Title: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: FSG Originals
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Area X. It’s a mysterious region that has slowly transformed the landscape within it, cutting itself off from the rest of the continent. No one knows why Area X exists, nor how it came to be; all that is known is that a sudden cataclysm created it, and it’s been thriving ever since. The Southern Reach is the organization in charge of investigating Area X and discovering its secrets; it sends expeditions into the region to learn all they can, but many have ended in mystery and tragedy. In the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation, a new expedition is entering Area X, but they have no idea what mysteries and horrors might await them.
The Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) is a fascinating dystopian tale full of mystery and strangeness. VanderMeer tells a frightening tale full of intriguing characters, set in a place that is impossible to understand.
It’s hard to know where to begin in reviewing the Southern Reach trilogy. These book are so gripping and weird and creepy that it’s hard to put into words exactly why they are so good. That’s one thing that VanderMeer does incredibly well, though: putting things into words that really shouldn’t be able to be described. Some of the aspects of Area X can’t exist in our world, and it’s difficult to conceive of them, yet VanderMeer’s lush descriptions inspire the reader’s imagination. In a novel full of strange and wondrous things, this ability is so important, and it’s something that VanderMeer does expertly.
There is some crazy stuff going on in the Southern Reach trilogy; it has a real LOST vibe, which I both appreciated and enjoyed. While the mythology and mystery are fascinating and really provide a great framework for the novel, it’s the characters that will keep readers coming back for more. The books are told in roughly chronological order, with flashbacks filling in gaps. The first two novels, Annihilation and Authority, are told from opposite sides: an expedition into Area X and the Southern Reach headquarters, respectively. This gives the reader fascinating insight into what’s happening; they have a deeper and broader understanding of the history and politics of Area X than any single character in the novel.
Control is the narrator of the second book, Authority, and while there are a lot of memorable and intricately developed characters in this trilogy, it’s him (real name: John Rodriguez) who really jumps off the page. I won’t say more, because it’s really best to discover who he is and why he is so amazing on your own terms, but let me tell you, I’m not the only one who is a huge fan of this character.
One of the main themes in the Southern Reach trilogy is isolation. The characters are alone, and Area X is, by definition, in isolation, cut off from any semblance of the normal world. A fundamental truth of these novels is our utter inability to understand that which is truly unknowable, which is Area X, so while you do get some answers by the end of the trilogy, everything is not wrapped up in a neat little package.
Why review all these books at once, rather than each installment in the Southern Reach trilogy individually? Well, there are a few reasons for this, but mostly because they are such a great single unit. Yes, there are separate stories being told in each book of the trilogy, but what is really beautiful about the series is how well each book fits in with the others. It’s incredibly well done, but a warning: once you start this series, you won’t want to (or be able to) stop, so make sure you have all the books on hand before you start!