The story is narrated in journal form by a biologist sent as part of a team to a contaminated coastal zone known as Area X, a mysterious location seemingly unbridled by the rules of the natural world. We are not introduced to the members of the party by name, each character is instead clinically referred to only by their role. Eleven previous teams were sent, all of which never returned, died shortly after or came back different.
This theme of transmutation permeates through the whole book. The narrator herself is possibly an unreliable narrator, as shortly after arriving at Area X she becomes compromised and other characters note her appearing and behaving differently. There are strange monsters with unsettlingly human characteristics, bringing back memories of John Carpenter’s superb 1982 film The Thing, and shapeless creatures daubing ominous phrases. There is certainly a touch of Cthulhu about the place with that same creeping unease that permeates the best of H. P. Lovecraft’s work. Previous expeditions have all had conflicting reports and maps, with the main constant being an obsession with a lighthouse found some distance from the base camp.
There is this unshakeable feeling throughout that something is going unsaid, and that things have possibly been in motion for years, a cycle constantly erupting and resetting with subtle variations. Does anybody ever leave Area X, or are they changed and absorbed by whatever lurks there?
Now if all this talk of Weird (with a capital letter) and Lovecraft puts you off, it should be said that the book also deals with a loss of human connection and trust as we peel back the biologist’s life to uncover her motivations for taking such a mission. It is immersive and gripping, moving at a quick pace, even while describing such vivid imagery in evocative detail. Indeed, for a short book, it casts a long shadow, and readers who pick this up and enjoy it will be pleased to know that they will only have until May to wait for the next instalment.