“The seas did not forgive, and they did not welcome their wayward children home.”
I recall doing a Top Five Saturday post – I really should get back into that meme, there were some lovely people taking part! – about mermaids and, unlike Ariel, I could not find any that did not have nasty vicious natures, or at least were associated with death and a death wish. From Peter Pan to The Pisces, Mermaids have not been safe.
And so they remain in Mira Grant’s Into The Drowning Deep.
And this is no spoiler: the structure of the novel is not the structure of a thriller in any way: from the opening prologue we know that mermaids are real and vicious. They had been captured on film in 2015, recorded by the crew of the ship Atargatis above the Mariana Trench nearly a decade before the events of this novel.
Communications were lost on May 17. The ship was found six weeks later, adrift and abandoned.
No bodies have ever been recovered.
The footage of mermaids was recovered and disseminated and made public.
Now the Atargatis was owned by an entertainment company, Imagine Entertainment (think, perhaps, Disney), shooting a mockumentary about mermaids and the footage was instantly dismissed as a hoax. By 2022, a second ship is sent – filled with scientists and hunters – to find definitive proof of what happened to the Atargatis and to prove definitively that mermaids do exist. It is this second voyage and its collection of characters which this novel follows.
We spend the first half of the novel – a rather slow half – being introduced to the human characters who are about to embark on this voyage. We have Tory Stewart, whose older sister Anne had been lost on the Atargatis and who specialises in underwater acoustics and sonar, along with her partner Luis Martines; alongside them are Dr. Jillian Toth, a sirenologist, and her (almost ex-) husband Theodore Blackwell, who works under Imagine’s CEO and who becomes the de facto law on the ship once they have set sail. Alongside them are a team of rather generic background scientists, out of whom the Wilson sisters – Heather and Holly who are deaf twins and Hallie their older sister, who are a submersible operator, an organic chemist analysing water samples and an acoustician and sign language expert respectively. And then we have Olivia Sanderson, “geek goddess and current professional face of the Imagine Network” to interview, comment on and record the proceedings on the ship, the job that Anne was doing on the Atargatis. The Abneys, a husband and wife hunter team, accompany them to revel in the thrill of the first killing of a mermaid.
All of these characters were a little two dimensional to me, and remarkably stupid in the range of their actions. Reckless does not begin to describe Heather’s actions in her submersible! Dumb characters to whom violent things (eventually) happen. It was nice to see the representation of sign language here with the twins – and I say that as a father of a daughter for whom British Sign Language was her first language for five years – but the assumption that mermaids would use sign language, and that their sign language would be so similar to human signing that it would involve their hands rather than any other part of their anatomy felt like a huge stretch.
Again, Olivia’s neuroatypicality,a condition described as debilitating social anxiety was nice to see represented, as was the non-heteronormative romance between her and Tory. But something irked me about it… it felt a little forced, a little contrived. I’m not sure how authentic it was, which was problematic.
Grant’s mermaids are perhaps the ultimate appeal factor and she certainly delays their appearance for a long time. But when they do appear, they are presented in spotlit detail. Even the opening chapter about the Atargatis casts that spotlight on them with a
face… more simian than human, with a flat “nose” defined by two long slits for nostrils, and a surprisingly sensual mouth brimming with needled teeth. It is a horror of the deep, gray skinned and feminine in the broadest sense of the term, an impression lent by the delicate structure of its bones and the tilt of its wide, liquid eyes. When it blinks, a nictitating membrane precedes the eyelid. It has “hair” of a sort—a writhing mass of glittering, filament-thin strands that cast their bioluminescent light on the hull.
It has no legs. Its lower body is the muscular curl of an eel’s tail, tapering to tattered looking but highly functional fins.
And they do lose their nightmarish nature by being so clearly described. They become humanised, normalised and merely an animal albeit a dangerous one. The novel even offers us an autopsy of one.
It felt almost as if Grant was so interested in marrying the mythology and a credible biology and biomechanics that the horror and tension became a little bit… lost.
And her language was rather repetitive: almost every time the mermaids appeared, the number of their teeth was dragged up again and again and again:
a mouth that seemed too full of teeth to be possible… an impossible number of teeth… an infinity of teeth… its fishhook forest of teeth… those terrible, inhuman teeth… a forest of knives
Even as Grant descends into metaphors, they are repeated.
And finally then ending, the conclusion, of the conflict between the two apex predators, the humans and the sirens – without giving away any spoilers – felt rather weak and anticlimactic. And dare I say perhaps a little derivative.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the book: it was a fun, light read and that was what I wanted at the time. But it had a number of issues and would have benefited from a more robust edit.
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 496
Date: 16th November 2017