Such a beautifully strange story we have in Hawaiian Gothic - a cross-cultural, coming-out, romantic ghost-story. Weave all those threads together, and what you really have is a classic quest tale, one in which friends must brave unknown terrors and unimaginable odds in order to not only save a life, but realize a long-suppressed love.
I took this one on for a review because I was attracted to the couple at the heart of it, Ori and Kalani, a mixed martial artist (turned disgraced soldier) and his boyhood best friend, with the soldier actually being the one placed in peril. I was fascinated by the potential there, and the romantic possibilities presented by the spiritual element. What I did not expect was to be so engaged by the the ghost-story at its heart or the cultural elements of the tale.
The first half of the story is actually pretty straight-forward, a bittersweet tale of unrequited love and the healing power of friendship. I found myself being lulled into the rhythm and cadence of the words, almost hypnotized by the telling. The darkness was there, but more hinted at and alluded to, giving the reader time to really connect with the characters before things get crazy.
And get crazy they do!
When the story takes its dark turn, with a journey to the Hawaiian spirit world, complete with all the monsters, tests, trials, and tribulations of a proper quest . . . all wrapped up in a gloriously gothic package that manages to be both familiar and completely original . . . well, that is when the fun starts. There were aspects of the tale that truly creeped me out. It felt strange to be so unsettled by the darkness of a tale set amid the sunshine and sandy beaches of Hawaii, and it is that unexpected contrast that I think makes the story work so well. The use of flashbacks adds to the feeling of being unsettled, taking us in and out of the story, but they work well to add some structure, even as the illuminate the background story.
It takes a while before anything physical develops between Ori and Kalani, and I will not spoil the how's and why's of it (other than to say I have never been so intensely aroused by a wrestling match), but their relationships ends up being one of the most touching, sincere, and satisfying couplings I have ever encountered on the page.
For those who find themselves similarly unsettled by the strange change of pace/theme mid-way through, I urge you to stick with it. This is probably one of the more emotionally challenging romances I have read in a very long time, but once the pieces all come together and you see what Heidi and Violetta have crafted, you will be glad you stuck around for the happily-ever-after.
[Reviewed by Bobbi]