Review: Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz

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ARC received from the publisher (Stelliform Press) in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll admit: it was the cover that got my attention. The cover, and the promise of a story centering strange sea creatures with an ecological bent. And really, it largely delivered on that – the worldbuilding was incredibly imaginative. I love non-human POVs that feel non-human, taking biology into account. The expected environmental aspect was not “humanity is a plague and must die” and I loved that too. If you liked The Deep, you might like this as well.

Unfortunately, the ending was soured by a rape scene with incredibly brutal consequences, that both felt rather pointless and the content warning at the beginning didn’t come close to preparing me for. It also left me in quite a predicament regarding how to review. After all, most of the book was fantastic, with that one scene like a worm in the last bite of an apple. And, after all, I do not do spoilers as a rule and it’s an ARC besides. But how else to talk about it? What do I do?

So: this summarizes my thoughts for those who need a TL;DR, more details with the minimum necessary spoilers for those who need a more detailed content warning somewhere below the cut.

Ceph, a scientist and an octopus-like deep sea creature, finds proof that the ocean currents are slowing, the consequences of which are bound to be catastrophic. With the help of a symbiotic suit and Iliokai, a seal-like whale singer who has proof, she sets out to fix the issue before it’s too late.

The worldbuilding is where this novella really, really shines. Biological differences are taken into the account when it comes to non-human cultures, resulting in something that feels both interesting and unique. I’m also a complete sucker for stories that involve cultural differences, and there’s plenty of that too between Iliokai and Ceph. There are strong Hawaiian influences as well.

The plot…well, the plot felt  a little weak in the second half, since both the problem and the solution are at least part if not mostly magical (though it didn’t seem that way at the start), but it’s not something I particularly minded. It’s fantasy, not a manual on how to solve the world’s issues, it’s fine. Maybe it would have been better as a novel, but then, I always say that with novellas too.

However. Now we get to the one, just one thing I disliked, but it’s a big one: the rape scene and how it was handled. There is a list of content warnings in the beginning, including one for “some depictions of state violence (including one instance of sexual assault to subdue activism).” Though warnings are always welcome, I’m not, as a rule, especially sensitive to sexual assault in books. I thought I was prepared. I was wrong. Ceph being octopus-like means that pregnancies are fatal. It’s something that’s been repeatedly stated throughout the book, as well as how much she doesn’t want to become a mother and slowly die and she doesn’t understand one of the sisters who genuinely wants that. So when she is raped by a guard? Yeah. In the epilogue, we see her die. The tone of the book until the point of the rape scene was not especially dark or brutal, and I just…didn’t see the point of having that happen, narratively speaking? (Plus the whole load of questions such as: why doesn’t a society advanced enough to have science also have abortions when the consequences of pregnancy are this bad?) It just went and shot the dog and for what? I don’t know.

If not for that scene, I’d be recommending it wholeheartedly, left and right to anyone of the many people I know who might be interested. But as it is, it’s near impossible. Honestly? If I knew, I’d not have read it either.

Enjoyment: 4/5 for most of it, 1/5 for the ending
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: those who like weird biology and sea creatures, fans of The Deep by Rivers Solomon (similar vibes!), those annoyed by the “humans are a plague” trope
Not recommended to: those put off by what happens at the end

Content warnings: body horror, rape resulting in death

 

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