KOA KAI by D. R.  Pollock

KOA KAI

The Story of Zachary Bower and the Conquest of the Hawaiian Islands
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this first novel, Pollock takes his hero from humble beginnings in Colonial America at the end of the 18th century to the Sandwich Islands, where he becomes a warrior in the service of Kamehameha the Great, the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii. 

Zachary Bower is born in a cabin on the frontier of the British colonies, not long before the start of the Revolutionary War. After the death of his mother, he’s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Connecticut. His uncle Israel is the captain of the Setauket, a far-ranging merchant ship. Soon, young Zachary ships off with Israel’s crew, learning the ropes while heading to Spanish California. On shore leave in San Diego, he gets left behind and impressed onto another ship that’s heading to the Sandwich Islands. Here, the real adventure begins—as if rounding Cape Horn weren’t hair-raising enough. Zachary’s new vessel, the Fair American, is captured by the island’s residents, and only he and the first mate survive. Soon, along with a seaman from their sister ship, they find themselves the captives of the great leader Kamehameha—a well-known historical figure. Zachary, however, is fictional, as is Kaleo, a young Hawaiian who becomes Zachary’s minder and mentor; the comely Pua Lani, who becomes Zachary’s common-law wife, is also a product of Pollock’s pen. As Kaleo and Zachary become close friends, the latter proves to be a fearsome warrior in Kamehameha’s campaign to unite the people of the archipelago. 

The descriptions of the fighting are unbelievably savage and bloody, but finally result in sufficient victories and a peaceful interlude. Zachary becomes a father, and he’s accepted among the members of his new society (they call him “Koa Kai,” or “Sea Warrior”), and he’s also found peace within himself. The story doesn’t end there, but suffice it to say that some readers will find the final resolution to be very satisfying, while others may feel that Pollock caved to the temptation of providing a happy ending. The author, in his bio, notes that he’s been “an avid sailor for over fifty years” and his details of a ship’s rigging and maneuvers, and of sailing a vessel through horrendous weather, have the air of verisimilitude. He also fruitfully contrasts Zachary’s straight-laced Christianity with the life of the islanders. For example, Pua, at Zachary’s suggestion, simply agrees to be monogamous and live with him, but Zachary sometimes finds himself struggling with Christian guilt. The sailing scenes are truly riveting throughout, and readers will get a real feeling for the island paradise, with its mix of the idyllic and the brutal. That said, despite the author’s clear investment in this historical material, the text often suffers from idiosyncratic punctuation, as well as erroneous word choices or misspellings, such as “lien-to” instead of “lean-to,” “shuttered” instead of “shuddered,” and “windless” instead of “windlass.”

A zesty, if flawed, historical adventure that’s worth a read to witness the love that the author lavishes on his characters and their adventures. 

Pub Date: April 24th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4808-5934-0
Page count: 306pp
Publisher: Archway Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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