The Predecessor

This novel, Authority, is the second of the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. The first, Annihilation, is a fever dream of a novel. Annihilation follows an expedition team through a nightmarish sci-fi land they were prepared to enter and gather information about. The area has one entrance and the team cannot leave. They encounter an unknown monster, which is never revealed to them. The entire novel is just the reader following the team around as they navigate this foreign place and its foreboding atmosphere.

The Plot

This second novel in the trilogy is completely different from the first but serves its own purpose. This novel centers around Control, a newly hired director for the Southern Reach. He must figure out what happened to the expedition in the first book. This novel is so bureaucratic in nature. We follow a director traversing the obstacle of internal favoritism, his own past mistakes and the nepotism that got him this new job, and trying to decipher the secrets of Area X.

While the first novel was vague and psychedelically creepy, this novel is unsettling in a different way. Control is in a setting we all know: a boring office. However, he does encounter things like the previous director, who was a member of the past team, and her stacks of notes, weird writings on her office walls, and the disappearance of a team member being kept for interrogation. This novel presents itself as stable, but then creeps us out by producing events that leave us off balance.

The Verdict

The ending of Authority sets us up for the final book, Acceptance, taking place in Area X again. This middle novel feels like it creates a full circle back to the place of true interest but exists to make that return even more satisfying and unsettling. Sure, the first novel unsettled us, but when VanderMeer continues building the atmosphere around Area X even when the reader isn’t in it, the payoff will be even greater.

It is always interesting to me to see how authors handle the exposition of character building, and in this case, setting building. Area X is its own character in these novels. VanderMeer isn’t showing us just Control as a character in this novel, but is expanding our knowledge of Area X as a character.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
About the Author

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms.

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