Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
Dust jacket illustration by Julie Dillon
Genre: Adult horror novella
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release date: April 7 2015
Source: Purchased from Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A short but highly entertaining—not to mention terrifying—tale about the dangers of the deep.
I’m so happy I bought myself a copy of this beautiful little book from Subterranean Press. It’s a signed and numbered edition, and as far as I know, it’s the only edition available at the moment, other than the e-book. Whichever way you read it, it’s a spectacular story that accomplishes big things in a tiny little package.
I won’t give too much of the story away, because it is very short, but here’s the set-up. The Imagine Network has just commissioned a documentary on mermaids, and they’ve arranged to film aboard the cruise ship Atargatis. The plan is to take the ship out into deep water where little sea exploration has been done before, film the hired scientists doing their thing with water and chemical analysis, and have a troupe of professional mermaid “performers” standing by to add authenticity to the documentary. But as the crew and visitors drop anchor and start to explore the deep waters above the Mariana Trench, people on board start to go missing. It isn’t long before the excitement of filming turns into everybody’s worst nightmare.
For a short novella, Grant’s pacing is really good. She divides her story up into five chapters, and each one is prefaced by a blurb from an Imagine Network documentary from the year 2017, looking back on the disaster of the Atargatis and speculating on what happened. It gives the story a bit of foreshadowing and unsettles the reader. You know something bad happened—it’s explained on the first page that the entire crew was lost, but you don’t know exactly what happened until the end. Grant plants her clues carefully, spaced apart just enough to make the reader anxiously flip the pages.
The story is filled with humor as well. Grant pokes fun at the entertainment industry with lots of jokes about contract fulfillment and how documentaries are edited to create whatever story the director wants to tell, whether it’s true or not. The scientists and actors on board know that mermaids don’t really exist, and so they’ve hired a group of professional mermaids, women who wear specially made mermaid tales and perform at parties and other events. (And yes, I Googled this, and it’s a real thing!) The Blue Seas mermaids have been hired to “appear unexpectedly” on film. Obviously, the Imagine Network isn’t above a little innocent hoax or two.
Despite the short length of Rolling in the Deep, Grant digs fairly deep into her characters’ lives and desires. Yes, there is some stereotyping, especially with the nerdy scientist characters and Anne, the actress who will be hosting the documentary. But it made the story all the funnier for me, and I didn’t mind it at all.
I did love the women of the Blue Seas, who have hair colored in every shade of the rainbow and wear custom fit neoprene mermaid tails. The women love what they do, and they’re nearly jumping for joy at the opportunity to practice swimming in open waters. We get to spend just enough time with them to understand their true love of swimming as mermaids has nothing to do with acting. They understand exactly what they’ve been hired for, to pretend to be “real” mermaids, and it doesn’t stop them from having a great time—well, at least until things go terribly wrong. I really liked the idea that Grant puts two of her mermaids in wheelchairs, to show that even someone who isn’t able to walk on her own can have complete freedom of movement in the water.
When events on the Atargatis start to take a turn for the worse, things go south fast. Get ready for a good old-fashioned monster tale with plenty of blood and terror. Grant could have expanded this into a full-fledged novel if she’d wanted to, but I like it just the way it is: a short but nasty tale of “be careful what you wish for.” Trust me, after reading this story, you’ll never look at mermaids the same way again. This was my first time reading Mira Grant, but it’s certainly not going to be my last. Highly recommended.
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