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Reviewed by Nandita Keshavan for Readers' Favorite
Wai-Nani is an exciting historical drama about a Hawaiian girl from a royal family, who runs away from her family to escape an unwanted wedding. She swims to another island, and there she meets and falls in love with Makaha, who is a son of the king. How she fares in a childless marriage and tries to gain the trust of the people, despite being the daughter of a rival king, adds to the suspense and intrigue. Author Linda Ballou writes beautifully and the pages of this book are filled with such vivid descriptions of the culture and imagery of old Hawaii that the effect of the writing is believable and compelling.
Ballou includes an informative preface which explains that the protagonists are based on important historical legends, but that the book is written with creative license. Significant research by the author on what is known of the Hawaiian psyche at the time shows clearly in the book, which is very realistic. The book also depicts an account of Captain James Cook's arrival at Kealakekua Bay, how he was taken at first to be a god, and how this perception changed later on, along with an unexpected turn of events. This is followed by the arrival of Captain Vancouver, although his interaction with the Hawaiians differs considerably. These passages are written very well and, despite the tensions in the islands, there is always a fear of unknown dangers which adds to the suspense of the interactions with the Europeans.
Wai-Nani rebels against customs for the sake of her own freedom, and during the story her character retains her innocent beauty whilst adopting traits of feminine grit due to difficult circumstances. Makaha is an interesting character who is bold, skilled and brave, while at the same time having a raw greed that drives him to supreme political heights. An invigorating aspect of the book is Wai-Nani's friendship with the dolphin Eku, who becomes a solace in difficult times. The relationship of Wai-Nani with Makaha goes through a range of extremes and it is a sub plot which alternates between love, suspense, loneliness and extra-marital affairs. The emotion, suspense and adventure are written wonderfully against the natural beauty of the islands, making the book colourful, gripping and dramatic.