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Once There Was Fire: A Novel of Old Hawaii

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Discover the epic story of old Hawaii James Michener never told

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 cannon
Paperback, 562 pages
Published December 12th 2016 by Pai'ea Press
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Carole P. Roman
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fictionalized history of King Kamehameha and the eventual clash when the Europeans land in Hawaii. Respectful and lovingly recounted, Shender retells the mystery of Kamehameha's birth, all while expertly explaining customs and culture of the region. Born under the shadow of an ominous omen, Kamehameha is spirited away hours after his birth to be brought up by farmers rather than murdered by a rival king. He returns to his family at six and takes his rightful place, learning how to be a leader an ...more
July 7, 2018

A review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book Once There Was Fire: A novel of Old Hawaii written by Stephen Shender

I purchased this book from Amazon in the Kindle edition. I have always wondered about the people of Hawaii just before the White man arrived. I had read James Michner's epic entitled “Hawaii” but there few details of the impact Captain Cook's arrival had on the aboriginal people that had been living there for at least a thousand years. While this was a novel it is chock full
Leonide Martin
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After 700 years of isolation, Hawaii was on the brink of contact with the Western world as this story begins. It is told first person by Namakeha, nephew of Kamehameha I, the great king who united the islands in 1810. Framed as Namakeha's memoirs written at the urging of his royal Hawaiian wife Esther (who later became queen), the historical recount begins with Kamehameha's birth on the Big Island and follows the young noble's path to become a great leader. The Hawaiians of the mid-1700s were di ...more
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, reviews
DNF. I wanted to like this book so badly but I finally had to put it down about halfway through. It's supposed to be a novel based on the history of the Hawaiian people and the king who united all of the islands but the "novel" part was lost. It definitely read like a very, very dry history. There were a lot of confusing, similarly-named characters to keep up with and the story went on for way too long. About half of the content could have been edited out and it would have been twice as enjoyabl ...more
L.A. Keller
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel spans more than 100 years in Hawaiian history from 1748 to 1859. I am ashamed to say I had no knowledge of the Hawaiian culture or history prior to reading this book. It was interesting to learn that the island chieftains were warring in a ceaseless battle to rule.

I was also surprised by the open ‘marriages’ and impressed by the culture’s easy acceptance of it. That is, of course, until foreigners forced their own cultural beliefs on the natives. I was also surprised at the mention of
Jack Templeton
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Seemingly realistic stories, created by imagination and thorough research

It was told in such detail as to make it a bit long and slow at times, yet I found the characters and their roles quite interesting and believable. Well done, Mr. Shender! Mahalo nui loa!
Joshua Grant
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Shender brings Hawaiian history to life in Once There Was Fire! When outsiders come to isolated Hawaii for the first time, it really shakes up the order of things. Kamehameha keenly seizes the opportunity to end hundreds of years of factional division. Shender’s writing is cinematic, bringing the Hawaiian people’s struggle to life in a way that captivated me to the very end! If you love the Hawaiian culture, or just love history, definitely check this one out!
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Once There Was Fire: A Novel of Old Hawaii by Stephen Shender is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December.

Though it wasn't immediately apparent, the author researched Hawaiian myth and history and created a spurious character who writes of his family and culture before the year 1840. Fictional sentiments aside, it comes off like a Lancelot tale and The Odyssey all rolled into one.
James (JD) Dittes
Visitors think of Hawaii as a place of surf, sand, and flowing lava, but Stephen Shender's new book is a keen reminder that 'once there was fire'--the fire of culture that had grown for 1400 years prior to its first encounter with Europeans, and one which reached its apogee in the reign of King Kamehameha (I) the Great (1758-1819). The central figure in Once There Was Fire, Kamehameha, would unify the islands under his rule, but he would also sow the seeds that brought native culture there to th ...more
C. Coleman
I have stressed over the review of this book for a week. Clearly, there was a great amount of research done and in general, it's a great story. I wanted to know more about the Hawaiians before us haolies messed things up. That said, I found it almost impossible to read due to an endless stream of names that read more like a census report. It got bogged down in much of that minutia. IMHO, a third of the book could have been edited out. Even though the 'episodes' seemed endless, I found it hard to ...more
Jun 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
I just couldn’t get on with fictionalised history of Hawaiian King Kamehameha. For one thing there were just too many multisyllabic names all beginning with K. Not the author’s fault, admittedly, but it made for some very confusing reading. And although learning about Hawaii’s history in the 18th and 19th centuries with the encroachment of the modern world is of course a worthwhile activity, endless battles, political machinations and predictable encounters with foreigners and the subsequent con ...more
Kay Hadashi
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read the paperback edition of Stephen Shender's "Once There Was Fire". First, a comment about the quality of the book: it was very well and professionally presented as a paperback.

Now, about the writing. The story of Hawaii just before European contact is told through the eyes of a fictitious character, bringing in numerous real people, battles, and daily lives of the Hawaiians. It was very well researched, turning dry history lessons into compelling scenes. If you want to learn about Hawaiia
Dec 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
The fact that it took me almost two months to finish this book says something about both its length and how much it caught my interest. Obviously it is based largely on fact; no novelist worth his or her salt would invent so many similar, l-o-n-g names, mostly starting with K, to confuse the reader. Sometimes it was hard to distinguish between the "heroes" and the "villains."

Typographical or grammatical errors: 1. the / then; 2. where as / whereas; 3. were / where; 4. where abouts / whereabouts;
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting historical fiction story of Hawaii. I've never been to Hawaii, but have read many books on the state. This one has lots of info, tho' as it's not a scholarly work, the facts in it may or may not be correct. i am hoping they are as they sound like they should be. Mr. Shendor seems to have done his homework! it's a good solid read for anyone wanting to learn more about Hawaii's history.

I received a Kindle ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.
Natacha Lalande
To be totally honest, i got lost so many times reading it especially because of the number of similar and foreign names the characters have. At some point i even forgot who was the main character's name. But the story is great and this should not stop you from reading it.

I'm excited to also present you my spotlight for this novel along with an interview with the author about himself and the novel.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best biography of Kamehameha the Great you could find. Granted, this is not a historiographer's biography; even the subtitle is up-front on identifying this book as a "novel." Stephen Shender invents dialogue, massages drama, and fills in the blanks between big events related in more "official" biographies to smooth the narrative.

But let's face it. Most "old Hawaiian" history comes to us by means of oral tradition. And following the story in
Christine Boswell
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adults
Excellent book! I loved it.
Linda K
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I believe there will always be controversy on the History of the Hawaiian people. Mainly as most of us know a lot of the History was passed on verbally and never written. Which is ironic considering a lot of written history have been in question for decades, with its many versions the Holy Bible for example, or a time when someone's word was as good as a business contract of today. In respect to Mr. Namakeha his bloodline alone in my opinion gives his story "Mo'olelo" legitimacy. He speaks only ...more
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Feb 13, 2018
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During a professional writing career spanning 30 years, I worked as a congressional press aide in Washington, D.C., newspaper reporter and editor on California's Central Coast (Monterey and Santa Cruz counties) political speechwriter in Washington, D.C. (Clinton administration), corporate speechwriter in Los Angeles, marketing communications writer in Silicon Valley, and freelancer before retiring ...more

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