Cassandra Khaw’s 2023 The Salt Grows Heavy is an upcoming secondary-universe horror fantasy novella.
A nameless ruler had a simple dream: capture and enslave what some might call a mermaid after murdering all of her sisters. The plan worked well enough, until the mermaid gave birth to her ravenous children.
Localized apocalypse ensues. The mermaid joins forces with a plague doctor, one of the few survivors of the domain. The two set out to find new lands to explore.
Note to readers: author Khaw frequently uses descriptors rather than names. Thus mermaid and doctor.
The world of this novel is filled with “kingdoms without number, pastoral and beautiful, each ruled by another prince or king, another czar and his court of calm-eyed lackeys.” One might expect the plague doctor to lead the mermaid to some principality much like their former home. But the doctor guides them a land quite unlike other pocket kingdoms. The realm of the saints is filled with mad science and horror.
Though it is perhaps misleading to refer to the doctor character as singular. If one were to closely examine their body, one would find that it was assembled from parts. Re-assembled. The plague doctor was created by three surgeons collectively known as the saints. They have spent decades dismantling and reassembling other people to hone their skills. The plague doctor was an experiment to see if a functioning person could be assembled entirely from leftover parts.
In the decades since the plague doctor last saw their creators, the saints have been very busy. They are very, very skilled. They are lacking any sort of mercy or caution. The primary beneficiaries have been the children with whom the saints have surrounded themselves.
The children might free themselves from this abhorrent assemblage. It would seem to like an easy task for the plague doctor and mermaid to convince the children to free themselves. Because the saints were careful to indoctrinate their victims, it isn’t.
While the reader knows from the very start of the novel that the mermaid is a living weapon of mass destruction, there’s nothing about her that would suggest to bystanders that she’s anything more than an extremely toothy humanoid monster. The scheme that started this all wasn’t necessarily stupid — no, it was stupid but not obviously the sort of stupidity that produces a kingdom burned down to the foundations.
This novel will probably need a “body horror” tag on Mastodon. It turns that a trio of Doctor Frankensteins can be even more hubristic than a singular Frankenstein. It’s a folie à trois.
Readers familiar with Khaw should know better than to expect a jolly narrative full of warm feels. It would be more reasonable to expect schemes or situations that begin slightly off-kilter before going horribly wrong. Still, the book isn’t all body horror and oppressive social settings. Beings do make connections that are not entirely predatory. How that is managed is something readers will have to wait until May 2023 to discover.