The conclusion to Cato’s (Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories, 2017, etc.) Blood of Earth trilogy takes its magically gifted young heroine to Hawaii on a quest to understand both herself and her extraordinary powers so she can save the world and the people she loves.
After using her unusually potent earth-based magic to escape the clutches of Ambassador Blum, the ruthless kitsune who is trying to engineer the social and military ascendancy of Japan in Cato’s alternate 1906 world, Ingrid finds herself physically weakened and in constant pain. She flees to Hawaii on an airship in the company of her lover, Cy, and their friend Fenris, hoping to confirm her suspicion that she is descended from Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, earth, and fire. Ingrid’s time on Hawaii features a fascinating descent into the crater of Kilauea alongside a group of bumbling tourists, an uncomfortable backdrop of entrenched racism, and a sobering reflection on the consequences of power and personal choices. When their airship leaves the islands, Ingrid and her companions find themselves thrust back into the world of political and military intrigue and must race to California and then on to Arizona to confront their enemies and save their friends. Cato’s alternate history, dominated by the Japanese-American alliance of the United Pacific and vicious racism against the Chinese, combines elements of actual history with the idea of an America influenced on every level, whether for good or ill, by a foreign culture. This interesting exercise of imagination is energized by Cato’s likable characters but reveals some awkward authorial privilege. Cultural details, other languages, and the experience of living as a person of color are all often deployed with enthusiasm that feels, at best, like a tourist’s appreciation and, at worst, like clumsy appropriation.
A serviceable ending to a historical fantasy series that shifts between provocatively imagined and culturally clueless.