Heart of the Liliko’i, by Dena Hankins
Publisher: Bold Stroke Books (October 19, 2015)
Page Count: 240 pages
Genre: Genderqueer Romance; Mystery, Crime/Thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5
Human remains tangled in lilikoi roots bring the authorities to Kerala’s construction site. Native Hawaiians say the passion fruit vine marks an ancient burial ground protected by guardian spirits, the ’aumakua. But these aren’t ancestral bones. The fractured skull points to murder.
Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty campaigns hinder the project Kerala leads: building an eco-dream vacation home for Ravi, CEO of a solar power company. Proud to be a tough dyke in the trades, Kerala can’t believe she’s so hot for the masculine genderqueer scientist. Their sexual connection is volcanic, but Ravi’s craving for love and family aggravates burn scars from Kerala’s past. As the lovers pursue justice for Hawaii and its people, Ravi turns his gift for harnessing the sun’s strength toward cultivating his own power, and Kerala wonders if building deep, lasting love could be even more satisfying than constructing a home to last the ages.
This novel was LONG. I’m not talking physically, but it felt like every one of these 240 pages was five times as long as a normal page. The plot crawled by at times, and I kept waiting for the promised conflict of the summary… a promised conflict that didn’t come until more than two-thirds through the narrative.
Look: if the very first line of your summary promises a murder mystery tied to the native Hawaiian traditions, then DELIVER on that! When your main plot point doesn’t occur until the 70% point of the novel, you may want to rethink the basic premise.
This novel was not at all what was promised. I thought I’d be reading a fast-paced mystery with “Secrets, sabotage, and indigenous sovereignty”, revolving around a murder found on a construction site. This is not what I read.
Now, the novel I read was good. It was, in fact, EXCELLENT. But it was a slow-paced character study about Kel, a lesbian construction worker, and Ravi, a genderqueer scientist. It was a love story set against a backdrop of Hawaiian politics.
If the summary had reflected the story accurately, I would have given this novel 4 or 4.5 out of 5 stars. But I was disappointed, and felt betrayed, because the story I got was not the story I was promised.
In the game of Diversity Bingo, this novel definitely wins a blackout. Lesbian main character, genderqueer love interest who is also a POC and a trans man, native Hawaiians vs. white ‘haole’… there’s no shortage of representation here. And Dena did a great job of integrating all of these elements, although at times I didn’t feel like the novel was a bit too political.
“I use genderqueer to say that my gender is complicated and won’t match your expectations, and that I won’t adopt a label that doesn’t work just to fit into or rebel against those expectations.” (Kindle Loc. 2094)
Do NOT read this book if you’re looking for a murder mystery/crime thriller. DO read this book if you want a lovely, evolving romance focusing on the relationship between two interesting characters.
(I find it interesting that this book is filed under just the “romance” genre on both BSB and Amazon, with no mention of a “mystery” or “crime” genre. This makes me think the summary was written to deceive readers, to make them think the novel was something that it isn’t.)
If the author and publisher changed the summary to reflect what this novel was actually about, I would recommend it much more highly. But basing your summary on the last 30% of the actual novel is a no-go for me.
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