I opened up Authority not knowing what to expect. The first book in the Souther Reach Trilogy, Annihilation, was such a unique, complete, organic, and visceral experience that I had no idea where the series was heading. Annihilation was a wonderful ride that somehow managed to feel like a satisfying singular story but still leave so much undiscovered in Area X. I finished it and started wracking my brain trying to figure out what would come next. Would there be more from inside Area X? Would following a narrator with her sanity under scrutiny? Would I find out what the moaning creature in the marsh was? What the hell is up with that writing on the wall?
What I found in Authority was something wholly different but cut from the same bolt of storytelling cloth.
Seeing through the eyes of someone only known as The Biologist in Annihilation allowed for a hyper focused view of what went on in Area X. What the other members of the twelfth expedition truly thought and felt remains a mystery.
In Authority, VanderMeer zooms his storytelling lens out and refocuses on The Southern Reach, an agency as steeped in as much mystery as Area X itself. To borrow a phrase from Ben Kenobi, Authority is “Your first step into a larger world.”
Not only does VanderMeer broaden the scope, but he also switches perspective. We now follow the story of John Rodriguez, aka Control, as he steps in as the Director of the Southern Reach. What he finds there is complex culture of intertwining motives. The old director’s second in command is a petty thorn in his side and everyone else at the agency seems off balance, hiding something. There is even more going on within the walls of a government building than out in the pristine wilderness of Area X.
In Authority we get to see the effects of Area X on everything outside the mysterious section of coastline. VanderMeer brings a real sense of thoughtfulness to the character of Control. Even though it is told through the third person, you really get into Control’s head as he works through the strange things happening around him. But what is even more intriguing is that we get to peek at a world outside Area X. A world that has been fundamentally changed by what has happened along that coastline. This adds an entire new layer to the story and makes it feel so much more real.
Authority is very different from its predecessor. It’s pace is slower, more deliberate and organized rather than organic. It is like a mirror held up to the character and the setting. There is a slow burning shot through Authority. It keeps you preciously balanced on your back foot as it slowly peels away the wrapper around what is really going on at the Agency, the Tower, the lighthouse, and within everyone touched in some way by Area X.
But, like the previous book, VanderMeer pulls off the clever trick of giving us a whole cohesive story while torturing us with more questions, leaving eager for the final volume.
Annihilation and Authority are two sides, two perspectives, of the same mysterious coin. If Annihilation was the initial shock of a direct injection of a strange story substance into your brain, Authority is that same concoction sitting quietly and festering in mystery. We’re starting to feel the side effects, but whatever has infected us hasn’t quite run its course. Not until we get our hands on Acceptance.
I know this rabbit is ready for the conclusion of the Southern Reach Trilogy. But she’ll have to wait until September 2.