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.
- Catchphrase: "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.
- 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
- Naïve Newcomer
- Puppy Love: With Ruth.
- Skilled, but Naïve
- 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
- FaithHeel 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.
- HeelFaith 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.
- Adorably Precocious Child
- The Conscience: He considers his role as a soldier to be a merciful one; the people he kills die quickly and relatively painlessly, whereas the adult soldiers would only prolong their suffering. He also has a staunch and humorous aversion to theft.
- Dissonant Serenity
- Five-Man Band: He's The Chick.
- Foil: To Abdel.
- "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:"So," Panga said over his shoulder, "what do you kids want to be when you grow up?"Another silence, a more unsettling silence, fell."Not dead?" Otto offered uncertainly.
- The Heart
- Kid-anova: He wants to be one of these.
- Never Learned to Read
- Stepford Smiler
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth
- Wham Episode: It's completely unexpected when he dies.
- Wise Beyond Their Years
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.
- Big Brother Instinct: In reverse. He latches onto Matteo, evoking the instinct from the latter.
- Cute Bruiser
- Five-Man Band: The Big Guy in attitude, despite actually being the smallest of the squad.
- Foil: To Kalid.
- Man Bites Man: He bites Asher, of all people.
- The Nicknamer: Toward the boys in his squad.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: He's the quickest in his squad, and Matteo mentions that he has no difficulty swinging a machete that's almost as big as he is.
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.
- Delinquent Hair: He dyes it red.
- FaceHeel Turn
- Maybe. He doesn't get the chance to explain himself before Asher kills him.
- The Fool
- Foil: To Marunde.
- The Imp
- Naïve Newcomer
- The Prankster
- Running Gag: His fear of lions.
- Too Dumb to Live
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.
- The Blacksmith
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Matteo calls it a "crocodile grin."
- Comic Trio: With Lazy and Abdel.
- Foil: To Auley.
- Fun Personified
- The Jester
- Loveable Rogue
- Messy HairMatteo watched the other two squad leaders. One of them was tall and skinny with strong, lean arms, his nose pierced, his hair's only apparent endeavor to stand out in every possible direction.
- No Name Given: He invokes this on purpose, unwilling to give Matteo his surname when asked.
- Straight Gay
- The Trickster
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.
- Comic Trio: With Marunde and Abdel.
- Dreadlock Rasta
- Heavy Sleeper
- Only Known by Their Nickname: A misnomer at that. When he's actually awake, he's fairly helpful, if inane.
- Plucky Comic Relief
- Running Gag: Mistaking everyone for his mother, or asking for her as soon as he wakes up. Sadder in hindsight.
- Tattooed Crook: Has a prominent eagle tattoo on one of his arms.
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 for Otto.
- Bilingual Bonus: The only time his age is revealed is when he and Nyumba are having a conversation in French.
- Comic Trio: With Marunde and Lazy.
- Dumb Blonde: He dyes it with lye.
- Foil: To Otto.
- Insane Troll Logic: He's fluent in it.
- Plucky Comic Relief
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.
- Broken Bird
- Childhood Friends: With Luo)
- The Medic: She tries to be this, with horrific results.
- Seen It All
Age seven or eight. She has a close relationship with Ruth, but trusts no one else.
A cynical teenage girl with a fierce temper.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: She always disagrees with the main characters. And she's always wrong.
- Quirky Curls
- Sole Survivor: Of the siege in Sarasa.
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.
- Childhood Friends: With Lucy
- Foil: To Panga.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Missing his right eye and has a scar running through the socket.
- HeelFace Turn
- Jerkass Woobie
- Pet the Dog: He tried to get medicine for Kalid when Kalid was first taken to Masindi.
- Punch-Clock Villain: Part of Matteo's development involves the realization that Luo is not evil, but the product of his horrible environment, simply behaving the way he was taught to behave since he was a child.
- Smug Snake
- Stepford Smiler / Technically a Smile / Broken Smile
A regiment stationed north of Gulu. Matteo and his friends infiltrate their ranks while looking for Matteo's little brother. On an unspoken agreement, none of the children in this regiment go by their real names, and each squad has its own naming convention (colors, adjectives, types of food, etc).
Age thirteen. A brusque, burly girl who serves as the leader of her squad.
- Honest Advisor
- Iron Lady
- One of the Boys:"How long have you been a soldier?" Matteo asked quietly."Three years. I'm thirteen. I've always been kind of burly, so I guess they figured...I don't know, that I'd make for a better boy than a girl."
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Subverted. The reader is led to believe this, but Jade turns out to be her real name.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: The tomboy to Nyumba's girly girl.
- Unless Nyumba is a boy, in which case they qualify for Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy.
Age eleven. A girl in Jade's squad. She's originally from DR Congo.
- Ambiguous Gender: Matteo mentions that she could pass for a boy, probably because she hasn't hit puberty yet.
- Except for Matteo's best guess, which seems to be based off of Nyumba's friendship with Jade, there's literally no proof that Nyumba is a girl. No one but Matteo ever refers to Nyumba as "he" or "she."
- Bilingual Bonus / Meaningful Name: Her name means "Home" in Swahili. She gets to go home in the end.
- The only time her age is revealed is when she and Abdel are having a conversation in French.
- Important Hair Accessory: Her blue headband.
- Shrinking Violet
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: The girly girl to Jade's tomboy.
- Unless Nyumba is a boy, in which case they qualify for Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy.
- Youthful Freckles
An Acholi teenager who used to be in the same squad as Lazy. He's Otto's older brother.
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.
- Bratty Half-Pint
- Cheerful Child
- Foil: To Jeremiah.
- Posthumous Character: The fever was malaria. He died during his first night with 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.
- Catchphrase: "Holy Moses!"
- Five-Man Band: She's the Sixth Ranger.
- Like an Old Married Couple: With Asher.
- Like Brother and Sister: With Matteo.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl
- Plucky Girl
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: With Asher.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: With Ruth. An inversion: Eliza's wardrobe is nothing but gomesi (long, floor-length dresses) and she has never seen combat, but she is the boisterous tomboy to Ruth's girly girl.
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.
- Chekhov's Gun: Her necklace.
Matteo and Kalid's father, a man of Afro-Arab descent. Killed at the onset of the novel.
A soldier with the UPDF. He has been trying for a long time to put a stop to the LRA, but his efforts are losing political support. When he meets Matteo's friends in Lira, he immediately joins their cause.
- Boisterous Bruiser
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
- Foil: To Luo.
- Friend to All Children: The younger children are magnetically drawn to him. The older children are suspicious of him, mostly because they've never had good experiences with soldiers.
- Manchild: Matteo actually calls him a "damn overgrown child" at one point.
- Meaningful Name: "Panga" is both a species of fish and a local nickname for a machete. Like the fish, Panga is clumsy and ridiculous. In combat, he's deadly.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: His real name is unknown. Panga is his nickname.
- Papa Wolf
- Team Dad
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child
A Catholic priest from Luwero who lets the children from Noam sleep in his church at night to avoid being captured by LRA search parties.