The Salt Grows Heavy

Cover of The Salt Grows Heavy on background of white, red, and black.

by Cassandra Khaw

The more mermaid stories I read, the more aware I become that Disney and the makers of Splash greatly mislead me. (I know, we’re all shocked that Disney wouldn’t be an accurate fount of knowledge.) I was vaguely aware that mermaids had a mixed history in folklore, sometimes dragging sailors to their deaths, sometimes longing to come to shore. The Mermaid of Black Conch took a version of the latter, casting a mermaid as a cursed human who slowly reverts to human form after being captured and using it as a commentary on colonialism. All the Murmuring Bones, on the other, went all in on the mermaids as bad news lore.

And then there’s The Salt Grows Heavy, which devours The Little Mermaid and anyone foolish enough to believe a mermaid could be anything but deadly. Khaw weaves an incredible tale that feels so much larger than the novella appears. The quick plot summary is a mermaid and an unnamed plague doctor travel through a winter landscape, where they discover a community of unnerving children and the “saints” that raise them hidden in the forest. It’s dark, it’s gory, it made me very grateful for my lack of vivid imagination during certain scenes, and it’s beautiful.

Khaw’s writing makes me feel like one of the proverbial monkeys at a typewriter trying to accidentally write Shakespeare, but I’m ok with that. Right from the start, they hooked me with the opening description. Just to give you a taste:  

            Ash sleets from the firmament in soft handfuls of black, gathering in gauzy drifts around my ankles. The sky is ink and seething murk, whispering secrets to itself, the clouds snarled like long dark hair.

So if you’re looking for a horror story to kick off October, start here.


Since Halloween is coming up fast, I’m hoping to get a number of reviews out that fit with the spooky/scary/horror theme. We’ll see how that goes, but I suddenly seem to have a lot to work with!

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