The Kingdom of Oceana

The Kingdom of Oceana was written by Mitchell Charles and first published in 2015. It’s a fantasy novel about a young Hawaiian prince who must protect his island from dark magic. The book reads as though it’s the first part of a series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Prince Ailani has always played second-fiddle to his older brother brother. Nahoa is confident and brash, destined to become the next king of their tropical paradise. Ailani feels as though he will forever be the omo – the remora that clings to his brother’s side. Yet when Nahoa decides that they should explore some ancient ruins, Ailani realises that his brother has gone too far.

Amongst the ruins, Nahoa finds a strange old tiki head, and the moment he touches it he seems to lose himself. Ailani is sure that the thing must be cursed, yet his brother quickly shrugs it off as though it’s nothing. However, something is certainly not right. Ailani soon discovers that the neighbouring Pearl Island is under attack. Whales are disappearing from the sea nearby and swarms of octopi are attacking their oyster beds.

When Ailani travels to the island with his father and brother, he soon discovers that things are far worse than they feared. The king of Pearl Island has gone mad with power and his greed threatens to destroy the balance between the physical and spiritual worlds. With the help of his friends and his island’s wise Kahuna, Ailani sets out to put things right. However, will he succeed before the two islands are overrun with undead creatures from the ocean depths?

I must admit, this is another book that lured me in with its beautiful cover. Terrible, I know, but I just couldn’t resist the contrast between the bright colours and the snarling tiki head. Luckily, in this case, it wasn’t a terrible thing. While my feelings towards The Kingdom of Oceana are rather mixed, the book did have a lot going for it. First and foremost of these was its wonderful setting.

I must confess that I don’t know the first thing about Hawaiian mythology. Beyond Lilo and Stitch, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything set on the islands. Because of this, I’m probably not the best person to judge how accurate this novel is. It could be a really fair interpretation of what Hawaiian life was like five hundred years ago, or it could be way off the mark. I genuinely have no idea.

However, it did make me want to learn more. I truly fell in love with Ailani’s magical paradise. It was a setting like none I’d ever read before – a world where people lived in harmony with the land and sea. It was a world where sharks granted their wisdom to those they deemed worthy, shapeshifters and shaman were welcomed in society, and zombie sea creatures plagued the oceans.

The novel was made all the more authentic through its use of Hawaiian words and phrases. These were liberally sprinkled throughout the text. While I generally find the random usage of foreign words to be jarring (seriously, why translate only some of the text?) in this case it worked. I found it fun to learn the words for different sea creatures, as well as the weapons and tools that Ailani uses every day. All of the unfamiliar words were translated by both the novel’s footnotes and helpful glossary, so I never felt lost or confused as to their meaning.

The themes behind the tale are a little more standard. While the setting was beautiful and unique, at its core it was a book about the importance of tradition and the dangers of forgetting the old ways. This was shown time and time again throughout the story, as the King of Pearl Island unknowingly threatens his home through his rejection of the natural order and increased reliance on machinery. Yet it’s not only the king that learns a valuable lesson in this story. Life lessons regarding the importance of family, respecting nature and finding a balance in all aspects of life are also integral to Ailani’s quest.

The story immediately drew me in, with Nahoa making his discovery within the first few pages. Yet it quickly became clear that the book had some severe issues with its pacing. This seems odd to say, as the story was a pretty breezy read, but very little was actually accomplished over the first part of the tale. The tiki is ultimately very significant to what’s going on, yet after the opening chapters it is barely mentioned again until the climax. What follows instead is a rather slow look at Ailani’s daily life, including his lua training and first spiritual journey. It’s not until around the half-way mark that the plot really finds its feet again.

Yet, conversely, this second half of the story seemed to move too fast and I found that this was when my interest started to wane. As the book neared its climax, everything just started to blur together. It all felt horribly rushed, as though Charles found that he had too much to get across in a very small word-count. I don’t want to spoil too much for you here but I’ll just say that a lot of important events seemed to happen off page, including important character development.

Perhaps if Charles had spent less time on the build-up, the final chapters of the book would not have felt so rushed. Yet there was some light at the end of the tunnel. While the climax was a bit confusing, the story still managed to finish on a good note. While there was certainly an opening left for a potential sequel, The Kingdom of Oceana did end well. It felt like a complete novel in its own right and did completely resolve the problem of the cursed tiki and zombie invasion.

In terms of characters, the book did fall a little flat. As this was really Ailani’s story, he was the character who received the most development. Yet, somehow, he still felt incomplete. From early in the novel, it’s revealed that Ailani perceives himself as a disappointment but I couldn’t understand why. It’s never really explained why his mother dotes on Nahoa yet seems to despise Ailani, especially as Nahoa is an idiot. While it is ultimately Ailani’s actions that save the day, we never really see him get any kind of acknowledgement for this. He doesn’t even get to learn the true significance of his rather unexpected spirit animal.

Beyond Ailani, the other characters were largely 2-dimensional. The villains were all pretty obvious from the start and didn’t seem to have very high aspirations beyond wanting to rule the island. Yet the character that frustrated me most of all was Princess Momi. She was the only female protagonist of note and was portrayed as being an amazing surfer. However, beyond this early display of awesome, she was given nothing else to do. She basically followed Ailani around during the climax, never speaking up for herself or offering any real help on his quest.

The only supporting character that I thought was truly memorable was the Kahuna. While we ultimately didn’t learn too much about him (as a holy man/mystic, he was naturally rather secretive), his dialogue with Ailani was generally worth a chuckle. Due to his sense of humour and mischievous nature, it was often easy to forget that he was actually an elderly man!

So anyway, to conclude, I’m sorry to say that I did find The Kingdom of Oceana to be a little forgettable on the whole. While it did have a wonderful setting, it suffered from poor pacing and shallow characterisation. Still, the book does show some promise and I’d be curious to see where Ailani’s spiritual journey takes him in a future volume.

The Kingdom of Oceana can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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