Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

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The second book in a trilogy is always a little tricky. They can’t wrap up everything that happened in the first book, and they have add enough mystery to keep you hungry for the next one. Essentially, book two is usually a placeholder, meant to set up the big showdown in volume 3. So right now, I don’t want to say that I found Authority, the second book in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy to be disappointing, but I did expect for it to be better than it was.

Book 1, Annihilation, ended with our protagonist known only as The Biologist, rowing deeper into Area X. No one knows (or is willing to say) what happened to Area X 30 years ago, but something about its malevolent atmosphere defies explanation. The Biologist was part of the official Twelfth edition. The first group reported it as a paradise, the second ended in a mass suicide, the third in a mass murder and the eleventh expedition returned mysteriously, only to die of cancer months later. The Biologist set off to find answers.

Authority details the bureaucratic aspects of the secretive Southern Reach agency, responsible for figuring out just what the hell is happening in Area X. We follow John Rodriguez, nicknamed Control (a little on the nose there). He’s the replacement director and has inherited a largely uncooperative staff, who feel they know how things should be run.

We learn a few things pretty quickly-some members of the Twelfth expedition have returned, surprising those of us who remember what happened to them in Annihilation. The women, including The Biologist say they can’t remember anything. Control is pretty sure The Biologist is lying, but can’t figure out why or how to prove it. We learn that there have been many expeditions, far more than the official twelve. We learn that some working at the Southern Reach know far more than they’re willing to say. And we learn that something is looming on the horizon, but the men and women who have spent their professional lives looking for answers can’t seem to see it.

The book, like most second books do, plods along pretty slowly, answering the questions we didn’t really care about asking. It deepened the mystery and introduced us to the people and concepts that will probably be relevant in book three. I was interested, but not particularly engaged as I read…until the final 40 pages. That’s when the book builds to a crescendo of insanity that left me genuinely excited for the next book.

Authority was a decent read, but I’ll have to read the third book in the trilogy to figure out how much I truly liked it. If you liked Annihilation, I’d encourage you to give it a try, even though the books are totally different. But if you didn’t read or like that book, I’d give Authority a hard pass.

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