Into the Drowning Deep is fine. And when I say ‘fine,’ I don’t mean the sort accompanied by a soft smile and a gentle shrug. I mean ‘fine,’ as in the type that you grudgingly spit out with a glare. I had such high expectations for it, considering I’ve heard great things and I’ve loved all Mira Grant’s other books, but there are far too many flaws in the book and not enough positive factors to redeem it. It has an interesting plot and a varied cast of characters, but the condescending tone, the sheer lack of action and the anticlimactic ending just did not do it for me.
Star rating: * *
Plot summary: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.
Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Others seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.
Interesting take on mermaids
The concept itself is great. We’re part of a scientific mission to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, to uncover what is believed to be a type of mermaid. It’s such an interesting take on legend and the creatures are treated almost scientifically – at one point we get to see a necropsy, which is quite interesting as all their anatomical features are uncovered.
It was this idea that convinced me to pick this book up. I’d never read anything where the mermaids are almost the villian of the piece – they’re hostile, unfriendly and violent, with almost superhuman strength. No Disney princesses here! Even throughout the parts I didn’t like, I always appreciated the imaginative creation of the ‘mermaids.’
Familiar, reassuring format
Into the Drowning Deep follows the format of Mira Grant’s other works, like Parasite and FEED and their relative sequels. Each new section begins with excerpts from the transcript of a lecture, journal entries, newspaper reports, etc, after which the narrative begins. That actually works quite well with this particular story, as it has more of a scientific focus, accompanying the characters on a research vessel to the Challenger Deep. I really like this device, as it provides different perspectives and reminds us of the focus of the journey.
And now we’re heading downwards… writing and pace.
Alrighty then. I think the main issue with this book was the sheer inevitability of the plot. There’s a ship following an earlier ship that was attacked by mermaids, whose security measures don’t work, and whose passengers barely believe that mermaids will be found. You know what’s going to happen, so there are no surprises in store. Problem is, it just takes so long bloody getting there. It’s very slow. The whole 460 page book comprises the journey out and one mermaid attack – that’s it. Not a lot happens in this novel at all.
It would be fine if it was a slow-build, escalating tension sort of book, but it’s not. It’s very predictable. You knew which characters were going to die, where the mermaids were hiding and what each witty comeback would entail, because it’s just so foreseeable. Every time. Even in the final moments, I didn’t feel tense or anxious or concerned, because I knew exactly what was going to happen at every point, and I’d been too bogged down in technical descriptions of submersible vehicles.
An unpopular opinion on the diverse characters.
Speaking of getting bogged down… Alright, let’s do this.
Into the Drowning Deep, in my opinion, is an example of diversity done badly. Yes, there are a lot of represented miniorities in Into the Drowning Deep. We have deafness, chronic pain, autism, anxiety, bisexuality, lesbianism, race, and multiple examples of each, occasionally maniesting in the same character. Great. We all agree that diversity is definitely required in modern-day literature.
But the tone of it in this book is way off. It felt like it had been shoehorned in to make a point, to ensure that she was ticking the right diversity boxes. It feels forced.
It’s not subtle at all. The narrative of this science fiction novel about mermaids frequently just stops, to tell us how deaf people should be approached by a stranger, or how the Equalities Act is hindering progress in America. They’re important issues, of course, but it could have been interwoven into the plot a lot more subtly instead of literally just stopping the action. It’s mostly this that makes me think it was a tick-box exercise that I found quite condescending towards those who do experience the above circumstances.
The characters as people (you know, not as gold medals for the author).
They’re alright, actually. There are a lot of them, but I can’t say I really struggled keeping them all straight in my head.
It’s odd though – Mira Grant was very careful to give everybody (everybody) fully fleshed out backstories (usually involving their multiple disabilities), but they still seemed quite flat. This might have been something to do with the somewhat clunky dialogue, or because not a lot actually happened for the characters to do, but the only people that stood out to me were Michi and Jacques Abney. I quite liked them.
‘The lovely ladies of the sea.’
God, I hated that phrase. In one place it’s used three times on one page. If you played a drinking game with this book, and took a shot every time you say that sentence, you’d be comatose on the floor before you got two thirds of the way through.
Lastly, the ending. It’s very, very anti-climactic, to the point where I wondered what the point of it all way. It just sort of… stops. There’s a ‘twist,’ of sorts, but it was so obvious from about half way through that I only realised later, whilst reading reviews, that it was meant to be a twist.
In short, I really didn’t enjoy Into the Drowning Deep at all. It was slow and dull, with little action, condescending characters and an anti-climactic ending. I liked the concept, but found it to be executed extremely poorly.