Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Now, here's an interesting new take on an old story! Voiceless: A Mermaid's Tale seems to be a version of the classic story of The Little Mermaid--the 19th century tale by Hans Christian Andersen that was later famously adapted by Disney.
However, Voiceless is far more than just a photocopy of the story, it adds more layers than an onion (as Shrek might say). For one, the main character, Moriah, is much more than a naive yet optimistic Mer princess, she is actually very smart, at times even cunning. There is an aspect of naivety in her when it comes to humans, but that's understandable. She just simply hasn't spent as much time with them as she has with Mer folk. When it does come to Mer issues, she is among the wisest and most conscientious of her people. She is able to think skeptically, critically, analytically.
Another aspect of this story is that the infamous sea-witch, Ursula in the Disney tale and Amari in this telling, is not a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain who sings an ominous, catchy little tune. Yes, Amari is often rude, aggressive, and has her own ulterior motives, but she is also a mentor and, you could even argue, a friend to our main character. Friends try to strangle each other sometimes, right? They hit each other with aluminum pans, throw each other off of roofs onto stacks of tables, and perform finishing moves on each other, right? That's normal.
Amari is one of the most interesting parts of this story. The reader can tell that there's so much more to her character than what we initially see and what we expect to see from her. The first exchange between Amari and Moriah allows the reader to see both Amari's gray nature and Moriah's intelligence. Moriah knows to expect a contact with strings attached from Amari, and she is clever enough not to play that game. Actually, she plays back. It's not her voice she surrenders in this version. Instead, she forms a sort of teacher-pupil partnership with Amari to learn the secrets of her transformation spell and other magic, seeking to empower herself in the long term to potentially face up to her tyrannical grandfather.
And that brings us to our main villain, the aptly named Abaddon—a name that literally means “DESTROYER.” You would know this if you ever read the Bible, knew Hebrew, or binged watched Supernatural with any brain cells remaining by the end. Anyway, Abaddon is Moriah's grandfather and the tyrannical king of Zoara-Bela, essentially an underwater kingdom akin to something like Atlantis, only a lot more like Rapture from Bioshock with legit torture, capital punishment, and slavery (although a lot of it is implied but not shown, making this book still appropriate for young adults). Taking the place of King Triton from the Disney classic, Abaddon rules his kingdom with an iron fist. Anyone who dissents faces either corporal or capital punishment, even his own children and grandchildren. In fact, the looming threat of punishment persists throughout the story as both Moriah and Amari must tread carefully to avoid being caught. The justice system under Abaddon is also abysmal (pun intended) as it heavily favors the prosecution/accuser, especially male accusers. Women have little to no say in Zoara-Bela, which partly gives the book its title.
Another character who is worth mentioning is Michael, a human male who is rescued by Moriah in the beginning of the story, typical for a mermaid tale. However, Michael is no prince. He really seems like a fairly normal human person. He is, however, a foster child who struggles with severe depression and likely mental illness. He feels unloved and unwanted due to his upbringing, making his relationship with Moriah a bit more special. Michael is made to feel “needed” by Moriah, but not in an overbearing way. Michael is Moriah's mostly-patient tutor when it comes to matters of humanity. He teaches her about things like dancing, history, and culture. It is from Michael that Moriah is able to put together that her civilization might not be so ideal: seeing that it reflects some of the worst aspects of humanity and human history.
Now, it is a little strange that Michael learns very quickly that Moriah is a member of a cult that seems to be mentally and psychologically abusive to her at the very least, yet he still doesn't report it to the police or try to get her help. You could argue that he's just respecting her wishes or that he doesn't feel he has anyone he can turn to for help to begin with, but we digress.
Voiceless is a really good, well-rounded, coming of age story with some fascinating elements.
Check it out!