Review by Joy Ralph

Into the Drowning Deep is Mira Grant’s novel-length follow-up to her 2015 novella Rolling In The Deep. The novel opens seven years later; after stonewalling and corporate silence for nearly a decade, a second Imagine Entertainment expedition sets out to follow the course of the Atargatis and investigate what happened. Once again the experts on board all have their own secondary agendas they pursue under the aegis of the roles they were hired to perform. Revenge and vindication, personal aggrandizement, greed, and fanatical loyalty are all motives present in the expedition staff, and there are clear signs that some things about the voyage are being deliberately hidden by Imagine Entertainment from both the scientists and the crew.

While this might begin to sound like a short-sighted corporate repetition of the mistakes chronicled in the novella, what grabbed me about the novel were the characters involved. The vividness of Grant’s descriptions coupled with her gift for multiple viewpoints results in the cast members being solid and memorable whether their role is great or small.  Grant is not shy about allowing her protagonists to be prickly and unlikable, to my discomfort, but I have been rewarded when I have managed to set aside my personal bias toward characters I identify with emotionally.

There are some minor plot quibbles (which I censor for spoiler value) that I suspect may instead be foreshadowing rather than flaws, and the ending not only opens the way for sequels, it very nearly shoves the reader out the door and bundles them into the car. Fortunately at that point I really did want to know more about a number of things not specifically connected to the plot. The story stands alone but the material demands further exploration; I found the ending to be a bit abrupt even though appropriate.

It’s a common theme in speculative fiction that humans need to be circumspect in expressing their desires, because the manifestation of the wish brings with it unforeseen consequences. Old tales as recorded by the Brothers Grimm are full of dangerous things lurking in the unknown, waiting for someone to slip and invoke them and their doom. The 21st century experts and scientists aboard the vessel Melusine, in contrast, have made their lives’ work the deliberate cartography of the unfamiliar. So the universe ensures they suffer the consequences by giving them what they were looking for even as they reassured themselves it didn’t really exist.

So many of the old predators of fireside lore have been de-fanged by observation and science that a touch of arrogance is understandable, especially among a group where the majority of members are there to advance their own unrelated agendas. Among the scientists only Dr. Jillian Toth even advocates considering mermaids as predators, and this contention is overshadowed by her efforts to open people’s minds to accepting that mermaids simply exist. Dr Toth is the foremost scientific expert on sirens, with all that entails in the way of mockery and disdain from colleagues and the general public. Her work was used by those responsible for the Atargatis expedition and there may be some survivor guilt motivating her underneath her stated reasons for participation.

Other people of note on the Melusine are Tory Stewart, who is chasing the memory of her sister Anne. Tory is a Marine Biologist specializing in deep water sonar; Anne was the reporter Imagine Entertainment hired to narrate the documentary ostensibly being made. Her role has been given on this subsequent project to Olivia Sanderson, a media personality who strongly reminds me of Sara Jean Underwood from cable channel G4’s Attack of the Show. Sanderson is successfully using her job as therapy for her social anxiety, a strategy I am personally familiar with. Grant’s novels are refreshing in their inclusiveness, and both expeditions in both stories had a diversity of abilities and backgrounds. The scientists on the Melusine include twins Deaf organic chemist Holly Wilson and Deaf submersible pilot Heather Wilson, and their elder sister Hallie Wilson, an audiologist and their interpreter. While Imagine Entertainment may be trying to take advantage of the trio’s extraordinariness for the sake of ratings, all three are treated as the respected scientists they are by their peers.

Grant’s work as usual leans toward the horror portion of the spectrum and her sirens exemplify a ferocity that subverts the trope of the pretty, harmless mermaids of Disney fantasies. The sirens are much more believable to me, and not just for the lack of musical crustaceans in their environs. They share the fascinating quality of the large predators that would have drawn hunters like Jaques and Michi Abray to join the Melusine in order to attempt to turn the predator in to prey.  If you prefer your legends dangerous and your nightmares with teeth then I suspect you will be drawn into this story too.

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Joy Ralph grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Having spent most of her life along the I-5 corridor, she is reviewing works from authors with a connection to the region. She tweets as @cithra.