Otto, he's a very big prude.
- The Stoic
- When He Smiles
Age twelve. An Acholi boy who has been in the Lord's Resistance Army for four years. His parents, impoverished, were struggling to feed all four of their children, so he quietly ran away one night to make their task a little easier, determining that either the LRA would find him, or death would. He did this when he was eight
Age seven, and a very angry little boy. Born to a female captive
of the LRA, he has never known life outside of the army. Nor has he ever known kindness. Largely ignored by the adults unless it's time to go fight, he was never taught the simplest of concepts, such as the permanence of death.
Age fifteen. A classmate of Matteo's, he's accidentally captured by the LRA when he tries to stop Matteo from joining the army. He initially protests his presence in the LRA, but after participating in his first battle, he becomes enticed by what he perceives as his newfound power. Insouciant, irreverent, and insensitive, he has a hard time figuring out when to be serious.
Age seventeen and a squad leader like Asher. The oldest of the "veterans," he has been with the LRA since he was eleven and is slated to join the ranks of the adult officers very soon. A direct Foil
to Auley, the promise of power doesn't entice him at all, and he is indifferent
to his horrible life until Matteo shows him that it's possible to escape.
A teenage boy who has difficulty staying awake. He was originally in the Amal regiment before the adults there, annoyed with him, sent him away to be someone else's problem.
Age twelve. A boy in Marunde's squad, he's been with the LRA for one year and considers Marunde his best friend. Originally from DR Congo, he pretends to be psychic and has predicted that he will grow up to be a poet. A Foil
A weary, jaded, ill-tempered woman in her twenties. Originally from the Maghreb, her family emigrated to East Africa when she was a small girl. The LRA kidnapped her when she was six. She is the oldest woman in the regiment, having spent her entire life with the army, and the least motivated to rebel.
Age seven or eight. She has a close relationship with Ruth, but trusts no one else.
A cynical teenage girl with a fierce temper.
Lieutenant David Luo
An adult officer in the LRA. Matteo's squad answers directly to him. A very bitter young man, he has been with the LRA since he was nine. He has no qualms about beating his young charges whenever they step out of line.
Matteo's nine-year-old brother. At the very start of the novel, he's sick with a fever and can't make the overnight walk to Luwero with his older brother. It's his disappearance that prompts Matteo to go looking for the LRA.
A girl in Matteo's class. Her father and Matteo's worked together as salt miners. Her mother was a soldier with the UPDF and died trying to end the civil war. She disappears fairly quickly after the start of the story, but becomes important again later on.
The village's school teacher. She's originally from West Africa.
A timid little girl around the same age as Kalid. She has an attachment to Eliza and later becomes friends with Jeremiah.
A nearsighted boy who gets taken captive by the LRA along with Matteo and Auley. He doesn't last long.
Matteo and Kalid's mother, an Arab-Berber woman whose family emigrated to the east when she was a teenager. Killed at the onset of the novel.
Matteo and Kalid's father, a man of Afro-Arab descent. Killed at the onset of the novel.