Whereas the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, the darkly beautiful Annihilation stands perfectly well on its own, Authority requires both a lead-in and a follow-up. It’s a creepy ass book about, well, part of the problem is that it’s not really about anything that makes sense independent of Books 1 and 3. Essentially, about a year after the events chronicled by The Biologist in Annihilation, a new director is sent by Central to oversee the Southern Reach. He’s kind of an overconfident dick, a spy/agent who washed out by virtue of that same overconfidence, and is now relegated to status of fixer (tho arguably a fixer is just as valuable as any other covert operative, IMO, but the spycraft in this book is fairly fungible.) The main reason he wasn’t cut loose altogether was his mom, who’s an agency hotshot and still pulling a lot of strings from behind the scenes.
The main resistance to John Rodriguez’s presence is Grace, the assistant director, who’s convinced that The Director is still coming back after the events of Annihilation, never mind the fact that everyone else came back weeks ago. Yes, this includes The Biologist, with whom John strikes up a weird not-quite-rapport when he interviews her about her experiences in Area X, the biologically anomalous region that the Southern Reach was set up to investigate and contain. As John tries to get to the bottom of what’s been going on in Area X and the Southern Reach, he slowly becomes aware that Central itself is resorting to unsavory tactics to exert its own authority.
My favorite part of the book was absolutely John finding the artwork in that hideously creepy scene. As an examination of lines blurring between the researcher and the researched, as well as a metaphor for the mind-numbing quality of life in a stagnant bureaucracy, this was a fairly good novel. As an explanation of Area X, it provided little further illumination than the first book. As a family novel, I found it lukewarm; as a romance, quite gross actually, particularly in comparison with Annihilation.
Idk how I feel about that ending. The last scenes at the Southern Reach were quite horrifying, and I was quite impressed with the twist regarding who The Director really was. But I didn’t really latch on to John as being someone to root for, much less invest in, nor did I feel similarly for The Biologist as she appears in this book. I’ll definitely be borrowing the third book in the series to see how it all plays out, but Authority was not a great book on its own. Still better than that dreadful movie adaptation of Annihilation tho.