The latest novel from Koa Books is an epic tale by Big Island author, artist and lecturer, Tom Peek. Daughters of Fire is a thick book, and the stunning cover art taken from Herb Kane‘s famous volcano painting of Pele, really sets the tone for this thrilling mystery of social and political discord. It’s a story steeped in culture, mythology and spirituality.

The book centers around three women–an activist, an anthropologist and an old kahuna. Maile is the educated anthropologist straddling two worlds–helping her activist family and friends while working in a Western academic environment. When the land is threatened by developers and an impending lava flow, this trifecta of very different women, each with different talents, learn that they each have something to give to the cause. The frustrated and disenchanted young activist trying to carve out a new place for Hawaiians and save the sacred places has determination and new ideas, while the old seer who knows the ancient ways has priceless and irreplaceable knowledge. All three characters are passionate, and all three embody a different kind of Hawaiian spirit.

With all the detail and background included in the story, you can tell that Peek is not only a resident of Hawaii but also familiar with the cultural and geographical history of his settings. This depth of place really anchors the characters in the book. Peek writes about the land with respect. He writes about the Hawaiian spirit with reverence. The shadow of the volcano, the heart of Pele, is a very sacred place. It’s a powerful place, and Peek does well in capturing it.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book very much. Especially the three female characters, but primarily Aunty Keala who still heeds the call of Poliahu and Pele. I admire Peek’s desire to convey the complexity of what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and there’s a lot to love about the book. At the same time, I feel it was a bit too ambitious. It tried to be too much of everything at once and some parts were drawn out while others parts felt rushed.  Also, if you’re persnickety about the spelling and cadence of pidgin words, as I am, some sections may be a bit rough. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it could use a a little bit of tweaking.

Overall, Peek’s Daughters of Fire is a novel rich with layers and relatable characters. The premise is intriguing and well within the sphere of possibility. It reflects both the fragility of our islands in the threat of development and the power of nature over man. It is a reminder that we need to be stewards of the land, sea and culture–to maintain our traditions and remember our oli because you never know when the old ones might come to reclaim it all.

On a personal note, I adore Tom Peek and if you ever get to attend one of his writing or story workshops I highly recommend that you go. He’s very positive and nurturing and truly loves Hawaii’s stories. He has spent years working on the volcano and it certainly reflects in his work. I am very excited to see what he does next. Check out his website for news and events.