Books · reviews

Book review: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

by Jeff VanderMeer
Book 2 of the Southern Reach trilogy

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014

For thirty years, a secret agency called the Southern Reach has monitored expeditions into Area X—a remote and lush terrain mysteriously sequestered from civilization. After the twelfth expedition, the Southern Reach is in disarray, and John Rodriguez (aka “Control”) is the team’s newly appointed head. From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and more than two hundred hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the secrets of Area X begin to reveal themselves—and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve. [Source: Goodreads]

If Annihilation is a snake worming its way into your subconscious, Authority is a snake that got distracted along the way, slithered off into a maze, but eventually remembered where it was going in the end. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Annihilation, the first in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, and its comparatively lackluster sequel, Authority, were written by two different authors.

Annihilation is a tightly composed and creepy novel about an expedition gone very very wrong, Authority goes in another direction. Is it trying to be a spy novel? If so, it fails pretty spectacularly. Few moments in the book had me feeling any sense of urgency, and the first half slogs through too much background information for my taste. I found it hard to care about Control’s family history, and even harder to follow his meandering thoughts.

As readers we’re acutely aware of how incompetent Control must seem to everyone else. It’s painful to read, and doesn’t improve until the final two parts of the book, when things at the Southern Reach start to get really weird. I got the feeling that VanderMeer wrote the second half of the book first, and then decided to flesh out the beginning with information about Control’s mom, dad, and grandfather. As a result, the first half of the book could have used a lot of tightening up in terms of plot and characterization. That said, by the end of the novel, I still found myself wanting to read the finale.

Authority is not as good as Annihilation, but if, like me, you’re already hooked and need to get some answers about what the heck is going on in Area X, Authority is the place to start.


2 thoughts on “Book review: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Although it’s a subpar sequel, it’s still a fun read. Thanks for sharing the great review! If you’re ever interested in some other great book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

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