I am already back with a new review; This time it is Authority by Jeff Vandermeer. It is the second instalment in a three-part series and it has been just as captivating as the first one.
Since Iam still on vacation, I was able to read the book in only two days. This is also due to the fact that it is - just as its predecessor - incredibly good. The book follows John Rodriguez, Control, as he struggles to reorganise the Southern Reach after the events depicted in Annihilation. You can find the review of this book by clicking here.
Authority continues to establish on the mysteries unravelled in part one, while giving us a new glance at another side of the picture. Step-by-step, we learn more about Area X. Yet, Jeff Vandermeer does not let us see the full picture and I have still so many questions about the Southern Reach and what the hell happened on the Twelfth Expedition.
I recommend it to everyone, who is a fan of the weird fiction genre and has already read Annihilation. If you have been wary if part two might keep up with Annihilation, I can tell you that it can and does and I am looking forward to reading part three soon. If you have not yet read Annihilation, I recommend you to do so, as you will not be able to fully understand and appreciate Authority.
I’ll rate this book an 8,5/10. With Annihilation raising the bar to a high level, it proved a challenge for Authority to outperform its predecessor. With a great protagonist, chilling topics and an intriguing story, it makes for a worthy sequel.
Jeff Vandermeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in 1968. He has won many awards for his bestselling books and he is mainly associated with the weird fiction genre. Until now he wrote an array of different books from novels to nonfiction books and also short stories
Publisher: 4th Estate
Date of release: 06.05.2014
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As always, I will start with a short summary of the events in Authority.
The book follows John Rodriguez. He is the new director of the Southern Reach agency, because the former - the psychologist on the Twelfth Expedition - is nowhere to be found. Grace, the assistant director is trying to fight him every step of the way.
John wants to be called Control by his employees, as he starts to work on the mysteries the old director has left behind. Things quickly turn dark, as he discovers a wall full of the writings that we have seen inside the tunnel in Area X and Control gets a sense that no one is telling the truth. He continues his investigation and soon finds out that the director has been across the border on her own and has only been reprimanded slightly for doing so. Things continue to go on, as we (the reader) learn more and more about Area X. For example, that there have been at least 36 missions to uncover its secrets and that the anthropologist, the surveyor as well as the biologist have returned from their expedition - even though we thought they died. Later, he finds the same writings in the director’s bedroom and inside the Southern Reach, Control discovers a room, where Whitby has drawn strange monsters and combined them with pictures of employees of the Southern Reach.
This marks a turn in the book, as now things start to unravel rather quickly. Suddenly, the director seems to return and she brings with her the border. Area X has begun expanding and no one knows why. To be honest, no one knows anything. The Southern Reach has been trying to investigate Area X for decades and it has not inched even a little bit closer to understanding it. Finally, Control flees and tries to find the biologist, who was able to escape earlier from the Southern Reach’s captivity. He finds her and learns that she might not be the biologist but rather an exact replica. She shows him, what might be another entrance into Area X and they both go through.
Here, the book comes to an end and to be blunt I did not mean for the summary to be that long, but the book is still so very present in my mind and I omitted a lot of details already, but chances are that you have read the book, anyway.
With that out of the way, let me say that I think I have been very lucky with the past few books I read, as I really liked them all. In turn, this makes it harder to review them because telling that it was awesome, does not do a book like Authority justice. I need/want to pinpoint what had contributed to me liking the book as much as I did, which is much harder than pointing out the flaws of a novel.
I am a little bit prejudiced in reviewing this book, because I absolutely loved Annihilation, so I started reading this with the same expectation. And to be fair, at first Authority did not disappoint. The book starts with describing Control’s nightmares and then throws us right into the action of Control staring at the survivors of the Twelfth Expedition.
We are thrown into the story at the deep end, which leaves us with almost no time to stop and wonder: Wait a minute, aren’t they supposed to be all dead?
By basically reversing, undoing everything we thought happened in the first volume, Jeff Vandermeer is able to have us start from the very beginning all over again. Once more, we (apparently) know nothing about Area X and the Twelfth Expedition, because we cannot rely on what we learned in Annihilation being true. This rises the level of expectation in me and has me wondering what else I am about the learn that might turn everything upside down. Therefore, I am, starting from page one, engaged in the story and do not want to set the book down.
Next, Jeff Vandermeer starts to establish the well-known sense of mystery and unsettledness. He does this in two steps;
First, he describes some actually unsettling and creepy things, like Control watching the surveyor, who should be dead, interviewing the biologist, who has almost no memory of the expedition, or watching the disturbing footage of the first few expeditions. This serves to keep the reader on the edge of his/her seat, wondering what else is about to be revealed to them.
The second way is even more powerful. He describes Control going about his daily business but he sneaks in a few unsettling thoughts or hints of events every now and then. A good example would be the “smell of rotten honey”. It appears from time to time and has the reader wondering what the meaning of this could be. Even though Control dismisses the smell to the cleaning products, he does not do so convincingly enough, which I think is done on purpose by Jeff Vandermeer to keep us in the dark whether or not there might be more to his. Another thing to mention that goes in the same direction are the “random” thoughts that occur to Control during seemingly normal tasks throughout his day. Those bring to our minds, different scenarios that we might not have thought about or dismissed as improbable but seeing them written “out loud”, somehow reinforces those ideas.
He gradually increases the spookiness of the story. The novel begins more or less benign but starts getting more and more sinister, the longer Control stays at the Southern Reach. Everything leads to the point, when Control discovers Whitby’s “room” above the storage area.
Coincidentally, I read this part at dusk and it made everything all the more intense. I was horrified, when I read that Control felt someone breath behind him and I almost did not want to continue reading. I thought this was going to give me nightmares. Yet, I had to read on, which is another testimony of the book’s greatness. Even though I was so shocked and creeped out, I had to know what was going to happen next. Unable to put the book down, I continued reading.
Control finding Whitby’s room marks a turning point; from now on, things go wild. For me, the story progresses a little too fast and I did not catch everything, I feel I should have. Suddenly, everything happens at once, a door that is not where it is supposed to be, the director’s return along with the border of Area X and Control’s mother, who tells him that he needs to go away, because they (whoever they are) will be coming after him. It is this bridge between everything being normal, to Control fleeing from the Southern Reach in hopes of finding the biologist that went too fast for me. I still do not understand all connections and relationships, which leaves me with a few questions.
On a last note, I do not fully grasp the purpose of the Voice. I know who was behind it but I do not understand why Jeff Vandermeer decided to create the Voice. I felt like he had more plans with Lowry but then decided against that, which leaves the Voice as a remnant of an idea abandoned, making me wonder what the original purpose was. Truth be told, right now I do not think the Voice served any kind of purpose and also the fact that his mother at Central had hypnotised Control did not seem to be of any importance. I think there would have been room for more.
Lastly, my recommendation: I do not think that anybody should just read Authority on its own. It makes no sense to start with volume two of a three-part-series. Instead, I would like you to start reading Annihilation and if you liked that, then you can come back to read Authority and possibly Acceptance, which I, myself, have yet to read.