What makes this historical novel impressive is its author’s feel for his epic subject matter, and his ability to tell the story so lyrically, with a Hawaiian lilt to the language. His Kamehameha resembles larger-than-life Western literary figures, from the classical myths of antiquity through King Arthur to Shakespeare in this page turner that vividly paints a way of life worlds apart from the one we now know on Hawaii’s shores.
Once There Was Fire: A Novel of Old Hawaii
Stephen Shender, author
A work of fiction informed by history, Once There Was Fire is the story of Kamehameha the Great, who rose from inauspicious beginnings on the Big Island of Hawai'i in the mid-1700s to conquer the entire archipelago by 1810. As a young man, Kamehameha witnessed the arrival in the Islands of the English explorer, James Cook, in 1779--a culturally seismic event for the Hawaiians. Kamehameha was the first among his people to grasp the transformative implications of Cook's visit, an understanding he would later turn to advantage in struggles with his rivals. Once There Was Fire brings a little-understood, historically remote era to life through the words and actions of its memorable characters: Kamehameha, his strong-willed and rebellious consort, Ka'ahumanu, his favorite brother, Keli'imaika'i, and Kamehameha's sons, nephews, comrades in arms, haole advisers, and bitter enemies. The novel invites readers to see Hawaii of the mid-18th and early 19th centuries as the old Hawaiians themselves might have seen and experienced it on the cusp of their passage from splendid isolation to the wider world.
Rick Chatenever, Maui News