Welcome to the wrap-up of a historical fiction series starring a 19th-century Hawaiian freedom fighter—many of the characters are back; old loves endure; and familiar hatreds flare.
Fernandez’s (Gods, Ghosts and Kahuna on Kauai, 2017, etc.) final installment of his trilogy begins with John Tana’s wife, Mahealani, being terrified by threats from the old native religion that her husband, now a Christian, scorns. It turns out that the danger is real. Mahealani and their son, JJ, are kidnapped, with the captors intending to ritually sacrifice the two. Meanwhile, John’s old friend Joe Still has returned and will be his strong ally, and the tale’s archvillain, sugar baron Robert Grant, is up to his old machinations. At the top of Grant’s agenda are the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the annexation of the islands by the United States. (Seeing John dead is also on his to-do list.) John does save Mahealani and JJ, but almost too late. Mahealani is raped before the rescue and severely traumatized; JJ, groped by a leper, contracts the disease. Rather than have JJ sent to Molakai alone, mother and son escape to Kalalau, a beautiful valley that the lepers have made their own. But there is no safety in this Eden. Meanwhile, King Kalakaua has proved to be weak and a ditherer. A native coup to replace him with his sister, Liliuokalani, fails quickly. This is just the first attempt to save the Kingdom of Hawaii; the second, final try is compromised, a debacle. In the shambles of it, John meets his old love, Leinani, and…but that would be a spoiler.
On balance, this last volume of Fernandez’s trilogy is successful. The novel is bolstered by a synopsis of the series and a helpful glossary. And the author keeps the plot moving briskly and believably. But speech is sometimes stiff (“he informed John”; “together we will seek ways”). In addition, it is very hard to keep all of the names straight. No blame there, though sometimes the confusion seems a bit gratuitous. Was Robert Wilson the Robert Wilcox readers met earlier in the book? Koolau is the name of a character but sometimes seems to also refer to a place. Still, John is a well-rounded character, and the chapters with him and his grandchildren are charming and prophetic. Actions scenes are Fernandez’s forte, and he is generous with them. History is a constriction because, of course, the “haole” colonizers did win, but the broken revolutions are well-handled. A subplot deals with the tension between John’s Christianity and the native religion. He is trapped between the two worlds. Is he heading for a hard choice between the new world that he is trying to deal with and the realm (including the religion) he was born into and that will always be pulling at him? And what shape will that new order take? This conundrum is beautifully captured in the story’s final image of the stalwart protagonist.
This third installment about a Hawaiian hero—in fact, the whole trilogy—is worth a read.