Set in 19th-century Hawaii, a historical novel stars a handsome young hero.
The story begins in 1867, when 17-year-old John Tana, an orphan, is thrown off his land by the evil sugar baron Robert Grant. John finds himself on the run, not only from Grant’s henchmen, but also from the vengeful Capt. Julius Shaw and the murderous crew of the whaler Jeremiah. But friends and relatives abound, including his beautiful cousin Leinani (who in fact is not his cousin; it’s complicated). He escapes to Maui with Shaw in hot but futile pursuit. When things get too dangerous, John and company eventually flee to Honolulu (Oahu). Along the way, readers meet John’s Aunt Malia, his cousin David, Ah Sam (John’s close Chinese friend), and many, many others. This is all against a social backdrop that has the Caucasians (Americans) at the top of the heap, then the native Hawaiians, then the Chinese. (The Hawaiians themselves are divided between those of supposed royal blood and commoners like John.) The story chronicles a hatefully racist time and place, in which the Chinese, especially, live in fear of the next mob to bubble up. And don’t forget missionary Christianity versus the native religion. John is adept at the ancient Hawaiian martial art of lua, which stands him in good stead as combat has become a crucial part of his daily survival. Fernandez (Cult of Ku, a Hawaiian Murder Mystery, 2016, etc.), a native Hawaiian, is an authentic voice for John and the Pacific archipelago’s turbulent history. Plot twists come thick and fast, and there is always the seductive undercurrent of John’s love for Leinani, a romance that at times seems doomed. The author expertly moves the plot along (through short chapters), and the vivid and intriguing details of Hawaiian daily life in the 19th century ring true. At times, John’s virtue and especially his fighting prowess test the reader’s credulity, but the striking ending is not tidy, a plus.
For the setting and era alone, this ripping adventure yarn offers sufficient rewards.