What you hold in your hands when you pick up Daughters Of Fire is a time trip back to the days when any place on earth could possibly seem new and fresh, with unexpected layers and energies at play--you know, the kind of trip you could take before TV, Google Earth, and the Web had already shown you all there is to see. The writer, Tom Peek, apparently lives in some kind of volcano of the mind, and thus sees the hot roiling and passions of the chain of islands we once called Sandwich but now call Hawaii, a real place as compelling as any fictional country.
On the surface, this book is a thriller. There is a particularly ghastly murder. There is a cryptic oracle. There are groups of men at work on violent agendas, and there is the bubbling, incipient anger of an angry, disenfranchised people who war with their own ethics and cultural mores--most of all the ineffable philosophy of "aloha" -- to play the hand that has been deal them with grace and aplomb.
On another level, this is a novel of politics, an arena Mr. Peek clearly loves. Like the volcano that threatens to burst throughout the novel, and like the emotional hell that creates an underlay of narrative tension waiting to break loose on every page, this writer is clearly outraged by what the American government has done to the Hawaiian Islands, people, and culture. If his only agenda were to remind us that before we took it by force -- conquered it, to be precise -- the archipelago we favor for honeymoons, surfing gigs, and retirement was once a country with a thousand-year heritage and a deep and fascinating culture, he would succeed with this book. Accordingly, there is a greedy but surprising developer, details of an ambitious, Disney-esque real estate project, and the response of Pele, goddess of fire, who watches over the islands with jealousy, forbearance (don't count on it), wisdom, and aplomb.
In addition to sometimes seamy, sometimes steamy sex, Daughters Of Fire also tells two love stories. The first is the obvious one between an optimistic but wary native woman of depth and beauty and a callow, Australian researcher who takes a post on island without any idea of the trouble and drama into which he will soon be unwittingly plunged. The second, which pervades every freshly painted scene and every clever turn of plot, is the palpable esteem in which the writer holds the islands he calls home. This latter affair is not merely the pulsing appreciation of an artistic man for a place of beauty and drama, but an abiding love for the people and the culture of the Hawaiian Islands.
It is that latter devotion that gives this book what is perhaps its most interesting dimension. This is a spiritual novel, poised between the stars watched from the island's famous telescope and the hot turbulence underground; it constantly reminds us that there is much more to our world than meets the eye, ear, nose, or toe. Just like the volcano, whose running, red, rivers of rage trap hero and heroine and threaten to devour all life on the island, a sense of history, of simmering passion, of earth energies, karma, judgment, and fate pervade the work. James Michener meets Alice Hoffman here, with a salting of Paul Coelho and Sidney Sheldon thrown in.
A first novel, Daughters Of Fire is not perfect. While the tension and yin/yang balance between traditional Hawaii on the one hand and a modern-day, paradaisic, military fortress on the other is generally well rendered, the dialog is sometimes a bit stilted, the pacing can be leisurely, and relationship connections can sometimes seem forced. The cover, from Koa Books, seems a bit too regional and the interior illustrations seem out of place in a novel that has every right to a mainstream spot alongside other passionate tours de force that have been driven, in the end, by passion for a place. Yet if you've never been to Hawaii, this novel will take you there. If you've been there and love it, this novel will reveal things you never knew about our fiftieth state. If you have no particular interest in Hawaii but just want to experience a countdown to cataclysm in a tropical setting, this is one highly recommended thrill ride of a book.