The filming of “Lovely Ladies of the Sea: The True Story of the Mariana Mermaids” should have been routine. Imagine filled a ship with scientists, actors, and camera crews, and sent it out into the Pacific Ocean.
Communications were lost on May 17. The ship was found six weeks later, adrift and abandoned.
No bodies have ever been recovered.
–From “Monster Midas: An Unauthorized Biography of James Golden,” by Alexis Bowman, originally published 2018.
Our dive into darkness begins in the summer of 2022, seven years after the tragic loss of the Atargatis, a ship sent out by Imagine Entertainment to film their newest mockumentary: Lovely Ladies of the Sea: The True Story of the Mariana Mermaids. Now, a new expedition is about to disembark, to head back to the Mariana Trench and to discover the truth about what happened to the Atargatis.
Victoria “Tory” Stewart is the first of the soon to be Mariana bound scientists we are introduced to. She is a marine biologist whose research in sonar mapping could have landed her a position at any research center in the country, but instead she’s living at home, working as a guide for a whale watching tour company. It sounds absurd, until you learn that her older sister was on the Atargatis. Instead of selling her skills to the highest bidder, she works on her own, determined to discover the truth about what happened to her sister. When Theodore Blackwell, a representative of Imagine Entertainment, appears in her lab and offers her and her research partner Luis spots aboard the Melusine, she finally gets her chance.
At the surface, the Into the Drowning Deep seems rather straightforward. The revelation that deadly creatures lurk in the dark depths of the Pacific comes as no more of a shock to the reader than it does to those aboard the Melusine who have seen the leaked Atargatis footage and know no amount of special effects could recreate it. And yet, it is the very fact of knowing what awaits the Melusine’s passengers that makes Into the Drowning Deep such a terrifyingly satisfying read. For the characters and reader alike, it is not a question of if things will go terribly wrong, but a question of when. This creates a uniquely anxiety inducing brand of tension that remains firmly on your chest during even the most mundane scenes, and Grant’s masterful foreshadowing placements only add to this effect. By the time the horrors break the surface, my heart rate was already up and ready to run.
All that said, truly special thing about this book is it’s ability to make you question everything you think you know about the difference between humanity and the monsters. Where do we draw the line between feral animals and sentient beings? What changes when you realize the monsters in the deep might be more person than creature? And, perhaps most pressing, what happens when it is the humans, not the monsters, who are doing the invading?
The book seems to suggest that the answers to these questions hinge largely around communication. Our tendency to distance ourselves from those we cannot easily communicate with is highlighted throughout the story, but so is our ability to relate and empathize once those barriers are cracked. In the end, it becomes hard to distinguish between the monsters and the people, as both bloodlust and, for lack of a better word, humanity are proven to transcend specie categorization. The roles of predator and prey quickly grow murky, but Grant does not let us off easy. She poses the questions, but determining the answers is left up to us.
Into the Drowning Deep is the science fiction story I’ve been waiting for, and if my recent purchases are any indication, it may be the book that gets credit for converting me. I cannot recommend it enough. Alas, although a sequel exists, Orbit Books has not bought it for publication, so if you read Into the Drowning Deep and love it half as much as I did, maybe drop them a line telling them so.
Rep to Read for:
- Multiple characters of color (Exact ethnicity unspecified so far as I remember. One is definitely Latinx and one is definitely Asian)