Mermaids From Hell: Mira Grant’s Rolling in the Deep

When you picture mermaids, I’m assuming that something like Disney’s famous redhead, Ariel, comes to mind. Am I right? That’s a fairly common image. Mermaids, in general, are seen as beautiful creatures, half human female, and half elegant fish. But what if they weren’t the gorgeous, singing, harmless beings that we’ve been led to believe in? Mira Grant answered that question back in 2015 with her novella, Rolling in the Deep.

Rolling in the Deep (2015)
Written by: Mira Grant
Genre: Horror
Pages: 128 (Kindle)
Series: Rolling in the Deep 0.5 (per GoodReads)
Publisher: Subterranean Press

Why I Chose It: The sequel, Into the Drowning Deep was released in November, and I decided that I had better read this first.

Premise:

When the Imagine Network commissioned a documentary on mermaids, to be filmed from the cruise ship Atargatis, they expected what they had always received before: an assortment of eyewitness reports that proved nothing, some footage that proved even less, and the kind of ratings that only came from peddling imaginary creatures to the masses.

They didn’t expect actual mermaids. They certainly didn’t expect those mermaids to have teeth.

This is the story of the Atargatis, lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy. Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the bathypelagic zone in the Mariana Trench…and the depths are very good at keeping secrets.

Some spoilers.


As with most of Grant’s novellas, this little book packs a big punch. The novella format is such that things almost feel too compact sometimes. That’s not really the case here. There isn’t a single wasted word in this story. Characters are introduced and in few words fleshed out enough for the reader to understand them, even if we may not know them well. From the captain of the Atargatis and her first mate to the hired mermaid troop (more on them later), we know just enough of each character to sympathize with them and feel the gruesome horror of their deaths.

The premise of the book immediately tells us that this is the story of a failed mission, that everyone on the book was lost at sea. When it gets into the whys and wherefores, however, it all boils down to a careless and ultimately deadly mistake. Is that not the way so many tragedies begin? One small mistake was all that it took for a tribe of deadly, angler fish-esque merfolk to become enraged enough to attack the Atargatis.

Grant, as usual, cast her story with people from all walks of life. This is something that I love about her writing. The first mate is deaf. Two of the male scientists are in a relationship (and nothing is made of it aside from a few brief comments). Two of the hired mermaids are wheelchair bound. If you are short on representations of yourself in fiction, pick up one of Grant’s books (or one by her alter ego, Seanan McGuire) and look for yourself. There’s a good chance you’ll find someone close to your own definition of yourself.

Speaking of the hired mermaids, I truly love the idea of a professional mermaid troop. These women are completely dedicated to their jobs. They love the water and adore performing at aquariums and other entertainment venues. They’re hired on by the Imagine Network to play the part of the mermaids that the scientists on board are supposed to be “finding.” The plan was for the mermaids to enter the water at random moments and if the cameras happened to catch them frolicking in the waves, so be it. Before filming begins in earnest, the troop gleefully hops into the water so that they can get a feel for what they’ll be swimming in during the course of filming. It is during one such practice run that one of our actual merfolk rises from its home near the Mariana Trench and claims the first victim.

And the actual merfolk? Are absolutely terrifying. They can mimic human speech with an eerie precision and are frighteningly intelligent. They have razor sharp teeth and are incredibly strong. When they swarm the ship in the final moments of the book, I wanted to stop reading, but I couldn’t. The part that devastated me was when the first mate, David (who is deaf, remember), attempts to communicate with the actual merfolk with sign language (after he observes them communicating with each other with their own version of signing). Unfortunately, all he accomplishes is requesting to be eaten.

The ending of the novella is something of a cliffhanger. We don’t know what happened to the last few members of the team, other than the fact that something very large came out of the water, and the one scientist who figured it out was lucky, because she covered her eyes and never saw it coming. The book ends with a few sparse lines:

The female anglerfish is several hundred times the size of the male.
They can be found in oceans and coastal regions around the world.
The inquiry into what happened on the Atargatis is still ongoing.

(Location 1182, Kindle Edition)

What are we to take away from those fun facts about anglerfish? Were the merfolk who attacked the ship actually the males of the species? If so, does that mean that whatever comes to the surface there at the end is the female of the tribe? We don’t know. Happily, the sequel is now available, and perhaps some of those questions may yet be answered.

In Conclusion: This is a suitably horrifying read, perfect for a palate cleanser between longer books. It took a little while to really get going, but once the tension kicked into high gear, my opinion of the book increased tenfold. It also ended much too quickly, as I would have liked a less ambiguous ending. But uncertainty is where true horror lies. Fear of the unknown is perhaps the greatest fear of them all. This book succeeds magnificently in the terror department. I cannot wait to read the sequel.

9 Comments

  • Tammy December 5, 2017 at 8:44 am

    I loved this so much! I had forgotten that one of the characters was deaf. That comes into play in Into the Drowning Deep in very interesting ways…I won’t say any more!

    Reply
    • Casey Price December 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      I can’t wait to read the next book! I intended to read it next, but I got sucked into Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series again (on book 3, ALOHA FROM HELL).

      Reply
  • Weasel of Doom December 5, 2017 at 10:55 am

    “Into the Drowning Deep” is waiting for me at home 🙂 I wonder if I should try to read the novella first?

    Reply
    • Casey Price December 5, 2017 at 1:22 pm

      Yes!

      Reply
      • Weasel of Doom December 12, 2017 at 4:16 pm

        Read “Rolling in the Deep”, and started on the “Into the Drowning Deep”. So far, pretty awesome 🙂

        Hope you are having fun with the Sandman Slim books!

        Reply
  • Lane Robins December 5, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    I really enjoyed this novella, but my only disappointment was that it was so short! So I was crazy excited to see the sequel to expand on the world.

    Reply
    • Casey Price December 9, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Me toooo, her novellas always seem like they end so quickly!

      Reply
  • Shara White December 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    I enjoyed this well enough, and looking forward to the ….sequel?…. Drowing in the Deep.

    Reply
    • Casey Price December 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm

      Into The Drowning Deep is in fact a sequel! It’s about one of the original passenger’s sister.

      Reply

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