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Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers' Favorite
Once There Was Fire: A Novel of Old Hawaii by Stephen Shender is a compelling tale of the Hawaii of the 18th century till the 19th century, when the innocent Hawaiians were lured into the world of modernity. The novel takes the reader all the way back into the 18th century when Hawaiians were living in relative peace, until it was broken by the arrival of the strange men with their even stranger tools. These men had education and they had things that the Hawaiians had never seen before. Everyone was mesmerized, everyone but Kamehameha, the king. Kamehameha the Great was the only person who understood what these strangers were doing to his people, their traditions and their values. With the help of his faithful companions, his queen, his friends and his sons, Kamehameha would go on to become one of the greatest men in Hawaiian history, one that united the islands and brought the better of the new world into the lives of Hawaiians.
Author Stephen Shender does a wonderful job of bringing the rich and complicated history of Hawaii to the reader in the simplest, eloquent and most splendid way. This is perhaps one of the most well-developed and easily understood biographies of Kamehameha the Great. The descriptions of the scenery and the imagery were so real that you could almost taste the salt of the ocean and understand the way the 18th century Hawaiians lived. The narrative was fast-paced without compromising the plot line. Stephen Shender kept the integrity of the characters alive and ensured that he stayed true to the essence of these characters as he brought the story to life.