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The Hawaiian people lived in an isolated Garden of Eden and fought over it for centuries. Then one day, strangers came from beyond the horizon on floating islands. At first, the Hawaiians thought they were gods. Having no metal of their own, they marveled at the visitors’ iron daggers, axes, muskets, and cannons. One man, Kamehameha, was the first among the Hawaiians to understand that the strangers’ arrival had transformed everything for his people. He would go on to use these new weapons to defeat his rivals, unite the Hawaiian Islands, and found a new kingdom at the crossroads of the Pacific Ocean. Once There Was Fire brings a little-understood, historically remote era to life through the words and actions of its memorable characters: Kamehameha, his strong-willed and rebellious consort, Ka‘ahumanu, his favorite brother, Keli‘imaika‘i, and Kamehameha’s sons, nephews, comrades in arms, haole advisers, and bitter enemies.
A bold and stirring historical novel, Once There Was Fire, A Novel of Old Hawaii is the debut release from Stephen Shender. Meticulously researched and thrillingly told, it is first and foremost entertaining with confident pacing and compelling characters, but it also proves an intriguing and enlightening foray into a tumultuous and pivotal period in Hawaiian history. With his broad and adventurous first-person narrative, it’s clear from the start that Shender has an innate talent for storytelling whilst his character portraits are quite simply captivating as he transports his readers to an altogether different age. It may not be a biography per se but it’s certainly intellectually provocative with Shender’s blend of the ersatz and fact creating an unflinching sense of authenticity. Lingering behind persuasive prose, there’s undeniable passion in his narrative that quickly dispels any idyllic notions, and no more evident than with Kamehameha as he follows his fated path. Yes, his story is already known and yet Shender still manages to keep his readers on tenterhooks with an intriguing and well-executed plot, which plays well to the more mythical elements of his telling.
Historical fiction at its very best, Once There Was Fire, A Novel of Old Hawaii makes for a remarkable debut and boding well for future releases from Shender is recommended without reservation.
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Stephen Shender worked for nearly 30 years as a journalist, political and corporate speechwriter, and marketing communications writer. Once There Was Fire is his first novel. A frequent visitor to Hawaii, Mr. Shender lives with his wife, cat, and blue and gold macaw on California's Central Coast.
About Stephen Shender