Before I begin, thank you to Tammy for prompting me to read this – it was exactly what I needed while our house was full of plasterers and dust and mess. Good call!
Worst line in the book: “I told you I’d give you the moon one day. You only had to be patient with me.” (Firstly, bleugh! Secondly, epic fail! Thirdly, the most ridiculous thing to say to anyone … ever.)
Best line in the book: “Dr Lennox, release the dolphins!” (*maniacal laughter*)
I am a huge wimp when it comes to horror. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading or watching it, just that I have three unbendable rules: one, always in daylight; two, never in a cinema; and three, with a cuddly toy on standby. I read this only on my bus rides into work and with my smallest toy, Dink, on hand in my bag.
Into the Drowning Deep is the full-length follow up to Grant’s novella Rolling in the Deep. I didn’t know this going in, and it makes me a tad twitchy not to have read the novella first, but as the fate of the first ship, the Atargatis, is pretty neatly summarised at the beginning of the novel and I don’t have any means of getting hold of the novella I am letting it go.
In terms of pacing Drowning Deep reminded me a lot of Jaws. After a brief hint of the danger to come Grant takes her time introducing the reader to a variety of characters and manoeuvring them into place before cutting them off from civilisation and giving her Big Bad free rein. There’s also a similar reflection on humanity’s relationship with the sea – where Jaws focuses on our love of beaches and the sunny shoreline, in Drowning Deep it’s whale-watching trips and yachting, but both that movie and this book show what happens when we forget just how deep and wide the sea is and how little we know about what’s down there. I might be reading too much into it, but I felt that Grant might be suggesting that man-eating mermaids were humanity’s comeuppance for our exploitation and poisoning of the ocean. Certainly she goes to some lengths to point out just how much damage has been done to the planet by 2022, the year in which the book is set, and how that has impacted the big blue.
If I have any criticism to make it’s that perhaps the set-up was a smidge overlong. Grant’s a good writer and I was interested enough in everything she had to say, but as it went on I did begin to get confused about what was relevant information and what was just scene setting. That said, I was both amused and impressed by how many times she managed to work sea-related things into her descriptions of the characters during this introductory section. (I wish I’d written them all down now because I’ve just tried to skim through the first few chapters to find some examples and can’t see any … grrr).
Once the Melusine gets underway however, the long wait proves totally worth it. The first sighting of a mermaid is so perfectly done I was holding my breath while reading it. I’m happier than most to suspend my disbelief in the interests of hearing a good story (I mean, that goes with the SFF territory, no?), and I was really into Grant’s grey-skinned, saucer-eyed, eel-like mermaids. For the duration of the novel they felt like something that could be real. And Thumbs and I watch more than our fair share of documentaries on sea life and there’s some pretty weird stuff out there already, so heck, why not mermaids too? Especially Ultimate Predator we-eat-whales-for-breakfast type mermaids – so much fun!
I was less believing when it came to the passengers and the arrangements aboard of the Melusine. Even if you are an entertainment network, if you’ve previously sent out a boat to encounter mermaids that is not only lost with all hands but also leaves you with footage of creatures devouring the crew, and you then decide to send out a second course, the absolute least you would do (and maybe I’m being unreasonable here) is make sure strong, working defences were provided and that your security team was actually capable as well as good-looking. Sure, you want to prove to the world that that previous footage wasn’t a hoax, but since you already know you didn’t fake it, surely you’d do all you could to ensure the safety of the people entrusted with bringing home proof for the world to see. No? Just me then.
And I know it’s standard practice for most characters in horror scenarios to make stupid decisions that lead to their up-close-and-with-extra-blood-spatter deaths, but there are some especially stupid decisions made in Drowning Deep that made me just a little bit cross. First prize in this category goes, appropriately enough, to the first person to die in the book. I’m pretty sure a scientist with extensive experience in submersibles would know that “please remain calm and return to the surface” was not a negotiable request. But then I was also reasonably sure that in the event of an ex-boyfriend’s unexplained and clearly unusual death on a ship under attack from clearly unusual predators the ex-girlfriend wouldn’t be hauled up in front of the ship’s captain to prove her innocence – just shows what I know.
There are a couple of silly characters that feel a bit unnecessary in an otherwise pretty cool cast. Yes, Jason, Dr Lyons, I’m referring to the both of you, you spiteful and utterly selfish individuals. Maybe you’re there just to prove that not all smart people are reasonable, but I knew that already so you are superfluous, and ridiculous human beings to boot. Theo’s a bit of a jerk too, but in a much more understandable fashion, and he’s completely eclipsed by his wife Dr Jillian Toth anyhow. I want to be Dr Toth – she’s got style. A woman who’s been ridiculed for much of her professional life for her insistence on the existence of mermaids, she doesn’t once crow about it when she’s proved right. And she’s got nearly all the best lines. Tory and Olivia are the on-board romance, which I hate to say I found kinda sweet and not at all over done, and they’re both cool characters in their own right, even if I remain completely unconvinced by Tory’s reasons for being on the trip. Ray was briefly awesome; Luis also and for longer; Heather, Holly and Hallie were interesting; Daryl and Gregory were bland; and Michi and Jacques downright troubling.
All in all, I enjoyed this a lot. As much for the good stuff as for the bad. After all, what’s the point of a scary story if you can’t shout ‘idiot!’ and ‘don’t open that door!’ at the oblivious, soon-to-be-dead characters doing all manner of stupid things? I get the impression that there may be a sequel. Certainly there were a couple of pretty big things not really tied up in any satisfactory way. And I wouldn’t be averse to seeing how Dr Toth, Tory, Olivia and company are doing down the line in a world that has learned that mermaids are real. And all kinds of terrifying.