My success with Into the Drowning Deep led me to this novella and nominal prequel. Sadly, this feels more like the Seanan McGuire I am familiar with; the one with the uneven tone, nominal characterization and tendency towards over-telling. With the Incryptid series, Grant did a number of related short stories and novellas that ranged both in time and in tone from the relative frivolity of the full-length books, and I can see the similarities here. This was most likely created before Into the Drowning Deep was a glimmer in someone’s eye, so the good news it that this would be an easy one to miss.
In this novella, photojournalist Anne is a willing participant on Imagine Entertainment Network ‘mockumentary’ expedition to discover mermaids. Styled along the lines of the finding ‘Bigfoot’ ‘reality’ tv shows, Imagine has a host of non-scientific people aboard ready for filming, as well as a handful of scientists to make it look legitimate. They also aren’t above stocking the boat (haha) with a troupe of eleven professional mermaids, aka ladies with a fondness for neoprene tails and synchronized swimming.
“‘You’ll have everyone believing in mermaids in no time.’
‘That’s the idea,’ said Anne. That was the idea that would secure her a new contract with the network and keep her on the air for another year.”
The first section has Anne and her cameraman, Kevin, interviewing people, lurking around the boat, etc., and trying to get to know Team Mermaid without compromising everyone’s non-disclosure clause, as apparently they weren’t allowed to film the group until part way through the trip. The captain of the ship is a woman and her first mate a deaf man, so the sign language element is present. A heavy-handed Imagine representative is on hand, once again providing the role of Character We Would Love to See Eaten.
The tone feels more urban fantasy than horror, with the ship’s occupants treating it as easy money, and generally squabbling when not doing research. There are only six scientists along–and thirty grad students–so the reader is treated to a couple paragraph sketch on each as well as their specialties. It isn’t done particularly organically, such in context of an interview or in meeting another scientist, so its easy to see why some readers would find it hard to connect with the characters.
The plot is glacial for a horror story. It isn’t until the 50% mark that there is tentative confirmation that samples from a deep sea probe contain blood that “comes from a creature unknown to science.” Until that point, the crew has no idea that anything might be out of the ordinary. That is very unusual pacing for horror, and while The Blair Witch project might have made it work, Into the Rolling Deep doesn’t. General spoiler–it is literally 54% before someone disappears.
Additionally, my chief complaint from the last Incryptid book is here in force: Grant tells us. All sorts of things. In the most boring way possible: “Obedience was drilled into them as part of their training: a mermaid who couldn’t listen to instructions was a mermaid who was putting everyone around her in danger.” Honestly, I’m not even sure why Grant is telling us about the mermaid troupe because we barely get to know the members as individuals. But if sharing with the reader is important, why not mention an incident in relation to their shows? “Ever since the near-drowning at Disneyworld, the crew was rigidly adherent.” Anyway, they aren’t, so what’s the point?
For those who are wondering it is worth paying for: No, not if you are looking for the same experience of Into The Drowning Deep. This is quick and uneven and lacks the tension of the full-length novel. In regards to relationship to the novel, Victoria and Jillian, main book characters, aren’t mentioned at all, so you won’t even be missing anything in character arcs. While the crew disappears, none are mentioned as Victoria’s sister, and Jillian’s research isn’t addressed.
While I don’t regret paying for it, as I’ve read an awful lot of free Incryptid short stories, I’d definitely preferred to have something more like Drowning. But that, oddly enough, reaffirmed my shaken faith that it’s smart to leave Grant on the Read With Low Expectations list.