Authority

Warning: This is the second novel in the Southern Reach Trilogy. There will be light spoilers for the first novel in this review. Do not read if you are planning on starting this trilogy.

The biologist has returned. Only, she claims to not be the biologist at all.

We’ve explored Area X in the first book. Now, author Jeff Vandermeer is taking us to the other side of the equation: The Southern Reach. The shadowy, quasi-research agency that sends the expeditions to their fates. The psychologist of the first expedition was actually the director of the Southern Reach, and with her gone, a new figure has been sent in to lead. His name is Control.

Actually, it’s John Rodriguez, but in keeping with the trilogy’s emphasis on qualities over familiarity, he asks and goes by the name Control. He’s sent by his mother, a spy at the even more shadowy firm known as Central, to clean up whatever is going on down at the Southern Reach.

What is going on at the Southern Reach? You might go crazy debating whether it’s nothing or quite literally everything. There’s the surly biologist who won’t answer simple questions. The assistant director who is openly hostile to Control. The Voice that Control has to report in every day over the phone. And Whitby, the scientist whose mind is clearly beginning to unravel. Or is it Control who is beginning to unravel? Who wouldn’t when it seems everyone is lying to you.

Again, this book can read like an extended case study on a single person, as he studies the other people around him. And the background to it all is the horror just across the border. What else can be said about it? The language is rich and varied. The answers, like the first, are few/far-between/and mostly unsatisfactory. The adventure is in the language. Who can we trust? And are we wasting our time infighting when the real enemy is knocking on your door?

If you liked Annihilation you’ll probably enjoy Authority. The change in perspective is a welcome look at how Area X affects those who aren’t inside. But the lack of answers provides some frustrations. The final chapter is a much needed traditional story-telling technique, one that will compel you to read the third and final book.

3.5 out of 4 stars.

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