The Girl who Sang with Whales

By: Marc Secchia

IsleSong Book 1


I am indebted to the efforts of many people who helped in reviewing and refining this work, for help and encouragement along the way, and for eagled-eyed reviewing. With grateful thanks to: David, Diana, Gunnhild, Hannele, Heather, Teresa, Sara, Mike, Nikki, and James, and to Victorine for the excellent cover art.

If any errors persist they are of course mine.

Pronunciation Guide

Proper names

Each vowel is pronounced separately. Many proper names among the Island peoples are pronounced with a final vowel which is rising in tone and clipped off (e.g., í, ú, é):

Zhialeiana (Zhee-ya-lay-ee-ana)

Rhadé (Rha-de)–the final ‘e’ is pronounced as in ‘deck’

Clearimoí (Clee-ar-ee-moy-ee)

Atoll/Island names

The Islands of the World-Sea are arranged into island-clusters, and clusters into major Atolls for administrative and political reasons. An Atoll may comprise thousands of individual islands. A powerful Atoll may rule other Atolls nearby, up to several daysongs sailing.

The pronunciation of Island names follows the rule of pronouncing each vowel separately, with the exception that the final ‘o’ is pronounced ‘oy’ as in boy:

Ciopalioi Atoll (Cee-o-pa-lee-oy-ee)

Germioi Atoll (Ger-mee-oy-ee)

Argalioi Atoll (Ar-ga-lee-oy-ee)

Certain words from the far Leeward Islands have a glottal stop, where the airstream is momentarily trapped toward the back of the throat:

Ey’xtalioi Atoll (Ay’-x-ta-lee-oy-ee)

Yuxxi’í (Yoo-xi’-i)

Prologue: Fishing in The Deep

Ciopalioi Atoll, twenty-one cycles before the present daysong.

Coil after coil of fishing line hissed across the bottom of the canoe as the fish made a run for the open ocean. Zaina’s laughter rippled out over the waves. “Paddle, Zhisu! Paddle!”

Zhialeiana scowled at her mother’s back, but plied her paddle with all of her strength nevertheless. Spray burst up from the prow. Together, they made their slim dugout canoe fairly shoot across the early mornsong swell into the channel that separated their island from the next Atollward island in their cluster.

“Mama, this fish is too strong–”

“Crabshells!” The wiry muscles of her mother’s back and arms were covered in a sheen of sweat. “This is a lip-smacking monster of a blue sulion. We are going to feast the whole nightsong long. We’ll invite Aunt Reshoí and Gerdo and Erduú … everyone! Now, let’s shift some water, girl!”

They had hooked the sulion before dawnsong. It had led them on an exhausting chase ever since. Three islands Atollward, out over the Mother’s reef to the Leeward, up again toward The Deep–only her mother could be more stubborn than that fish. They cut through the shallows of their lagoon, seeking to take the strain off the fishing line. Sulion fish were notorious for their power and muscle. This one would snap the tough twine of their fishing line like suns-dried kelp if they made any mistake.

“It’s going to jump. Any moment now …” Zaina flicked a paddle-full of water into her daughter’s face.


“Sorry, angelfish. Change of direction.”

“It’s headed for The Deep, Mama.”

“You scared?” Her mother turned to offer her twelve-cycle-old daughter a bright, excited smile. “Don’t be. He’s too smart to go there. He’ll double back once he feels the bottom drop away.”

They went surging past the small island they called home. Crystal-white sand beaches, a smattering of coconut palms, and just one hut. It had a lagoon where she loved to swim, a tiny sliver of protecting reef, and beyond that–she shivered–The Deep. The belly of the World-Sea, as crazy old Gerdo loved to call it. The place her mother had given her strict orders to stay away from.

“Cut the line, Mama. Please.”

“What? And miss the chance to feast?” Zaina sounded as irritable as an empty belly always made her. “Nine daysongs of storm–a whole week–and not a coconut left on the Atoll. We haven’t eaten in four daysongs, Zhisu. I’ll not be the mother who left her daughter to starve amidst the bounties of the Mother Rorqual’s reef.”

Zhialeiana’s arms felt ready to fall off, and there was a burning pain in her chest. She was blowing gasps of air like a dolphin venting after a long dive. Her bare feet, jammed beneath the bench her mother was sitting on, ached from the effort of holding her in her seat. Why would her mother not just give up? There were plenty of yellowtail in their lagoon. Tasteless in comparison to the sulion fish, Mother’s truth, but edible–if only when hidden in her favourite fish stew.

“Mama, we don’t need to eat sulion–”

“Zhialeiana!” she snapped, and then said it again, more gently, stressing each syllable, Zhee-ya-lay-ee-ana: “… Zhialeiana-Susurrus, you will obey your mother.”

She made a face at her mother’s back as her full name was hauled out to add emphasis to the reprimand. Zhialeiana-Susurrus. Zhisu for short. A whopper of a name that never failed to make other children giggle when they heard it. She much preferred Zhisu.

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