Review: The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw

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From USA Today bestselling author Cassandra Khaw comes The Salt Grows Heavy, a razor-sharp and bewitching fairytale of discovering the darkness in the world, and the darkness within oneself.

You may think you know how the fairytale goes: a mermaid comes to shore and weds the prince. But what the fables forget is that mermaids have teeth. And now, her daughters have devoured the kingdom and burned it to ashes.

On the run, the mermaid is joined by a mysterious plague doctor with a darkness of their own. Deep in the eerie, snow-crusted forest, the pair stumble upon a village of ageless children who thirst for blood, and the three ‘saints’ who control them.

The mermaid and her doctor must embrace the cruelest parts of their true nature if they hope to survive.


With The Salt Grows Heavy, Cassandra Khaw has written a novella that feels like my worst nightmare. The story starts with the main character, the mermaid who has comes to the sea to marry a prince, sitting in the charred remains of a kingdom that she and her daughters have destroyed. A person dressed as a plague doctor accompanies her out of the desolation and into the world. Make no mistakes. This is not a fairytale even though the main character is a fairytale mermaid. This kingdom is razed. This land is dark. This is a scourge. 

Cassandra Khaw writes deep and beautiful prose. There were times when I could feel everything that the characters felt. I could taste the things that they ate. The pain that they felt seeped from the page and into my own flesh. This denseness is off putting to some. Her sentences are sometimes complex and filled with tough phrasing and unknown words. The likelihood of any reader going through this novella and not having to look up a single word will be rare. However the concentration that the story demands, for us to delve into new language and writing, attaches us to the story, makes us dive deep into a world that is just as new and just as brutal to live through. This is purposeful. For a story that is only a little over 100 pages, this is not a casual read. The reader has to be completely engaged in the story from the very beginning. If we have to work to get into this story, through the writing, the more vivid and horrifying the world becomes. Admittedly, this will turn off quite a few readers, those who are looking for an easy book, but those who stick with The Salt Grows Heavy receive a story that displays great depths in agony and pain. 

This is a very short book, and I love the story and the characters. The mermaid and the plague doctor are compelling and unforgettable. I feel this is a setup book, like The Salt Grows Heavy is just a chapter in their story. This could be the beginning of a series of novellas. If this is a standalone and we never hear from these two characters again, The Salt Grows Heavy is a big treasure in a small package. Even though it takes some effort, the reward is worth it. I hope that it is just the beginning.

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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