Review: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer


Authority is the second book in Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy.

Jeff VanderMeer


FSG Originals, 2014.

In the second installment of his “Southern Reach” trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer expands the madness beyond the barrier surrounding Area X.

Warning! If you haven’t read Annihilation, proceed with caution. There are plenty of spoilers from the previous book included here.

Okay, all safe? Then let’s go…

Authority picks up after the events of Annihilation, with the new director of the Southern Reach attempting to put together what happened to the 12th expedition into the mysterious Area X. Three of the expedition members have mysteriously shown up outside the barrier and are being interrogated by the Southern Reach, including the biologist narrator of the first book. Only the psychologist is missing, and she is revealed to have been the previous director of the Southern Reach.


Annihilation kicked off the creepy “Southern Reach” trilogy earlier this year.

Authority is told in third person, unlike Annihilation, following the new Director, nicknamed Control, as he attempts to piece together what happened in Area X, spars with assistant director Grace, who still waits for her former boss to return, and probes the biologist, now named “Ghost Bird” to further unlock the events surrounding the 12th expedition.

But just like Annihilation, everything starts decaying into Lovecraftian madness. Cut off from its supervisors at Central, the Southern Reach outpost has developed into it’s own strange ecosystem. The mysterious ravings the biologist documented in her journals are written on the walls of the Director’s office, and leading scientist Whitby is exploring strange theories about Area X. Control, the son (and grandson) of a spy finds he is losing memory of his actions after speaking to his boss, the mysterious, asexual Voice. And Ghost Bird’s interrogations get increasingly cryptic.

As the novel progresses, past and present begin to blur as the lines of reality (or unreality) continue to constrict around the Southern Reach. Like the previous Director, Control becomes increasingly obsessed with Area X, and his explorations around the Southern Reach start to mirror the expedition’s experiences in Area X. A visit to a secret cellar maintained by Whitby harks back to the descent into the geographic anomaly of Annihilation, with similarly apocalyptic results.

Eventually, like the biologist in Annihilation, Control embarks on his on quest to discover his own links to the past and to Area X, leading to the finale of Acceptance.


The finale of the “Southern Reach” trilogy, “Acceptance” came out in September.

For me, Authority was the weakest of the trilogy. At twice the length of Annihilation and with less action, I sometimes found it a bit of a slog. But the ending came crashing down with a fury and brought all the threads together nicely for the final act. And even the weakest of the three is a hell of a ride.

The strength of the series so far is VanderMeer’s storytelling tricks that slowly reveal the strangeness and mysteries of Area X. The characters know nothing of what they are observing, and we are learning through their eyes. The varying narrative styles add to the mystery and discoveries. But every revelation introduces a dozen more questions, driving the reader towards the next book.

So despite learning the background of the psychologist and the fate of the biologist from Annihilation, as well as the history of the Southern Reach, the reader still doesn’t have any idea what the fuck is going on in Area X.

—Michael Senft

Buy Authority

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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4 Responses to Review: Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

  1. Pingback: Acceptance | The Relentless Reader

  2. Pingback: Annihilation | The Relentless Reader

  3. Pingback: 2014: My Year in Books — The Good, the Bad and Unread | Relentless Reading (And Writing About It!)

  4. Pingback: Locus Finalists Announced | Relentless Reading (And Writing About It!)

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