By Rebecca Enzor
REUTS Publications, LLC, ISBN: 978-1942111597
Paperback, 400 pages. ©2019
First, humans discovered the Merfolk were real. Second, humans learned that Mer performances drew thousands of paying tourists to marine parks every day. Third, humans discovered that the Mer are not like Ariel. They’re lethal predators who can—and do—kill their human trainers. Only rigid rules, constant vigilance, and an electroshocker keep them in line.
Finn, a human handler, wants only to prove his value and make a name for himself in this business. Erie, the first Mer put in Finn’s hands for training, knows this new life will break her. Finn knows his future rides on Erie’s shoulders. Erie decides that if Finn won’t help her go home, she’ll at least take him down with her.
No Mer has ever survived captivity for long. No captured Mer has ever been released. But everything changes when Finn realizes that Erie can speak. That she’s more than just a fish. That she’ll die unless he can free her. All he’s ever worked for stands between her and her beloved ocean. Except now that his world has collided with Erie’s, Finn is no longer sure what he wants. All he knows is that somehow, he must make the world see Erie, see the Mer, as he does—a treasure worth saving.
I was enthralled by this book from the very first page. Author Rebecca Enzor’s gift for storytelling enlivens each word and colors every phrase. The narrative winds back and forth between Finn’s point of view and Erie’s, each driven by their own motivations and goals. Both won me over. Finn’s need to prove himself to his peers at Oceanica Marine Park and to Aunt D, especially given the loss of his father at an early age, rings true to life. He’s always a relatable character, if not necessarily a likable guy. More than once I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. Erie, too, had her petty moments. Yet given that she is imprisoned in an alien place with no way to know what’s going on or what these landfolk expect of her, I could understand her reactions. Her anguish, fear, and depression pierced me to my core. As these two characters grew together, trusting and suspecting one another by turns, Speak the Ocean wrapped its tale around me, squeezed my heart, and pulled me into its depths. I fell for Finn and Erie hook, line, and sinker.
But this story is more than just good fiction. Enzor’s depiction of marine science and the inhumane treatment of marine mammals in the ocean park industry strummed a chord of compassion in me. Any animal training program, whether real or imagined involves a system of rewards and, inevitably, punishments. Whales, dolphins, and sea lions are given fresh fish as treats when they perform a trick at Sea World. Behind the scenes, the animals are often food-deprived to make them cooperative.
The Mer in StO are treated even worse by the landfolk at Oceanica. Staff are told again and again that they should never humanize the Mer. All their needs are met—food, clean water, a clean tank, veterinary care. What more could they need? After all, they’re only fish, dangerous beasts who kill without thought or feeling.
However, in fiction as in life, sometimes the monsters are humans. StO slams that message home with brute force hidden in deft turns of phrase and, for me, this was the deeper message in Finn and Erie’s story. Humans already demean each other in order to excuse poor treatment or even enslavement, so of course we do it to other animals, too. Here. Every day. In real life. And maybe it’s time we took a long, hard look at our performances in that particular arena.
This is Enzor’s debut novel, and she well and truly knocked it out of the park. Rest assured, Speak the Ocean is not your typical fairytale mermaid story. It’s a dark and lovely read that ripped my heart out, rebuilt it, and put it back more complete than before. If you love a story that sucks you in and holds you in its clutches long after the last page is turned, this is the book for you.