This book is an excellent, atmospheric and unsettling spin on the science-fiction genre. A group of scientists, all of them women, are tasked with venturing into Area X: a coastal area that has been abandoned for 30 years which has produced a scientific phenomenon known as The Shimmer. The Shimmer appears as a strange glow that seems to change and morph the DNA of all organisms within it. The Shimmer is growing steadily in size, and the group of women are required to record any and all information they encounter, as well as trying to find clues about all of the previous expeditions. They are then required to return with their findings. These women are the 12th expedition into Area X; all previous expeditions have been fraught with lapses in communication, suicides, death, and mysterious disappearances.
The group of women are comprised of a biologist, a surveyor, a psychologist, and an anthropologist. The story unfolds as a series of observations from the biologist's field journal. We learn that the biologist's husband was one of the people in a previous expedition, and we see that this mission takes on a personal meaning for her as she tries to learn what happened to her husband. As readers, we also learn that the narrator, the biologist, is highly unreliable. She quickly lies to her teammates in order to venture further into Area X, despite one of the women disappearing and a series of mysterious incidents occurring. Vandermeer is excellent at slowly building tension and horror, and as the women venture deeper into Area X, the events that unfolds become even more mysterious and eventually, horrifying.
Many readers were frustrated that the end of the book left many questions unanswered, but I appreciated it; sometimes I feel that works of art that leave you with questions are often more powerful and impactful than those works that tie up all loose ends. This book is the first in a trilogy, and I will definitely be reading the next in the series to continue with this strange and fascinating journey. I also really loved that all of the main characters in this work were women; that is very uncommon in a genre such as science fiction. Overall, I found this work fascinating and there were times where I could not put the book down because I wanted to find out what happens next. I highly recommend this book.