Into the Drowning Deep Mira Grant, 2017.
Mermaids are real, and they’re not cute. They’re repulsive-looking, highly-advanced killers that would treat Disney’s Ariel as an amuse-bouche.
Marine biologist Tory knows that the mermaids are out there: they killed her sister and every other living thing onboard the Atargatis. As a part of Imagine Entertainment’s tv special, the ship had blithely sailed off to the Mariana Trench searching for – and not expecting to find – the fishy cryptids. They did, and they died.
Tory dedicates her life to avenging her sister, and years later, Tory’s research earns her passage on Imagine’s new expedition. The company got a bigger boat, as it were, and assembled a widely varied new crew of scientists, security guards and tv people, including sirenologist Jillian Thorn, two borderline-psycho big game hunters, twin deaf marine researchers, and Tory’s arrogant ex-boyfriend. They’re all supported by a high-tech safety system.
Needless to say, they encounter mermaids. Violent, intelligent mermaids. And the safety system turns out not to work so great.
Now, I am a huge fan of this author’s October Daye urban fantasy series: across the board amazing characters, world-building, storylines…awesome. Go read them, they’re great. I was primed to wholeheartedly enjoy Into the Drowning Deep.
But with this new book, the components just never gel. The story has a conflicted identity. Horror fiction? Science adventure?
The reader is presented with mermaids as monsters, and the book reads like a horror novel, but this doesn’t quite work. For one thing, we know what the monsters are like from the very beginning, so any suspenseful reveal is already undercut.
We also are not sure how to feel about the mermaids: many of the characters on board want to kill them for various reasons, other characters raise ethical environmental dilemmas. If these are sentient beings, they argue, mermaids should be studied, not exterminated.
So, we have crafty predators going about slaughtering crew members in a wholesale shipboard bloodbath, and we’re not sure who to root for. Awkward.
The book also feels long, explanation-heavy, and at times repetitious. All the story build-up does not work towards creating suspense before the inevitable concentrated attack on the vessel. What it does, is leave you unsatisfied at the book’s abrupt ending. We’ve followed all these characters’ storylines and we’re left thinking, “Hey, wait – that’s it?”
There are great elements to the book. First, scary mermaids: that’s a unique and intriguing concept. Grant also succeeds in sharing a deep love of the ocean and its mysteries, as well as its desperate need for our conservation. Central to the story is the importance of language and communication, and Grant sensitively highlights the perspectives of the deaf characters and their feelings towards non-signing hearing people. The concept of how we communicate meaning – from vocalization to sign language – is nicely intertwined with the idea of the mermaids’ methods of conversing.
Into the Drowning Deep is a thought-provoking read. It captured and held my interest to the end but left me with a general feeling of disappointment. It was o.k. at many levels, but super at none.