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Book review: Southern Reach triology will keep readers guessing

The books that make up The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer will keep you guessing, make you question what you just read and when you reach the end, make you want to go back and read them again. The three books, titled "Annihilation," "Authority" and "Acceptance," make up The Southern Reach Trilogy. The premise of the series is that a mysterious — and deadly — barrier formed many years ago around an area now called Area X. Since then, various teams of researchers from Southern Reach have ventured in, with varying amounts of success. Some are killed instantly by the barrier, some experience drastic personality and behavioral shifts once inside, some reappear in their homes without knowing how they got there and die a few weeks later of cancer and some come and go with no apparent effects. No one knows what is happening inside Area X (for some reason, those who do return don't think they need to bring their journals back with them) except that it seems to have reverted to an Eden-like state and all civilization inside died out as the barrier came down.

"Annihilation" (book 1 and this year's winner of the Nebula Award) begins with the preparations of the 12th expedition to enter Area X. Each expedition is made up of a calculated combination of team members based on gender, expertise, etc. This time it's four women: an anthropologist, a surveyor, a psychologist (the leader) and a biologist (our narrator). They expect the unexpected, but they didn't expect to find homes decayed far beyond what the passage of time can explain, animals with strange, human-like eyes, completely unfamiliar creatures moaning in the night and they certainly didn't expect to find a tower extending into the ground or what they found inside. One by one, the effects of Area X are felt by each team member as the book takes us through their exploration and the unexplained oddities they encounter.

"Authority" (book 2) begins with the new head of the Southern Reach, John, who goes by the name "Control." The reason behind the need for a new director takes place rather dramatically in book one. He tries to understand Area X from outside, in the crumbling Southern Reach headquarters. Control's past provides more clues to Area X, as well as what the previous director left behind and the remaining staff of the Southern Reach. One staff member in particular, Whitby, goes beyond any oddball coworker you've ever had. But, of course, Area X will do that to you. Control discovers that the disturbing effects of Area X are felt even beyond the barrier. Also, there have been more than 12 expeditions; a lot more.

"Acceptance" (book 3) brings it all together. After a massive change in the barrier, Control and the biologist (who isn't quite the same as the biologist who entered Area X with the 12th expedition) are inside Area X, along with an unexpected staff member from the Southern Reach. They're there for answers, and they'll eventually find most of them.

These three books stayed with me long after I turned the last page. They're available to borrow from the Library System of Lebanon County.