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. Some seek the truth. But for 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.
Into the Drowning Deep takes place in an alternative (or perhaps soon-to-be) Earth in 2022 where humans are wallowing in the ever-increasing effects of climate change. This is a theme that the book constantly returns to: in their arrogance and selfishness, humans have made a mess of this planet, and now humans have to pay for that mess… in blood. Most of the (human) cast are scientists in various marine-related fields, so they are acutely aware of the changes that the Earth is going through. However, Grant isn’t concerned with whether or not we can “solve” climate change and ensure a livable future for ourselves and whatever species we manage to avoid exterminating. Instead, Grant wants to show that Nature, no matter how we chop, burn, pollute, and bulldoze her, still has more than enough fangs to humble us.
Victoria “Tory” Stewart is a scientist, as is Jillian Toth, Jason Rothman, Holly Sanderson, Daniel Lennox, and quite a few others, but as a reader with a non-scientific background I never felt overwhelmed or stupid for not understanding something. This was handled really well, and I never felt as though the book was dumbing things down for the sake of non-scientific readers. Nevertheless, I did feel the weight of all the research behind this book; Grant has put quite a lot of thought into the science half of her science fiction, and I appreciate that.
The design of the mermaids (or sirens, or perhaps just “creatures”) was absolutely novel and also absolutely terrifying. I live more than a hundred miles from the ocean and I had trouble reading this book at night. Whenever I try to mentally design a mermaid-like creature, the physiology becomes more and more cetacean-esque the more realistic I try to get — Grant went in a totally different direction and ended up with a creature several orders of magnitude more real-feeling than anything I could achieve.
But the HUMANS… I loved Grant’s humans too. Into the Drowning Deep is told through multiple POVs from a variety of characters aboard the second research vessel, and all of the voices are unique and diverse. One Deaf character is a skilled submarine pilot who has configured her vessel to her needs and is just as competent as a hearing pilot. Hearing characters ask her about courtesies they can extend to her, and there’s a very good look into her world as a Deaf woman in STEM. One of the few non-STEM characters is also an autistic lesbian, and this character isn’t infantilized or treated as inferior or fragile because of her autism. Tory herself is bisexual, and there’s some discussion of biphobia in the book.
Be warned, though: there is a lot of violence and gore in this book. So, so much. Speaking as someone who isn’t a huge fan of dismemberment or disemboweling or other bodily trauma, I definitely caught myself skimming over some sections. The way the characters reacted to violence, however, felt realistic to me and made me desperate to find out what happened next. This bunch of
nerds scientists, when confronted with monsters from the deep, do not suddenly become ninjas or Navy SEALs. They react as best they can, with as much mental fortitude as they can, and sometimes it isn’t enough. Likeable characters die, and it hurts. (On the other hand, some of the extremely less likeable characters also die, and that hurts significantly less).
The only reason I am rating this book less than five stars is the ending. It left me unsatisfied. The final conflict, the final monster from the deep… was thwarted too easily. Everything was resolved and wrapped up with a neat little bow, except for the parts that weren’t, and those parts were so frustrating. I can’t rant about my specific frustrations because spoilers, but please be warned: if there isn’t a sequel, I will tear my hair out, because a sequel is the only way to justify an ending like that.