Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Rolling in the Deep
Publisher: Orbit (November 14, 2017)
Length: 512 pages
Here’s the thing: I like Seanan McGuire, but for some strange reason or another her books always seem to rub me the wrong way when she writes as Mira Grant. Because of this, I almost didn’t pick up Into the Drowning Deep, but in the end, I’m glad I did—the premise of a horror novel about mermaids was just too amazing for me to pass up, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have at least bit of fun with it. Still, I wish I’d enjoyed the book more, though like I said, there’s probably a precedent for some of my more conflicted sentiments, namely that some of the same issues I’ve had in the past with her characters and world-building just kept cropping up.
While Into the Drowning Deep is the start of a new story, it is also technically the follow-up to Rolling in the Deep, a novella chronicling the tragic fate of the cruise liner Atargatis which set sail for the Mariana Trench seven years ago on a mission to film a mockumentary about the existence of mermaids. Only, no one made it back alive. Every member of the Imagine Entertainment studio film crew was reported lost at sea, including the sister of Victoria “Tory” Stewart, who has now made it a personal mission to discover the truth of what happened on that doomed voyage. Tory’s only clues are the final terrified messages received from her sister, as well as some fuzzy raw footage recovered from the ship after the disaster, showing lots of panic and screaming amidst what looks to be a brutal attack. But from whom…or what?
Now, with the hopes of putting the rumors and speculation to rest once and for all, Imagine Entertainment has decided to launch a second expedition to the Mariana Trench, putting together a film crew aboard the Melusine. This time, however, they’re determined to be ready for anything. If there are mermaids lurking in the deep, they want a full science team on hand to accompany their troop of reality TV personalities, the better to record every detail of the discovery for their viewers. Heading this mission is Theodore Blackwell who is every bit Imagine’s man, there to look out for his employer’s interests. Along for the ride is his estranged wife Dr. Jillian Toth, a renowned marine biologist who has dedicated her life’s work to proving the existence of mermaids. In addition, a number of young scientists have also accepted Imagine’s invitation to join the expedition, including Tory who is a graduate student of marine acoustics, though her personal connection with a member of the Atargatis was also a factor in the decision to add her to the roster. In spite of everything, Imagine is still first and foremost in the business of entertainment, and having a cast member whose sister disappeared on the last expedition would be an irresistible hook. Tory knows she’s being used, but doesn’t care; all she wants is the truth and vengeance.
Even though Mira Grant is McGuire’s pseudonym for her horror novels, these stories often also include an element of suspense. Into the Drowning Deep appears to have been written with the tradition of Crichton or Preston & Child in mind, utilizing the typical thriller genre devices such as frequent POV asides and the essential third act twist. This is definitely a good thing, as it kept the story moving along swiftly even for this longer-than-average book. The introduction was perhaps just a tad too drawn out, which meant the story took some time to get off the ground, but once the legwork was completed and all our main players were brought together aboard the Melusine, that was when the real fun started.
Indeed, if you can get over how absurd the plot eventually becomes, you should have no problems getting into this book. Problem is though, I can only suspend my disbelief to a point before the inconsistencies and poor explanations start piling up and getting in the way of my enjoyment. I remember having the same issues with the author’s Parasite, where it seemed pretty obvious that she only did the bare amount of research before trying to pass it off in the book as realistic science. Again, I might just be overly critical because of my background in biology, but I grew increasingly frustrated at the way this book tried to fudge the scientific aspects. While it’s not a deal breaker by any means (I read sci-fi and fantasy after all, which does somewhat bolster my tolerance for authors simply making shit up), I believe that being thorough and paying high attention to the details is what ultimately separates the chaff from the wheat, and Grant probably didn’t put in as much effort as she could have to make her concepts feel as realistic and accurate as possible, which diminished the suspense quite a bit.
Then, there were the characters. I just don’t know what it is with Seanan McGuire’s protagonists when she’s writing as Mira Grant, but from George Mason in Feed to Sal in Parasite, I can’t stand any of them. Unfortunately, the characters in this book were no exception—most of them were self-centered, entitled brats who often acted out of impetuousness and self-gratification rather than logic and reason. Worse, these were all supposed to be scientists, but many of them—especially the women scientists like Tory, Dr. Toff, and the Wilson sisters—were portrayed as driven by their emotions rather than any form of rationality, which propagates an annoying stereotype. Seriously, there’s a time and place for voicing opinions on controversial topics, but in the middle of whale watching tour is not one of them, especially when you’re the guide. How dense does one have to be to lose control on the job like that, and not expect to be fired? And yes, while we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and put a personal vendetta ahead of scientific discovery, and damn the consequences of lost knowledge. Also—and here’s just a mild spoiler alert—if you’re a professional on any kind of scientific expedition, you should know that on high-risk excursions, when mission control says “Get your ass back to the surface”, you should do just that. What you shouldn’t do is throw caution to the wind, ignoring safety commands to go joyriding in your deep-sea submersible just to satisfy some personal dream. That’s how bad things happen.
But anyway, enough ranting from me. As you can see, a lot of my issues with Into the Drowning Deep fall into the “It’s not the book, it’s me” category, which probably just means I’m being too picky. Had this novel not hit upon a couple of my major pet peeves, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more, and truth be told, there’s still plenty of entertainment value to be found. All in all, I think this is a pretty decent horror thriller if you’re willing to overlook a few flaws and certain things in the story that don’t make sense, and I would still recommend it for fans of the genre and encourage you to give it a try if the premise strikes your fancy.