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Book: “The Salt Grows Heavy” by Cassandra Khaw
Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, May 2023
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound
Book Description: From USA Today bestselling author Cassandra Khaw comes The Salt Grows Heavy, a razor-sharp and bewitching fairytale of discovering the darkness in the world, and the darkness within oneself.
You may think you know how the fairytale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the prince. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.
On the run, the mermaid is joined by a mysterious plague doctor with a darkness of their own. Deep in the eerie, snow-crusted forest, the pair stumble upon a village of ageless children who thirst for blood, and the three ‘saints’ who control them.
The mermaid and her doctor must embrace the cruelest parts of their true nature if they hope to survive.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I know that my Dad took my preschool self to see Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” in the theater, and while it’s not a top tier Disney film for me, I enjoy it enough (fun fact: it’s my Dad’s favorite Disney movie). I never sought out the original Hans Christian Andersen story, but I am kind of familiar with the general concept and how different and how much bleaker it is than the more palatable for children Disney version. I never really thought about what it would be like to make it even bleaker, but author Cassandra Khaw apparently did, because “The Salt Grows Heavy” takes “The Little Mermaid” and turns it into a full on balls to the wall body horror novella. Like, FULL ON BODY HORROR GORE AND VISCERA. WORK, ARIEL.
Now this all sounds super promising, and between that and the cover (I LOVE THE COVER) I had high hopes for this novella. Unfortunately it was a bit of a mixed bag.
But first, what I liked! WHAT AN OUT THERE AND FREAKY CONCEPT! I love the way that Khaw has taken the story of “The Little Mermaid” and twisted it into something so visceral, so splatterpunk, so disturbing and gory. Our protagonist mermaid has fled the kingdom she married into with a mysterious Plague Doctor after her children with the prince have destroyed the city and all who live there. The original tale makes a victimized mermaid a lovelorn waif, while Khaw makes her into a vengeful, held against her will and now broken free with much blood behind her heroine. This story is one of the goriest I have ever read, so graphic that when I was reading it in a public place I had to set it down a few times just to swallow back disgust. In a good way! Body horror gets under my skin, and sometimes it puts me off, but even though this was so gross and nasty and relentless, it really worked well for me.
But what didn’t work as well was how flowery and overwrought the language felt at times. It’s a creative choice and I have to respect it, and I do admit that sometimes there were moments where I really did love the beauty of the language and descriptors that were used. But I have always had a very difficult time with very flowery and complex and ornate language in the stories I read for whatever reason. It makes it easier for me to get lost, and easier for me to find my eyes glazing over. I also think that we jumped in at a point that felt a bit more like the middle of a story versus a clear beginning, and because it’s a novella we had to speed through the place where we were at to resolve everything, which meant that there could have been more world building and more detail. And I do wish that we had spent some time with the mermaid and the horrible prince, to really see a full subversion of “The Little Mermaid” instead of a subversion of what felt more like a sequel to the tale that we know.
So while I was a bit disappointed in “The Salt Grows Heavy”, I had a fun time being absolutely disgusted with some of the body horror stuff in this book. If you don’t have the same hang ups with flowery writing styles that I do and love body horror, this book would probably be a good fit!
Rating 6: I loved the concept, and I really liked some of the creative aspects of twisting “The Little Mermaid” into a body horror gore fest. But the purple prose is a bit much, which is, admittedly, more reflective of my personal preferences.
“The Salt Grows Heavy” is included on the Goodreads lists “Queer Horror”, and “Horror to Look Forward To In 2023”.
One thought on “Kate’s Review: “The Salt Grows Heavy””
I have it on my TBR 🙂
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