The handsome, resourceful Hawaiian John Tana is back in this second volume of Fernandez’s (John Tana, 2017, etc.) trilogy, set in 19th-century Hawaii.
This time around, John has fled the corruption and dangers of Honolulu and gone back to his home island, Kauai. He’s lost his great love, Leinani, but he eventually marries a good woman, Mahealani. But the evil, powerful sugar baron Robert Grant is still his sworn enemy, and Hawaii is at a political tipping point: Will Grant and his cronies manage to get the United States to annex the islands, and is this the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Hawaii? These difficulties are complicated further by existing racial tensions between the Anglos, the native Hawaiians, and the Chinese. Also, John has converted to Christianity, but Mahealani and others still follow the old religion, gods, and superstitions, and this issue becomes a festering wound on the marriage. John tries many jobs, including working as a rice-field guard, the chief of security at a sugar plantation, and an occasional bodyguard for Hawaiian King Kal?kuau. As a Hawaiian, he wants the respect that he feels he deserves, and by the end of the book, he gets it and begins to prosper, laying the groundwork for a third volume. Fernandez’s description of a raid on a counterfeiting operation, the tracking and slaying of a wild boar, and other bits of derring-do are well-done. He also introduces readers to Hawaiian history and culture, including the mysteries and terrors of the aforementioned “old religion.” There’s even a cameo appearance by the real-life Father Damien De Veuster, who was famous for his work with lepers. All these things help to pull readers into the story. On the other hand, the villainous character of Grant veers steadily toward Snidely Whiplash–style caricature, and the backstory of a character named Joe Still is mystifying. Illustrations include rather fuzzy black-and-white photos of the Hawaiian countryside as well as sketches by Judith Fernandez that lend an effectively primitive charm to the story and bring to mind Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's sketches for The Little Prince.
An uneven historical novel, but its action scenes make it worthwhile.