Rolling in the Deep & Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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.

This mermaid from the movie Nymph isn’t too far off from Grant’s description. Photo from DVD Beaver‘s site.

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!

A Siren, portrayed with a fish’s tail like a mermaid, lulls sailors to sleep with her song. One sailor stops his ears with his fingers to avoid hearing her. Date between 1230 and 1240.

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.

21 comments

    • I think the prequel just gives you an idea of what the mermaids are going to be like and what the Atargatis is. I barely remember Anne, the TV personality who died who is Tory’s sister. The characters were so wooden. One interesting thing in the novella is that there are women hired to be mermaids so Imagine can film them, just in case they don’t find real mermaids. These women take it SERIOUSLY, and since they do get in the water, they’re slowly picked off.

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  1. Good thing I’ve given up open water swimming. It’s bad enough looking down into the shadows for sharks without worrying about man-eating mermaids as well. I might give the novel (rather than the prequel) to my oldest daughter and then I can sneak a look without having to read it all (not a fan of suspense in any form),

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    • This is definitely a horror/sci-fi novel, but if you don’t like horror, it will scare the pants off you. I can’t image swimming in anything that has creatures that might kill me, from crocodiles to sharks to jelly fish. I’m terrified of leeches, which are in most stagnant bodies of water near me. The idea of their tiny teeth. Ack! Based on what I read from another blogger, the prequel might help with creating more anticipation in the novel, so I’d say give them both to your daughter with the promise that the characters are much better in the novel.

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  2. Oooh, I kind of love mermaid stories and this sounds really interesting. It’s always made more sense to me that mermaids would be scarier and less human than they’re so often presented.

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    • It absolutely reads like it was meant to be on the big screen. To my knowledge, non of the author’s books have been made into movies. Even her more famous series, Newsflesh, which uses social media to capture a zombie apocalypse, hasn’t been made into a movie. :/

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  3. Ooh, these sounds so intriguing! I’d be tempted to skip straight to the novel, but it looks like my library only has the novella so I guess that’s decided then, lol. I’m definitely adding these books to my TBR, though creature horror isn’t something I reach for often outside of spooky season. It sounds like a proper scare for any time of year, though! Great reviews.

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      • I don’t think I’ll be able to get the novel through ILL unless one of the libraries within our system decides to purchase a copy- I can only get ILLs through my library system, and actually even the novella is not at my branch but is at least in the system. Weird rural library situation. But if I am intrigued by the novella I’d definitely request the library pick up the novel, or consider buying it myself! Off the bat I am much more intrigued by the sound of the novel anyway.

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  4. Murderous mermaids?! In one mood, this would make me giggle uncontrollably. In another, run to the top of a mountain (or the driest place around). Is this the same woman who writes mysteries? Oh, nooooo, it’s the Feed woman, isn’t it? That makes more sense. (The mystery writer I was thinking of is Denise Mina.) The open water element makes me think of Nick Cutter’s horror novels; it’s the pseudonym for a Canadian literary fiction writer who can scare the pants off of you. (The one about boy scouts, the one about underwater stuff…sheesh. He’s good.)

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    • I’ve heard of Nick Cutter, but I haven’t read his stuff. Yes, Mira Grant does the Feed books. Grant is a pen name she uses, but she also writes under her real name, Seanan McGuire. I guess she changes names depending on which genre she’s writing.

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  5. Awesome reviews! I really enjoyed the other 2 books I’ve read by Mira Grant (the first 2 of her Parasitology books) and adding murderous mermaids to the mix just makes me want to read these all the more! 😀

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    • Speed through the novella so you have background, and then truly enjoy yourself when you get to the novel. There’s this “sirenologist” (studies mermaids) who sounds so much like Quinn from Jaws, lol.

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