Series: Southern Reach #1
Genre: Sci-fi, Fiction, Horror, Thriller
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything. -Goodreads
I received a copy of this novel from Net Galley.
I had never heard of this novel before I saw it on Net Galley, but I thought the premise sounded intriguing, so I requested it.
This is a short novel, its only 195 pages long, and you could easily get through it in one sitting if you wanted to.
This novel follows a group of 4 women; a psychologist who is the leader, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a surveyor. They are sent to Area X, an area cut off from the rest of civilisation, to take samples, and see what the area is like. This sounds like an intriguing idea, and as a big sci-fi fan, I thought this sounded right up my street. The reasons it didn't get that good a rating was for a number of aspects of the novel.
Firstly, the interestingly described plot made very little sense to me once I had finished the novel. I realise this novel is the first in a trilogy, but I also think that the first novel should be able to stand up on its own to some extent, and this one really doesn't. I'm sure my questions about the plot will be answered by the end of the trilogy, but I found this extremely frustrating and I spent most of the time while reading very confused.
The second thing that let this book down for me was the boring narrator. The biologist is the narrator in this novel, and thank goodness it was a short novel as I don't think I could have suffered her for much longer. Even the instances where she or the others were in any danger were made boring by her overly long and detailed descriptions, and her constant mentioning of her husband and their boring relationship. We knew all about her, she was a well developed and rounded character, but all the descriptions and flashbacks were extremely boring too, she didn't come across as a solitary woman who liked to spend time by herself, but instead as a really boring and square character, with very little layers or interests!
Another annoying aspect of this novel which relates to both of my previous problems was the unreliable narrator that the biologist made. I can enjoy a novel which has an unreliable narrator, The Great Gatsby has a very unreliable narrator, but is one of my favourite novels, but in this case, the unreliable narrator just made the plot even more confusing and difficult to follow. I spent parts of the novel wondering if what I was reading was true within the novel, and whether the ideas I had about the novel were completely off track!!
The characters were also a bit of a let down, none of them were well developed apart from the biologist. Due to the style of narration you didn't get any insight into the other characters, which meant that I had no real feelings about them and I didn't care what happened to any of them.
However, I did enjoy the way the author created a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere, this is definitely one of the most tense novels I've read, definitely this year. I spent the majority of the novel (thank goodness it was short) on the edge of my seat, I had no idea what was really going on, but whatever it was, it was tense!!!
Overall I think I would describe this novel as "frustrating". It could have been a lot better if only the plot and overarching ideas of the novel were a little clearer to understand, and the narrator had had some sort of spark to interest me as a reader. For these reasons I gave the novel 3.5/5 stars, and I may check out the rest of the trilogy at some point, but I won't rush to pick them up.