The Deep by Alma Katsu

Is there any other event in history as ironically tragic as the sinking of both the Titanic and Bittanic? Sister ships destined to the same watery grave. In The Deep, Alma Katsu the author of previously reviewed The Hunger, explores both tragedies and connects them in a ghostly manner.

The Deep is mostly about a young woman named Annie who is a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic and finds herself aboard the Brittanic, the hospital ship for those wounded in World War I. The story flashes between the times on the Titanic and times on the Brittanic both of which carry secrets and deception at each turn. Annie finds herself infatuated with a passenger aboard the Titanic named Mark and his infant daughter Ondine, but what she doesn’t know is that past and present will wind together in an eerie and earth-shattering way.

I’m going to start by saying that I really enjoyed this novel and it was honestly a lot different than The Hunger. The Deep feels more Lovecraftian at first and less horrifying than The Hunger. The ocean calls out to passengers in a way that I feel very much encapsulates Lovecraft’s writing style. “The call of the void.” is mentioned and it sent shivers down my spine because it made me reminisce on my readings of The Call of Cthulhu. The overall tone was very different than what I had previously read, and while I very much enjoyed The Hunger, The Deep is a very different and interesting beast.

Another well done piece of this story is the foreshadowing. In the very beginning, this is stated in comparison from the Brittanic to the Titanic,

This ship is much safer than the other one, they were assured. No need to be nervous.

And to me, someone who already knows the outcome of both the Titanic and Brittanic, it still sent a shiver down my spine and built the excitement. I had to know how Katsu decided to sink both ships and I wanted to know how she decided to tie them together. I had so many questions about an event I already knew about from history class. It was thrilling.

There was also another underlying theme that I found very interesting. That theme is motherhood. Aboard the Titanic, there is the young baby Ondine, her mother, and father, and there is also a pregnant woman aboard. Katsu does an excellent job of showing the struggles and the fear of being a new mother/father. I am a new mother and one quote stuck out to me,

“Ever since having his own child, he’d noticed he’d gotten more sensitive to mortality–he used to be aware of it brazenly so. Now it whispered to him, tapped his shoulder, and distracted him when things were quiet.”

This one quote is so accurate that it forced me to keep reading. Since having my son I find myself struggling with things I had never struggled with before. I cannot for the life of me watch a show where a baby’s life is at risk. It causes me to go into a full blown panic attack. For me, The Deep touched on this in a way that I didn’t expect but it was readable. I felt myself getting anxious but not so anxious I was forced to quit. It expressed parental anxiety very well. That previous quote is how I feel all the time.

My only disappointment with this novel is that I didn’t feel near as scared as I had thought I would be. I expected the paranormal aspect to start picking up and this one is a slow riser. I wanted to be afraid of “the monster” but even when the paranormal twist is revealed it didn’t frighten me so much. I expected more fear based off where I left after The Hunger, but you could chalk that up to me expecting it to be something that Katsu didn’t intend for it to be.

Overall I give The Deep a 4/5 stars. It’s a slow fright with relatable themes and semi-realistic frights. I definitely recommend The Deep along with its predecessor The Hunger. Now available for purchase, you have to pick this one up!

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

One of the greatest elements in horror is making you question whether the greatest evil of all comes from within. In Katsu’s The Hunger we are posed with evil from all angles, external and internal. This novel does not make its monsters a secret, we get our fill of bloodthirsty creatures stalking the night, but what it does hide beneath the surface is the secrets and atrocities that the people next to you are capable of committing.

In The Hunger we get to see the Donner Party re imagined as they make their great western trek across America. While most people already know how this story ends, Katsu offers up a different explanation for the Donner’s cannibalistic demise by throwing monsters into the picture. But, this is not your typical hack and slash monster story, it has a depth that was unexpected and truly impressed me. I was left more curious about the evil that lies within human beings than anything.

We follow the party along their journey viewing the events through the lens of many different travelers. The most prominent being Charles Stanton, a lone traveler with a secret, Tamsen Donner the wife to the patriarch and leader George Donner, and James Reed a family man with a fatal flaw. The wagon train is going well until George Donner makes the irrational decision, influenced by the hack Lansford Hastings, to turn away from the Oregon trail and set course through the mostly untamed trail heading toward Weber Canyon with the expectation to take an easier trail through the Wasatch mountains. No such trail existed. Instead they faced hardship after hardship through the Great Salt Lake and meeting their eventual demise in Sierra Nevada Mountains. The unexpected twist is that the party is under near constant surveillance from creature lurking in the trees, the party starts questioning who or what the creatures are and as more of the pioneers disappear or go mad the panic begins.

I have a, probably, unhealthy fascination with the way gore is described in novels, and Katsu does this very well. Nauseatingly well. I have always had an admiration for people who can make my stomach turn just through description, Katsu truly did not let me down. Here’s an example that gave me the creeps, “The head was intact. In fact, if you only looked at the face you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. The boy’s eyes were closed, long brown eyelashes stark against chalk white cheeks. His fine blond hair was plastered against his skull, his tiny mouth closed. He looked peaceful, as though he were sleeping. But from the neck down…” This description is just so fitting of the novel altogether. At first glance it seems like it will be a normal story about pioneers, but underneath it festers with something evil. Another of Katsu’s abilities, is the ability to instill fear. One of her descriptions of the monsters sent a shiver down my spine, she wrote, “His fingers grazed the very end of the rifle stock. Slipped. But the thing had him now, had a mouth around his ankle- Stanton gasped in terror as he saw human eyes, a human nose…” Something about this imagery just paralyzed me. As much as I would like to include a few more sentences from that section I can’t because it would give too much away. Just trust me when I say that this book is freaky.

It is very clear that Katsu dedicated a lot of her time to researching the history for the Donner party so that she could perfectly execute an adjacent story line. She has a familiarity with the history that creates an intimacy between you and the party. It feels like you are peeping in on the hidden lives of the Donner party, non of her creative liberties feels disingenuous or implausible. It inspired me to read up on the historical background of the Donner Party and it is crazy for me to think about the sheer amount of research that she must have put in. A lot the history and people are accurate, it takes the term historical fiction to a new and impressive level. Katsu didn’t just take a moment in history and use it to loosely base a story on, she embedded herself in the history and based her fiction as closely on reality as possible.

I’m a sucker for horror, but I do not believe this made me biased towards this novel. This novel truly deserves any praise that is receives, and for me it is an easy 5/5 stars. I was entertained throughout and had such a hard time putting the book down. Horror novels have a tendency to speed up and slow down as suspense intensifies and wanes, but not The Hunger. The internal and external conflicts are so intense and well written that it is hard to lose interest for even a second.