The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

You may think you know how the fairy tale 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.

PUBLISHER: Tor Nightfire
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 106 pages 
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Horror

Queer Rep Summary: Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s).

THE SALT GROWS HEAVY is technically the story of a plague doctor and a mermaid, a description which does not do nearly enough to imply how cool and weird this book is. The main character is not nameless, but her name is explicitly one that cannot be pronounced by humans, and so neither does the story render it in a form I could repeat. It deals with cycles of abuse, a religious cult, deprogramming, reclaiming agency, and the need to rescue someone in a bad situation like the one you yourself previously escaped. It’s also about a group of children worshiping a trio of surgeons who claim that death is not murder because they’ll be brought back to life. The children become more and more distorted, changing into a strange collection of remnants in the hands of those who would use and abuse them under claim of immortality.

Khaw's style has clearly developed more since HAMMERS ON BONE (also excellent), and this is less of a romp than THE ALL-CONSUMING WORLD. It has their willingness to just let a story be bleak without being depressing, finding hope interwoven with death, plus a strange interlude into cult deprogramming. It is specifically a follow up to one of the stories from the collection BREAKABLE THINGS, called "And in Our Daughters, We Find a Voice". That story is included in the back of THE SALT GROWS HEAVY for anyone who needs a refresher.

THE SALT GROWS HEAVY is a truly excellent piece of horror. I’m very glad I read it. I hope you like it too.

Graphic/Explicit CW for blood, gore, violence, injury detail, child abuse, medical content, medical trauma, body horror, vivisection, torture, cannibalism, murder, child death, death.

Moderate CW for sexism, vomit, grief, confinement, animal death.

Minor CW for pregnancy, sexual content, fire/fire injury.

"And in Our Daughters, We Find a Voice" - Graphic CW for blood, gore, death. Moderate CW for toxic relationship, confinement, pregnancy, miscarriage, violence, cannibalism.

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A stylized black and white image of a mermaid holding a skull above a pile of skulls with a plague doctor guarding her back, set against a bright red background


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