The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

“For the falling star and the rising ape to meet, the former must first be debased. No myth can remain terrifying when you’ve seen it broken and beaten, rendered as toothless as an old crone.”The Salt Grows Heavy, Cassandra Khaw

In an attempt to read more broadly, I picked up The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw, a 2023 horror novella. This novella is a somewhat sequel to Khaw’s short story, And In Our Daughters, We Find a Voice, which can be found printed at the end of this novella and also online. While it isn’t necessary to read the short story first, it did provide background to one of the main characters in the novella that I appreciated.

Let’s get into The Salt Grows Heavy!

While I wouldn’t typically reach for horror, the first paragraph on the inside cover pulled me in: “You may think you know how the fairy tale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the price. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.” I grew up adoring The Little Mermaid, but as an adult, looking into the classic tales and different myths surrounding mermaids has consumed my interest. Seeing this novella as a twisted version of The Little Mermaid, I decided to give it a read.

The Salt Grows Heavy is dark and twisted, full of bloodshed and gore. At the core of this novella lives a mermaid and a plague doctor. The mermaid’s children are cannibals – the story begins with her daughters having massacred the entire kingdom, hungering for more. Amidst the carnage lies their father, the prince. The mermaid isn’t sad, as he was incredibly cruel to her, keeping her locked away and denying her true nature. In the aftermath of the massacre, the mermaid teams up with the plague doctor, a nonbinary, mysterious, and gender-free calming influence. The two leave the ravaged kingdom behind, searching for something unsure. On the run, they stumble upon a mysterious village deep in the snowy forest full of ageless children and the ‘saints’ who control them.

I don’t know what I was expecting in this novella, but it far exceeded whatever I was. The language is flowery, the words chosen are long (and sometimes required me to look up the definition of), and the fairytale is messy and twisted. Unexpectedly, this novella also sports romance! The mermaid and plague doctor are loyal to each other, willing to die if needed. I was a tad confused why the mermaid cared so much as her entire character rebels against such close bonds. Seeing their relationship change from beginning to end was intriguing nevertheless. The plague doctor was compelling, sympathetic, and blessedly nonbinary. Given this was also a short novella, I enjoyed how quickly the read went. Add in the bonus of a twisted fairy tale and I’m certainly on the hunt for other similar titles!

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