In the first installment of his planned Southern Reach trilogy, author Jeff VanderMeer strips away the details from a thrilling mystery and taps into our primal and cultural associations through vague simplicity. Via the journal of an unnamed botanist and expedition member, readers descend into Area X—a diverse ecosystem reclaimed by a twisted version of nature after being cut off from the rest of the world for decades. The government has sent the expedition—and, tragically, 11 previous ones—into Area X for answers, but soon it’s obvious no one is asking the right questions. VanderMeer crafts Area X as an unknown frontier filled with symbols and concepts devoid of quantifiable information—a nightmarish world for an already haunted scientist desperate for data. A rifle, microscope, lighthouse, tunnel, senseless writing on a wall, and beasts bellowing unseen in the night become attempts to control, understand and find hope in a journey into madness with an ever-lurking hidden danger. The biggest shock for readers comes with the realization that the answers we’ve been desperate for since page one are what we end up fearing the most—not a fear of uncovering the ghastly truths behind Area X, but rather losing the mysteries that made the journey so irresistibly engrossing.