Mira’s Grants murderous mermaid duo consists of a novella-length “prequel” (though it was written first) called Rolling in the Deep and the novel-length Into the Drowning Deep that follows a new group investigating the deaths of the characters in the prequel. I’m reviewing both horror novels in this post, no spoilers. I will say my biggest complaint about this duo is that the names are so similar I often confuse them. I’ll do my best, but if you see an error, please let me know!
rolling in the deep (2015), 123 pages
The fictional Imagine Network, which sounds fairly analogous to the Sci-Fi channel in the United States (B-movies, reality-TV documentaries, etc.), has commissioned a crew and captain of the ship Atargatis to take a bunch of scientists, TV personalities, and film crew to travel out into the ocean in search of the first-ever evidence of real mermaids for a documentary. The TV personalities and film crew are definitely the reality-TV types, always ready to make things a touch more dramatic than they are. The scientists are PhDs, coming from different ocean-related disciplines and promised the chance to do actual research while on board the Atargatis, but they will also be asked to confirm any evidence of mermaids and add legitimacy to the documentary. Then, there are the “mermaids,” women who are well-known mermaid performers who they take it seriously. They are hired in case no real mermaids show up, but do daily open-water swims to keep in shape and perfect their mermaid leaps.
A dozen or so characters are introduced right away, and the info dump made it impossible for me to remember names, occupations, and distinguish personalities. At first, I was annoyed, but then I realized once the real mermaids, murderous creatures with needle-like teeth, eel-like bodies, and slits instead of human noses, showed up, I didn’t care who was who and who got eaten. Yas, killer queens! You guys know I love horror from my Friday night date-with-self updates in the Sunday Lowdown.
Readers know from the beginning that everyone is gone, assumed dead, that the documentary is showed once on the Imagine Network and speculates what happened to everyone based on the footage captured of mermaids swamping the ship. Transcripts of the documentary are shared throughout the novella, adding a fun multi-media effect.
Because I didn’t connect to any characters, I didn’t love this book, but I did appreciate the cool mermaid descriptions. These aren’t just beautiful women hell bent on killing; they’re more like actual sea creatures and are pretty creepy. For instance, one crew member is deaf and uses ASL. The mermaids pick up his hand gestures and mimic him. They also repeat, in a weird, alien-like voice, things people say. Instead of gorgeous hair, they have hair tentacles that glow like electricity. These are violent creatures, and there’s definitely face eating. What I realized, though, is you don’t have to read Rolling in the Deep at all. The final question — is the footage of the Atargatis real or faked for TV ratings? — is the premise that begins Into the Drowning Deep.
into the drowning deep (2017), 440 pages
Into the Drowning Deep is a much longer work, providing space to meet fully-developed characters and read plenty of action. It’s been seven years since the ship Atargatis was found by the Navy floating in the ocean with no bodies. Because the Navy discovered film footage of a massacre by what looks like mermaids, they release their discovery, much to the embarrassment of the Imagine Network. In an effort to clear up their mess and really (for reals!) catch mermaids on film, the network quietly assembles a massive team of the world’s best scientists to climb aboard a specially-built new ship, the Melusine. Author Mira Grant gets your spine tingling early in the novel when she notes each time the Melusine has a practice drill of closing impenetrable shutters, and they keep failing. Readers know the ship will sail regardless and lives will be lost. Good horror fun!
Although the early chapters imply Tory Stewart, the sister of the TV personality who died on the Atargatis, is the main character, we meet lots of new, interesting people. Grant effortless introduces readers to a sirenologist — a professor who studies mermaid lore and has screamed that they’re real for ages — and a variety of scientists who study oceanic sounds, chemistry, and microbiology, among other specialties. I was surprised by the way each character had their own brief history, niche knowledge, personality, and abilities (three deaf scientists are on board who use sign language; all three the best in their fields), so that I didn’t mix anyone up and cared for them all. Even the big game hunters aboard the ship, hired for protection despite their record kills of lions, whales, and other endangered creatures, are people you grow to understand. Thus, when the mermaids start killing, it’s all the more impactful!
The science was another bonus that tickled my brain. How sound travels under water, how different animals we know behave that may explain mermaid behavior — all the nerdy moments are explained satisfactorily to someone like me, who has taken, at most, basic biology and loves animal documentaries. I’m curious as to Grant’s research for Into the Drowning Deep; it seems as though she spoke to real scientists, or has a background in it herself. Setting the novel in 2022, Grant emphasizes issues with environmental crises without making the novel about causes. One scientist says the ocean is changing every ten years due to “pollution, global climate change, [and] nuclear runoff.” But this is a murderous mermaid expedition, we’re reminded:
“You know what I liked about the ocean we do have?” asked Dr. Toth. “The part where we’ve dumped so much crap into it that it would be justified in becoming something out of a horror movie, and yet the horror movie it’s giving us isn’t related to any of those things. Not really. . . . if the mermaids are real — and they are — and if the mermaids are smart enough to be watching us — which they also are — they don’t have anything to do with humans. They evolved on their own.”
The first death happens when a human enters the ocean. It’s a while before the massacre that we expect occurs. That waiting had me scared for my beloved characters, as Grant is not known for sparing our favorite folks. For those who believed the video footage from the Atargatis is real, they have more time to be smart by hiding out and holing up. But these mermaids use their claws to drag themselves up the side of a metal ship, and doors don’t seem to be much problem for them. Crafty hiding and calculated movement keep some people alive, along with my hopes.
As opposed to crafting a much longer version of Rolling in the Deep, Grant adds information about the mermaids as these better-informed scientists interact with them. Are they venomous? Poisonous? Toxic? What are the creatures that live symbiotically in their “hair”? Why do they kill more than they can eat, never leaving a single body behind by dragging it into the ocean? Is it possible to communicate with these deep-water mimics who repeat phrases human say, a theory made hopeful because they mermaids appear to have their own sign language in addition to mimicking any sound?
While the novella didn’t have captivating characters, being introduced to the mermaids first before reading Into the Drowning Deep means that I recommend you read both books, in order, for a wicked-good horror experience.