Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
November 14, 2017 from Orbit
Adult sci-fi horror
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Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.
People told me this book was scary, and I don’t usually scare easy, so I went into this thinking, “Oh, it’ll be fine, it’s probably not that scary!” I fell asleep after reading the first thirty or so pages and promptly had a very long, detailed dream about descending into the ocean in a submarine with five people and being ripped apart by killer mermaids. The next day, I read more of the book, had a panic attack about the fragility of life before I fell asleep, and then proceeded to have yet another dream about killer mermaids. I might not admit that this book was scary, but the fact that it immediately dug itself into my subconscious and stayed there long enough to remind me of the primal, repressed fear of death and says it all: Into the Drowning Deep is terrifying.
The book opens not with a bang, but with a whimper: we’re introduced to Tory and her sister Anne shortly before the Atargatis sails, establishing not only character but the mystery that will pervade throughout the book. Only it’s not really a mystery, because we know that in this world, mermaids are real. What proceeds is one of the most vividly yet matter-of-fact gory scenes I’ve ever read, setting the tone for the whole book. Seriously — this book’s opening is a tad slow, but it picks up fast.
Even though Tory is the main character, there are several other side characters that we also get introduced to: the scientist Dr. Jillian Roth and her husband Theodore Blackwell; the Wilson siblings, Holly, Heather, and Hallie; the new Imagine personality, Olivia, and hunters Jacques and Mishi, among others. One of the strengths is how diverse the cast is: there are disabled people, people of colour, queer people, and all of them are on the Minusine for a reason, and the killer mermaids don’t distinguish between them. The cast is so diverse that, unlike a lot of stories where you can pinpoint deaths due to someone being a white, straight, able-bodied person, this book does not discriminate. Of all of them, I liked Olivia the best: not only is she a fellow queer autistic girl, I could really relate to why she was the face of Imagine: because she had social anxiety. (That was why I did theatre: I have social anxiety, and it was easier to socialize when I was acting than when I was myself.)
Honestly, the sheer number of characters made this book a tad more unwieldy than it could have been, under-developing some characters. I wouldn’t have minded, except two of the characters — the hunters — were ones I had no sympathy for at all, especially in the world of Into the Drowning Deep where climate change is far more accelerated than in our current world. I didn’t care to read about a love story between poachers, and having so much of that perspective in the book made me want to skim some parts, especially when Tory and Olivia were there and far less focused on than I would have liked.
I have to say, though, that Grant’s omniscient style of writing is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Third person omniscient is hard. Third person omniscient with a distinct and entertaining voice that hops smoothly from perspective to perspective is even harder, and Grant did it more or less seamlessly. And, oh, does this book ever have a voice. Even though there were nuances in different perspectives that made it easy to know whose head you were in despite the multitude of perspectives with no clear breaks, there was a distinct and cohesive voice of the narrator throughout the book that tied everyone together: which is really hard to do.
One of the things I loved about Into the Drowning Deep was the running theme of different modes of communication. This is exemplified by three of the main characters: Holly and Heather Wilson, who are Deaf, and Olivia, who is autistic. Deafness and autism are two disabilites where able-bodied people often believe it’s hard to communicate with people who have these conditions, and Mira Grant makes it clear that despite difficulties in communication with people who refuse to understand, all forms of communication are valid. And communication is key, especially with intelligent species who are trying to, you know, kill you.
For the most part, the plot was very well paced: a slow yet chaotically inexorable descent into gore and chaos. Grant did such a good job at building tension, both throughout the whole book and in certain scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever been jump scared by a book before, and I didn’t think it was possible, but this book did it to me. There was one scene where I was literally holding my breath, too afraid to read on, my heart hammering in the dark and my senses attuned to everything around me, ready to bolt at the slightest danger.
That’s some good horror right there.
Again, this is boosted by the strength of Grant’s writing, which is so vivid and descriptive and immersive that you feel like you’ve disappeared into the character’s head, that you are on the boat in the middle of the sea even though you’re on dry land with no ocean for thousands of kilometers in either direction. It’s breathtaking, and in a book like this, it’s nervewracking.
Another thing I adored about this book was all the science. This was true science fiction, survival horror that had basis in fact. Of course, on a boat filled with scientists, it was to be expected, but the sheer amount of research that must have gone into this book is staggering. There was science, but very little scientific jargon; as a person who isn’t very science-minded, nothing went over my head, even as scientists argued over the classifications of the mermaids or dissected body parts in great detail. A lot of this was because of Olivia, who isn’t very science-minded either, but it made a difference in my enjoyment because I could easily understand what was going on.
I think the biggest negative thing I have to say about this book is the ending, which came so abruptly and wrapped up so neatly I found myself disappointed by what was happening. I wanted more killer mermaids, dammit, and a continuation of the excellently-written siege scene. I wanted more blood and gore and for the book to be merciless as it ended, and I didn’t find that happening.
This review is over a thousand words so even though I could easily gush more, I’ll close it here. I immensely enjoyed reading Into the Drowning Deep, and definitely want to check out more horror as well as more of Grant’s books.
content warnings | gore, horror
representation | bi girl, autistic lesbian, latinx, deaf characters, chronic pain/illness, pacific islander, asian
have you read into the drowning deep? what are your favourite horror books?