Let this The Salt Grows Heavy book review be your one and only warning—Cassandra Khaw’s latest novella is not for the faint of heart.
When I read Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Having not read them before, all the information I had was that it centered around a haunted house and was based in Japanese folklore.
What I found inside that novella was beautifully grotesque. If it’s not too gauche to quote myself, I stand by what I said back in October 2021: “I cannot possibly oversell Khaw’s prose, which sometimes borders on lyrical. They have the ability to turn the most disgusting description into a beautiful poem, of pitting the horror of death against the allure of freedom from this life. The story almost takes a backseat to the artistry they’ve infused into every page, every sentence, every word.”
If you liked Blackened Teeth, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy The Salt Grows Heavy, which is a strange combination of The Little Mermaid meets Frankenstein. If you’re intrigued, then stick around.
I enjoy novellas because, first and foremost, I love accomplishing things. It’s so satisfying to pick up a book and read it in one sitting. I’m not a particularly fast reader, and sometimes I’m easily distractible, so fitting a novella in between lengthier books helps me to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the amount of pages I need to read to provide you all with articles like this The Salt Grows Heavy book review.
But the other reason why I love novellas is because they are a compact story. All the fat has been trimmed, but there’s enough meat left that you’re usually not wanting for more. If you’re also a fan of novellas, might I suggest Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered and A Mirror Mended.
The Salt Grows Heavy is about a mermaid captured by a prince and forced to marry him, who then had to endure her tongue being cut from her mouth. It’s not hard to see those Little Mermaid parallels, but this has nothing to do with the Disney tale. No, this is about the kind of mermaid that has sharpened teeth perfect for devouring flesh. Ariel could never.
The story begins after our mermaid has given birth to her daughters, who have killed the prince and devoured the kingdom. Putting the ruins at her back, she is joined by a plague doctor who shows no fear of her. In fact, their touch is gentle and their voice full of mirth. It is something the mermaid has rarely experienced, and the two decide to journey together away from the pain and chaos of their past.
Soon, they come upon a child being chased by his friends. Before the pair can intervene, however, the other boys kill the first and remove a bezoar from his stomach. The plague doctor is quick to pass judgment, but the kids insist that it is all a game—that they take turns being the hunted and the hunter. Even more astonishing, they insist that the child has not truly died, and implore the plague doctor and the mermaid to follow them back to their village where their saints will show them the truth of the matter.
When they arrive at the village, our heroes meet the saints who have power over life and death. There are elements of the Frankenstein story here, but Khaw does not skip the details. With each cut of the knife and prod of the needle, we experience the pain and euphoria of their experiments. Like in Nothing But Blackened Teeth, the author paints a picture as horrible as it is astonishing. Never have I read such gruesome scenes rendered so elaborately intricate so as to make them almost alluring—except in a Cassandra Khaw book.
I have no interest in spoiling any more of the story than that in this The Salt Grows Heavy book review, but I will say that if you liked the Dread Doctors on Teen Wolf, you’ll be interested in what the saints in this novella are up to. There are several morals of the story here, including what defines being a monster—as well as embracing that darkness inside of you. Surprisingly—but fittingly—this is also a love story of sorts, and I ultimately found the ending immensely satisfying.
Though The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw won’t be for everyone, I encourage anyone who’s interested in horror and mythology to explore what this book has to offer. You’ll certainly never look at mermaids the same way again.
‘The Salt Grows Heavy’ hit store shelves on May 2, 2023
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