Many thanks to REUTS Publications and NetGalley for the ARC! This book was published on July 9 and is now available for purchase.
My Rating: 4 stars
Speak the Ocean is a new adult contemporary fantasy that uses aspects of “The Little Mermaid” while still distinctly being it’s own story. After discovery mermaids, or the Mer, humans immediately built Oceanica, a Sea World-like park that captures and trains Mer to perform. Finn Jarvis, a Mer handler at the park, has always believed that the Mer are mindless predators who are more fish than human. His perspective begins to change when he starts training newly caught Erie. I absolutely love what Enzor has done with her mermaids! They aren’t just humans with fish tails; she’s put a great amount of thought into their physiology and creates a whole culture for them, including a symbiotic relationship with dolphins. She does keep some aspects from legends and fairy tales, such as them turning to sea foam when they die. Learning more and more about them was one of my favorite parts of the book.
I also adored Erie as a character. She is the epitome of a cinnamon roll. She’s sweet and wants to believe the best in people, but she is also incredibly strong and willing to fight for her freedom. Watching her learn to speak English and develop relationships with Finn and Jen is a joy. And my heart broke for her whenever she suffered cruelty from her captors at Oceanica. She’s probably one of my favorite characters I’ve encountered this year. Finn is also an excellently built character, though he is much harder to like than Erie. Honestly, he starts off as a real jerk. However, he goes through a huge amount of development as the story progresses, and I think Enzor handles it in an excellent and realistic way.
As you may gather from the description, this book brings up some big moral and political issues. Is it ethical to use another species as a form of entertainment? Is it moral to subject them to pain even if we believe they don’t have the same capacity for feeling and emotion as humans? Enzor handles these questions with grace, bringing us to some disturbing moments but never crossing the line into what could be considered “torture porn.” The comparison to Sea World and the controversy there is quite obvious and even mentioned in the text. This is a book that will make the reader really think about the way we as humans treat animals and how that needs to change.
My only complaint with the book is that I found the two antagonists poorly developed. Slight spoiler here, but the motivations for both can be boiled down to them being rejected by men in favor of other women. Honestly, I’m kind of sick of that as a motivation for female antagonists, and I didn’t feel that it matched the level of horrific these women went to. There are so many other options that could have worked for this book and would have resulted in more complex and interesting villains.
Overall, this is an excellent fantasy with wonderful concepts and a message that will leave you thinking about it well after you finish it.