cover image Once There Was Fire

Once There Was Fire

Stephen Shender. Pai’ea, $16.99 trade paper (564p) ISBN 978-0-692-77133-4

Shender’s eye-opening chronicle of the Hawaiian kingdom is narrated by Nāmākeha’okalani, nephew of King Kamehameha. In 1858, Nāmākeha’okalani sits down to record the stories of Kamehameha as told by his father, Kalanimālokuloku, determined to preserve a record of the time before the haole (foreigners) came to the islands. Nāmākeha’okalani begins with the king’s birth and isolated early years in the 1730s, his development as a warrior and leader, ascendance to power, and his determination to unite the islands into a single kingdom. Filled with constant intrigue and internal wars that were “as certain to come as the daily rains in Hilo,” Shender’s take on Hawaiian history and culture includes fascinating details, such as meetings with haole visitors like Captain Cook, and the kapu ali‘I, laws of the chiefs, which the penalty for disobeying was often death. Though the writing can be stilted (“It is too late to go to Father’s side, and he would not want you to risk your life only to mourn his death”), Shender’s depiction of Hawaiian mythology and folklore is entirely convincing. Readers will be rewarded with a strong impression of early Hawaii. (Self-published)