The Devil and the Deep — Ellen Datlow

May 4, 2018

The Devil and the Deep by Ellen Datlow

TITLE: The Devil and the Deep
EDITOR: Ellen Datlow
RELEASED: March 20th, 2018; Night Shade Books
GENRE: Horror
SYNOPSIS: It’s only water, so why should we fear large bodies of it, such as the sea or the ocean? However, when you’re all alone, you realize how scary a place it can be.
In Devil and the Deep, award-winning editor Ellen Datlow shares an original anthology of horror that covers the depths of the deep blue sea. Whether its tales of murderous pirates who stalk the waters in search of treasure and blood, creatures that haunt the depths below―ones we’ve only seen in our nightmares, or storms that can swallow you whole, the open water can be a dangerous and terrifying place.
With new stories from New York Times-bestsellers and award-winning authors such as Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, Stephen Graham Jones, and more, Devil and the Deep guarantees you’ll think twice before going back into the water.


The sea coughed us up, but some day it’s going to reclaim us, and there’s precious little that we can do about it.

I have had a fear of deep water since I was a small child, so—as a horror lover who is not easily shaken—nautical horror is one of my favorite subgenres of both stories and film. When I learned that this sea-themed anthology was coming out, I knew I had to get my hands on it, especially after finding out that a few of my favorite anthology authors were featured in it (Seanan McGuire and Alyssa Wong). That said, most of these authors were new to me, so it was exciting to get a taste of fresh blood, so to speak.


Notably, the biggest stand-outs in the collection for me were What My Mother Left Me by Alyssa Wong, Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You to the Sea by Seanan McGuire, and A Moment Before Breaking by A.C. Wise, with honorable mentions going to He Sings of Salt and Wormwood by Brian Hodge, and Shit Happens by Michael Marshall Smith.

→ Deadwater – Simon Bestwick ★★★☆☆ ←
It’s the absences that get you, with any death. The gaps, the depths, the holes people leave behind: they’re what we mean by ghosts.

Our first story takes us to a quiet coastal town, in which a sudden death has left the police force thinking “suicide”, and our narrator thinking “murder”. This was less horror and more mild suspense, so it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from the beginning of the anthology, but I did truly enjoy the writing and found myself invested in the mystery. My main complaint was that there was a lot of cryptic nodding towards the main character’s own troubled past, but we never got any sort of explanation for most of it, which left me feeling like the story wasn’t quite finished.

TW: frequent mentions of suicide and self-harm

→ Fodder’s Jig – Lee Thomas ★★★★☆ ←
For many of the afflicted, dancing was the first symptom.

This tale comes in two parts—the present, and the past—as our narrator regales the story of what happened to his deceased partner after the man contracted a bizarre infection, sprung from masses of bizarre and grotesque flesh washed up on the shoreline. This was probably the single most unique and creative infection story I’ve ever read, and it explains just enough to satisfy, while leaving quite a lot to the imagination. Alongside the description of the ailment, there’s a bit of a commentary on aging, love and loss, and being a homosexual senior in a small town, all of which made the narrator incredibly endearing.

TW: ableism

→ The Curious Allure of the Sea – Christopher Golden ★★☆☆☆ ←
Even heaven could become hell if you were a prisoner there.

When a woman’s father’s boat turns up empty, his body nowhere to be found, she comes across a stone with a bizarre marking on it. As an attempt to find closure, she tattoos the marking upon her forearm, but things suddenly become very strange in her life. While I enjoyed the writing itself, I can’t say I was a big fan of the story—I felt like I was being set up at great lengths for what was ultimately an incredibly disappointing ending.

→ The Tryal Attract – Terry Dowling ★★★☆☆ ←
The sole condition Will Stevens set for letting me spend the night in the room with the skull was telling him everything it said.

After dreaming about the skull from the attic window, a man spends the evening at his neighbor’s home, sleeping in the room with the skull in hopes of hearing its infamous nightly whispers. This was definitely the first genuinely creepy story in the collection, which I appreciated tremendously, as some of the imagery was downright unsettling. Unfortunately, the explanation for the plot felt lackluster and I found myself disappointed with the ending.

→ The Whalers Song – Ray Cluley ★★★★☆ ←
It’s not just whales we’re chasing, Sebjørn realises. It has never just been whales.

This was such a bizarre, haunting, beautifully sad story about a group of whalers who find themselves stranded and falling victim to a very peculiar and unexplainable set of circumstances. It does contain a bit of imagery that’s really tough to stomach—especially if you, like myself, have a weak spot for aquatic creatures—but the scenery that Ray Cluley’s writing paints is so vivid that you can nearly feel the chill of the bitter wind and the bite of the freezing waters the Norwegians travel.

TW: explicit animal violence/death

→ A Ship of the South Wind – Bradley Denton ★★☆☆☆ ←
“We are what we are. What we are is good enough.”

Despite being a western, this story certainly struck me with stereotypical “horror” feelings; unfortunately, though, it wasn’t much of a pleasant read. Our two protagonists are a man and a boy, both half-Native, half-white, who have been essentially taken hostage by a few thieving white men. I’m going to be honest: not only did I strongly dislike the writing style behind this story (with its stilted phrasing and short, cut-off sentences), but I feel that it doesn’t fit the collection in the slightest. Its ties to the sea were slim and questionable, and left open-ended in the most unsatisfying way.

TW: slurs, racism

→ What My Mother Left Me – Alyssa Wong ★★★★★ ←
Maybe she’s calling my name. But so is something beneath the waves, that dark and lovely expanse that neither light nor human beings can touch.

A young woman takes her new girlfriend to her family beach home in hopes of finding some closure after her mother’s passing, but what she finds is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could have expected. I love Alyssa Wong’s writing so much, and as a bisexual woman, I was ecstatic enough to see a bi protagonist in this collection (because, let’s be honest, we’ve gotta get more diversity in horror!). I honestly feel like I could write a full review about this one story, because it is so flawless, and gorgeous, and devastatingly sad.

→ Broken Record – Stephen Graham Jones ★★☆☆☆ ←
Maybe a century ago you could get marooned for months or years or ever, but not in the modern world, right?

I struggled to rate or review this one, because it was so bizarre that I’m still not totally sure what to make of it. It tells the story of a man who washes up from a wreck and finds himself on a tiny desert island, where magical items slowly start appearing for him—items that he wished for as a child, in a game. The most horrific aspect of this story is the thought of actually being stranded on a desert island, all alone, with no shade or way to get home, but the novelty wears off before the installment ends, sadly.

→ Saudade – Steve Rasnic Tem ★★☆☆☆ ←
“You were in a story which worked for you for a very long time. But that story has ended, and yet you find you are still alive, and now you are in a different story you do not yet understand.”

A senior is sent on a cruise by his daughters, in a last attempt to convince him to seek companionship elsewhere after his wife has passed away, but he wants nothing to do with any of the other “cruisers”—except one. Much like several of the other stories in this collection, my frustration comes from the fact that it’s an incredibly nautical-themed tale, but very little in the way of “horror”. Besides the brief moment—a few paragraphs, truly—towards the end that featured a bit of oddity, this was just a really boring, sad recollection of an old man’s trip on a boat.

→ A Moment Before Breaking – A. C. Wise ★★★★★ ←
Maybe it’s a monster, but maybe she is, too. And all they have is each other.

A little girl and her mother are on a ship, sailing to America in hopes of a better life, when the child is taken by priests who use terrible works to trap the spirit of the Sea Prince within her body. While their intentions were to nullify the Prince by keeping him bound as such, an unlikely bond forms between the two spirits, and they set out on a path of survival and finding home. This was such a gorgeous, haunting story, full of lore and heartache and some really disturbing sea creature imagery that I loved to death. This was easily one of my most preferred stories in the anthology, and was enough to make me very curious about A.C. Wise’s other work.

→ Sister, Dearest Sister, Let Me Show You to the Sea – Seanan McGuire ★★★★★ ←
The tide goes out, leaving things like me lying stranded on the beach. It always comes back to collect us.

When a young girl’s little sister tries to murder her by leaving her to drown in the ocean, a quartet of eels make her an offer: another chance at life, for a price. Full disclosure: Seanan McGuire is one of my absolute favorite authors, and I love her work so much that I skipped past this story and saved it for last because I knew it would be my favorite, and I was right. This is the darkest, creepiest, and most fantastical story in the collection, if you ask me—and it is also gorgeous and sad and whimsical, in all the best ways. ♥

→ The Deep Sea Swell – John Langan ★★★☆☆ ←
In an odd sort of way, Susan has thought, the trip has been all about the ocean.

Susan and her husband Alan go on a winter vacation to Shetland, and take a ferry across the ocean for a leg of the trip, but when Susan is kept awake by her seasickness and anxiety, a little late night exploring leads her to meet up with a very old—and terrifying—entity in the ship. This is a bit of odd writing, as it switches tenses between past and present, but somehow, that only added to the anxiety-inducing nature of the story. While the threat itself wasn’t scary in theory, something about this story puts you right into Susan’s shoes (or fuzzy socks, I should say), and was really enjoyable, if not altogether incredibly memorable.

→ He Sings of Salt and Wormwood – Brian Hodge ★★★★★ ←
As a rule, ignorance was no virtue, but if you gave too much thought to the sea, and everything with teeth that called it home, you’d never venture out to meet it.

Danny Yukimura, a washed-up surfing pro, is practicing his free diving out in the deeps when he comes across a sunken yacht full of sea worms. Back on land, strange, carved pieces of driftwood begin washing up on shore, with faces that slowly become more and more familiar to him. I absolutely adored this story and was sad to see it end. The diving parts are so atmospheric and well described that, as someone who is afraid of being in deep water myself, I was downright claustrophobic. The slow build of dread is anxiety-inducing in the best way, and the ending is flawlessly executed.

→ Shit Happens – Michael Marshall Smith ★★★★★ ←
“I never realized the end times would smell this bad.”

Rick boards a ship planning to have a weekend of work conferencing, networking, and lots of booze—he never expected the apocalypse to happen while he was out on the water, though, and he definitely never expected it to come in such a disgusting form. This story is gross, cringe-y, hilarious, and downright amazing. It was easily the most fun story in the anthology, and it definitely reminded me of a horror-comedy film like Shaun of the Dead (especially with the goofy banter between Rick and Peter-from-London towards the end of the installment). Plus, there are a couple of political and work-related quips in the story that had me grinning from ear to ear. 10/10, would laugh (and cringe) again.

→ Haunt – Siobhan Carroll ★★★☆☆ ←
This is not the same as justice. But it has its own meaning.

The finale first reads like a simple ghost story of sailors trying to outrun spirits in the late 1700s, but with the name-dropping of massacres and accidents of the 18th century, becomes evident—and is then proven by the author’s note—that this story is less horror and more historical fiction about the sailors of this time period that joined the abolitionist movement against slavery. I love the idea behind the story and think it’s a fantastic meaning to offer, and the writing itself is lovely and fits the era very well, as far as I know. My only complaint was that it read a bit slowly and repetitive. All in all, though, it’s not a bad way to close the collection.


Thank you to Night Shade Books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review!



More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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