Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep by Alma Katsu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (March 10, 2020)
432 pages; $18.39 hardcover; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Those who devoured Alma Katsu’s The Hunger (which should have won awards across the board last year—pun intended) will want to take the plunge into The Deep, a beautifully disturbing cross-genre tale that might even top that previous novel. Whereas The Hunger mined the ill-fated travels of the pioneers who traversed the Donner Pass, this one dives into the mystique of the Titanic, yet with a twist. The ship had a sister—the Britannic. This ship was retrofitted to be a hospital to be used during the war.

The story alternates between young Annie Hebbley’s time working on both ships—as a maid on the Titanic, and later as a nurse on the Britannic. Annie leaves her home for the strange world of the high seas, and is quickly drawn to the enigmatic Mark Fletcher, who holds his own dark secret. He is the father of an infant and husband to an even stranger character, Caroline. Annie and Mark soon find that their fates are forever intertwined. 

After surviving the sinking of the Titanic, Annie learns of the horrors of war first-hand as a nurse on the Britannic. Her mind has yet to heal, though, a fact that rears its ugly head when she encounters a man in one of the beds of the wounded. She’s convinced it’s Mark. Yet why won’t he admit it to her? Her sanity begins to further unravel as readers are treated to the unreliable narrator motif…or are they?

The horror soon creeps in as other passengers, the rich Madeline Astor and her husband, are convinced something sinister has boarded the ship with them—or was built into the hull of the Titanic. After a tragic death, the passengers sense this presence growing, something that Annie seeks to explain while attempting to help Mark and his daughter, who may be facing a much more heinous foe. By the time the ship hits the iceberg, Annie realizes the scope of the disaster matches her own cracking psyche.

The Britannic is supposedly built to be safer and sturdier than the predecessor, yet lightning can’t strike twice. Or can it? Annie’s relentless quest to convince Mark of what truly happened spirals into the dark currents of the Atlantic as the forces that plagued the first ship may have followed her there as well.

What sets this novel apart from other “disaster” stories is the research Katsu has imbued between the pages. She nails every detail of the period, the ship itself, and the events that occurred on both ships in a manner that could be exhausting in lesser hands. The Deep envelops the reader in its setting and drags them down until the final page. Her characters breathe and bleed through the chapters in both stories here, with minor players carving out roles which further both the mystery and the horror. 

Highly recommended as both a horror novel and a suspense tale that should widen Alma Katsu’s audience even further.

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