Mira Grant has done something wonderful in this book. She's written a speculative fiction thriller that gives me all the things I liked most in the best Michael Crichton books: edgy but plausible science, a growing sense of doom, a big cast of characters to put in peril, really scary creatures and lots of tension-cranking, page-turning, how-will-they-get-out-of-that action. Then she's surpassed Crichton by giving the leading roles to a diverse set of credibly written women who do what needs to be done without becoming super-soldiers in a dress.
When I finished this book, I wanted to applaud, then I wanted to hear that the SyFy Channel is going to make this into a series with the same production standards as "The Expanse", then I wanted the next book to be available right now. For the moment, applause is all I can manage, so here I go.
The premise of the book is relatively straight forward: Magic, an entertainment channel for nerds, sets out to make a mockumentary about mermaids in the deepest part of the Pacific. All goes well until they find them and everybody dies in what is assumed to be a maritime disaster with some fake footage attached. Ten years later, Magic is sending out a second voyage in an attempt to retrieve its reputation by bringing back proof that we are not alone in the seas. What could possibly go wrong?
From the start, I loved the tense but unrushed feel of this book. Mira Grant has the self-confidence to let the situation unfold slowly while seeding a large set of characters interesting enough for me to become invested in. She's then bold enough to demonstrate early that she's willing to do terrible and irrevocable things even to characters I'm cheering for.
She eschews creature feature schlock horror for something more subtle, something that doesn't slash at the reader, summoning arterial sprays of horror, but sinks its many needle-sharp teeth deep into the meat of my imagination and then gnaws on me slowly.
The emotional impact of the book is powered by the struggles of the women at the heart of the story. They aren't soldiers. They have no super-powers. They are mostly scientists armed with nothing but knowledge, courage and an ability to work together. There are men in the story but they're largely there to provide an emotional context for the women or to do the stupid, venal, violent things required by the plot.
I enjoyed the way science was used in the story. I know nothing about marine biology but I never felt left behind, nor was I force-fed slabs of not-many-people-know-this research. By starting the story in the recent past and setting most of the action in the near future (2022), Mira Grant is able to use current research on climate change, oceanography and marine biology to set a context and can then stretch things a little to allow for future developments. Her version of "mermaid" is original, credible and very, very scary.
I listened to the, seventeen hour long, audiobook version of "Into The Drowning Deep", narrated by Christine Lakin, who does a wonderful job of bringing the wide range of characters to life and matching the pace of the storytelling. The only flaw in her performance is one of the worst Australian accents I've ever heard, but that was a minor distraction in an otherwise strong performance. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of her work.