I was hesitant to begin this anthology because as much as I love horror, I don’t have a particular fascination with the Sea/Ocean. I never was very fond of pirate stories or myths of the Kraken. Nevertheless, The Devil and the Deep won the Bram Stoker Award for best anthology last year, so I wanted to give it a shot. Like the Time Traveler’s Almanac, I won’t be reading this consecutively. Instead, I will listen to stories as I see fit. I will try to fit it in between other novels and not focus to0 much on finishing this quickly. There is a benefit to having short and concise stories to go to from time to time. I still want to take the time to discuss the story. It is much shorter than TTA, so I will do my best to go in depth(ish) for each story.
There aren’t a lot of reviews for this book, but I am going to go off the reviews I could find to help guide me through the stories. My discussions for each story are listed below or can be accessed via the Table of Contents.
I’ve made it through more than I expected this quickly (9/15 stories). There have been several disappointments in here, but there have also been a couple great ones with several okay ones thrown in. I am not ready to recommend this just yet. That said, I have been intentionally saving several of the supposed best stories for last. So far, the horror has been lacking, at least in the way I was hoping for, but most of the stories achieve a decent enough tone to fit partly into the horror genre.
I’ve read 11/15 stories, so I have nearly completed this anthology. I think I have a good idea of the over quality. The current average rating is ~4/5 stars. That doesn’t seem bad, yet there are so many disappointments in here. Then again, there are some good to great stories too. What’s more, I’ve intentionally saved what are likely to be the best for last, so chances are it will be ~4.5 stars when all is said and done (I hope). All in all, these are good stories, but they are better classified as weird, fantasy, and science fiction with horror elements tossed in at times.
Table of Contents
- Deadwater — Simon Bestwick ★★★☆☆
- Fodder’s Jig — Lee Thomas ★★★★★
- The Curious Allure of the Sea — Christopher Golden ★★★★★
- The Tryal Attract — Terry Dowling ★★★★☆
- The Whalers Song — Ray Cluley ★★★☆☆
- A Ship of the South Wind — Bradley Denton ★★★☆☆
- What My Mother Left Me — Alyssa Wong ★★★★★
- Broken Record — Stephen Graham Jones ★★★☆☆
- Saudade — Steve Rasnic Tem ★★★★★
- A Moment Before Breaking — A.C.Wise ★★★★☆
- Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show to You the Sea — Seanan McGuire ★★★★★
- The Deep Sea Swell — John Langan ★★★★☆
- He Sings of Salt and Wormwood — Brian Hodge ★★★★☆
- Shit Happens — Michael Marshall Smith ★★★★★
- Haunt — Siobhan Carroll
01 – Deadwater — Simon Bestwick ★★★☆☆
This is not a strong start. Needless to say, I am glad I didn’t take the editors guidance on where to begin. The YouTuber seemed to like it, but I can’t say I did. Part of me wonders if I just wasn’t giving it enough attention. Perhaps I just didn’t appreciate it enough. Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting it feels like a story with a slow start that abruptly jumps to a climactic conclusion without sufficient build up. The problem was I didn’t understand why I should care about what’s happening or the characters involved. I get the gist. Bad things were done. Revenge or justice is going to be had, but all that is lost on me because the author did a poor job setting it up. It doesn’t matter if the concept is good (it isn’t that exceptional), you have to get us invested in the characters and make us care about what’s happening. 3/5 stars.
02 – Fodder’s Jig — Lee Thomas ★★★★★
I loved this story. Some people may want to start this without knowing the premise, but I I don’t think knowing takes away here. The author uses suspense over surprise, and that may be why it excels so much. Right away, we are introduced to what is going on. We don’t really understand why or what, but we don’t need to. The fact that it’s happening and that he author is highlighting it, tells us something is up. Then, we leave it for the time being to return to the normal world.
This story alternates between the days/weeks/months leading up to the event and some point after the event. It might be intentional on the authors part or it might be an effect of listening rather than seeing it on paper, but these transitions were hard to spot at first. Moving back and forth not realizing whats happening. However, I quickly catch on.
This story is built on a great premise (highlight to read: Cthulhu infects people with a dance that entrances them and draws them to the ocean), but what makes it so great is that it revolves around good characters. A man of no particular wealth or stature becomes involved with a wealthy married man. Things progress and the two fall victim to the strange occurrences taking place.
I did not expect to love this as much as I did. The premise was never that interesting to me as a topic, but I know plenty of people who would disagree. Even if you don’t, its a great story. The most horrific thing about this is the suspense. Knowing it or something is coming but not truly understanding it. 5/5 stars.
03 – The Curious Allure of the Sea — Christopher Golden ★★★★★
Now this, I liked. From the start, the author makes it clear who the main character is and gives us a reason to be invested in them. Her father is dead. She gets a couple of tattoos to remember him by, one being his name and date of death, and another being a symbol of an item on his ship. You see, her father died at sea and there was no body to be found. Some time later, things begin to get weird. The symbol she got a tattoo of is acting strange.
I loved this story because the author did such an amazing job creating a disturbing and creepy atmosphere. I was finally feeling a bit of dread, and it was coupled with the majesty of the sea. When things begin to reach their climax, the main character panics unsure what to do. The sea called to her father, and now the sea calls to her. Is that what she wants? She doesn’t think so, but in the end, she returns to the sea regretting her decision.
That is the most I can say without spoiling it. I loved the story. It is all about the allure of the sea, as the title suggests. Even when the main character thinks she doesn’t want it, she quickly comes to regret it because, as disturbing as it is, the sea is where her father is. I don’t know if that makes sense, but know this. The story was fantastic. I loved it. 5/5 stars.
I think this story benefited from me reading it before Fodder’s Jig. Both share this basic idea that something around the sea calls people to it and we cannot resist. The Curious Allure of the Sea is great, but I can’t help but think fresh off of Fodder’s Jig, one may have a bit of let down.
04 – The Tryal Attract — Terry Dowling ★★★★☆
This was a strange story that was mostly effective. It revolves around this skull of a dead man that supposedly has some strange things about it. The story had a good tone that set up this atmosphere around this skull. Everything had the making of a good story, but in the end, there isn’t much here. Anticlimactic is probably the best way to describe it. 3.5/5 stars rounding up.
05 – The Whalers Song — Ray Cluley ★★★☆☆
This story did not work for me. It follows a group of whale hunters, exploring what life is like for them. There was nothing particularly interesting about the life, nor did the author create much of an ominous tone you’d expect from a horror story. The ending alluded to some hidden level of mystery about the whale songs. Maybe if the author had leaned more into that this story wouldn’t have been so disappointing. There just wasn’t anything to really love about this mediocre story. As a story, it’s fine I suppose just not an interesting topic or type of story telling (to me). 3/5 stars
06 – A Ship of the South Wind — Bradley Denton ★★★☆☆
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons that you would choose to read this anthology. You either have a love for horror or a love for the sea/ocean. To say this story brings either of these to the table is laughable. This is a perfectly fine story that is essentially an old western told from the perspective of two native Americans who come across a couple racists white people. If I am being generous, we can attribute horror to the racism of the story, but there isn’t much horror beyond that. I think about bigotry in horror stories like that of Stephen King, where racism could easily be a theme of the story, but there is more to make it horror themed; he uses the hate to show just how horrible it is. This story doesn’t seem to provide a lot of commentary or self reflection on the racism. So, why then is this story here? Why is an old western (that happens to have a minor character who used to be a captain of the sea) in a horror anthology of the ocean? It just doesn’t belong. The story itself is perfectly fine, but in the context of this anthology it is severely lacking. 3.5/5 stars rounding down.
07 – What My Mother Left Me — Alyssa Wong ★★★★☆
What My Mother Left Me feels like everything I would expect from what this anthology advertises. It is a mix of creepy, disturbing, and down right scary moments coupled with a weird ocean centered premise. The story starts with our main character grieving her mothers recent passing and her break up with her overly controlling boyfriend. She does that by getting away with her friend, to her old town or something connected to her family (I am not entirely sure).
This story works on multiple levels. The tone from the start is on point. I can’t help but think about the recent success of Hereditary or the Haunting of Hill House which centers around family drama. At the core, this is about family drama. From the start with her mothers death, to soon after when we learn about signs of mental (and physical) abuse of her mother by her father. Then the similarities of her father to her current boyfriend whose only goal is to control.
In the end, this becomes a story about independence and freedom. The sea is the freedom. Life on land is just a trap. That, and men can’t stand a woman who isn’t theirs to control. I like what Wong does here. It is ambitious and mostly effective. It is definitely worth reading, but I don’t think its highs are as high as some of the others in this anthology. 4.5/5 stars, rounding down.
08 – Broken Record — Stephen Graham Jones ★★★☆☆
I don’t get it, or maybe I do. I can’t say I love the feeling of not knowing whether the story intended to leave you questioning or if I just dumbly missed something. A man is stranded on an island surrounded by the ocean. I believe this is about his slowly losing his mind, deliriously imagining he has exactly what he wants. That is to say, he has a list of items that he asked for in some contest he did as a kid. One of those things where you say what you would bring with you to an abandoned island. I am 99% sure it is him slowly dying. Still, I don’t quite get it, nor can I say I am very happy with it.
It is creepy. I will give it that. Fairly soon into the story the narrator read the thoughts of the man in the most unnerving and casual way possible. There was something off from the get go. That is why I have to believe it is a story about a man dying and losing his mind. The problem is he survived for 10-20 days (or was that in his head?), and is that possible without food? Without water? He had water, unless he didn’t. I honestly am left wondering what was real and what wasn’t. It is too much. There needs to be some basic foundation for the story to be grounded in, and this does not have that. I enjoyed the style just not the content. 3.5 stars, rounding down.
09 – Saudade — Steve Rasnic Tem ★★★★★
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I would give it a light to medium level of “horror”. It’s about a man whose children send him on a dating cruise to spark a new relationship after several years of being a single man. While there, he meets an odd Brazilian woman. The tone of the story is very depressing, and that definitely lends itself to being a more effective horror story. It reminds me of the 2014 film, Spring which wasn’t very heavy in the horror. It featured a similarly exotic woman who is some kind of Lovecraftian monster. That’s basically whats happening here.
Overall, it was a great story, maybe not strictly horror, but its a great weird and out there story. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.
10 – A Moment Before Breaking — A.C.Wise ★★★★☆
This is the first story I read. That is a big task to ask of the story. It is responsible to get me interested. Perhaps I should trust the editors judgment in the order, but either way I didn’t. The story begins (and is told) from the perspective of a young immigrant girl on a ship. I get the impression it is set in the past, but I later learn it is modern day (or near to it). I tend to prefer it that way. As the first story, I was skeptical coming in. I am happy to say it was pretty quick at gaining my interest. I became intrigued at what was going on. A sea “monster” or creature posses the young girl and she and it are one. This isn’t the exorcist. It is more of a collaborative relationship (either willingly on the monsters part or not it is unclear).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but I don’t know if it was exactly as horrific as I would like. It was much more dark fantasy. I suppose that is a special classification of Horror, but not exactly what I am looking for. Perhaps I am being unfair. It isn’t a bad story. It is creepy and disturbing. I debated giving it 4.5 half stars, but if I am being honest, I will be sorely disappointed if this is the best this horror anthology has to offer. It is a solid read, but I want better. 4.5/5 stars rounding down.
11 – Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show to You the Sea — Seanan McGuire ★★★★★
This story was great. I intentionally saved it to listen to it with my sister because I knew it was a story that revolved around a sibling relationship. Needless to say, this story takes sibling river to a new level. The story starts with the older sibling submerged in water, dazed and confused. She realizes shes submerged unable to breathe or move. As the waves recede, she learns shes in a tide pool, able to breathe for now, the tide is rising. Her sister stands watching, explaining how she has drugged her sister. She wants her to die, and apparently as terrifyingly as possible.
I’m sure anyone with siblings can understand why a sibling may have a little animosity toward their kin, but the level of hatred our main antagonist has is dark and deliciously horrific. The story then becomes one of survival. Will she escape? Can she escape? All of these question rise and fall with the tide. It is very effective. I mentioned before in What My Mother Left Me, about how family drama makes for the best kind of horror drama.
Like, What My Mother Left Me, Sister Dearest Sister changes directions part way through, morphing from a chilling horror story into a weird dark ocean fantasy. Without spoiling it too much, the story becomes like a twisted Little Mermaid, where, like Arial, our protagonist is desperate to return to land. To do so, she has to make a deal with the monsters of the sea, but everything comes with a cost.
I loved this story. It is one of my favorites. 5/5 Stars.
12 – The Deep Sea Swell — John Langan ★★★★☆
We find ourselves on a small island with a couple visiting friends. The ferry ride over introduces us to our main characters, and with it we learn about some of their sea related fears. It also acts as clear foreshadowing of whats to come. You see, a large region of the nearby sea used to be above water, back before glacier melting. Whether the existing villages made it out is unclear. Needless to say, it appears to be a breeding grounds for hauntings.
I’m trying to be consistent in my rating scheme, but as I read more stories, it keeps getting more difficult. This story ticked all the right boxes. It was creepy, had horror elements, and revolved around the ocean. Still, I find myself distracted as I jump between the Devil and the Deep and Datlow’s other anthology, Fearful Symmetries. This story never quite reaches the level of dread that is consistently achieved in those stories. This story s consistent with “A Moment Before Breaking” and “He Sings of Salt and Wormwood,” not a bad story, but not everything I wish it was. 4.5/5 stars rounding down.
13 – He Sings of Salt and Wormwood — Brian Hodge ★★★★☆
This was a well told story. For a large chunk of it I didn’t get a horror vibe. However, it eventually came. For this one I feel as if I need to clarify, the build up was good. It wasn’t the constant dread I hope for. Although, it was still effective. We enter the mind of this surfer/diver, enveloped by this world where one has an intimate relationship with the sea. That doesn’t make it a bad story. It was a great story. I feel as though I am trapping myself, judging each story by the horrors it besets upon me, and it just isn’t that simple. We get the groundwork for an effective conclusion that was full of dread and confusion. In doing so, we once again appreciate the power and mystery of the sea. It works for what it is, but if I am being honest, it doesn’t deliver everything I want from a horror story. 4.5 stars, rounding down.
14 – Shit Happens — Michael Marshall Smith ★★★★★
I absolutely loved this story. I think a large part of that was the surprise, so I’m not going to spoil the main reveal which is built up to for a large portion of the story. The story begins by introducing us to our protagonist. We learn he has a work conference he has to go to, and it is being held on a cruise ship this year (yay). Except, he has no interest at feigning interest in the lives of people he barley knows, nor does he have any interest in telling the entire company that the long awaited project he is responsible for still is not completed. On the bright side, its a chance for him to get drunk on the company dime. A large portion of the story is dedicated to setting up the story and helping us connect and relate to our protagonist.
Soon, our protagonist is on the ship, and enjoying happy hour as he gets progressively drunk. As is natural, this inevitably leads him to the bathroom to relieve himself. While there, he hears load, grotesque and disturbing noises from a man in the stall. It turns out he has a bad case of the shits. Our protagonist can’t believe how horrendous the smell is; all he wants to do is finish and leave. Except, the decency within him forces him to ask the man if hes okay. As the story progresses, you can’t help but wonder where its going.
I thought the reveal was well done and surprising. I can understand why Datlow would put this so late in the anthology; this collection highlights the variety of monstrosities that can be thought up within the sea (even if I don’t care for all of them). What’s more, many of these stories have had questionable ties to horror, and part of me wonders if this is going to be an entirely mundane story. You’ll have to read it to find out if that is the case, but I assure you no matter what it is, its worth reading. This story is brilliantly charming and funny while also disturbing and grotesque–everything I could want from a horror story.
Lastly, you may read this and find the theme here isn’t all that original, but this story still stands out for two reasons. First, the writing is captivating and enjoyable. Two, the lack in originality around the theme is compensated by an original take on this type of story. There could have been so much more to this nearly 1hr long short story. The narrative we got could easily be a novel unto itself (I wish it was!), but it also drops off at what some people might call a cliff hanger. I don’t see it that way. This isn’t the story we usually associate with this type of theme. It is more of a prequel to the traditional type of narrative we get here. In that, it is tremendously effective. 5/5 stars, and maybe my favorite story.