Going into this book, I was expecting something different. Annihilation was an introduction to Area X through the eyes of a new expedition, and I was hoping to get more insight into the area with the second book in the series. I did, but not quite the way I expected. Instead of taking us back to Area X, this time VanderMeer chose to show us the bureaucratic organization that organized the expeditions and show how those expeditions had affected those at the organization.
The trilogy -- The Southern Reach -- takes its name from this organization, and with this novel, it makes sense. Where Annihilation was really about the biologist and her incentive for joining the expedition, Authority takes us behind the scenes to show us what went into making the expedition happen. It becomes clear near the start of the novel that the expedition was more about the Southern Reach than Area X, so now we get a better understanding of where the trilogy might be headed.
Authority is told from the perspective of Control, an anti-terrorism operative who has started a career at the Southern Reach, ostensibly to replace the director, who has gone missing. Using his training as an operative, he delves more deeply into the organization, but even as he starts to find answers to what questions he has, he finds even more questions, the least of which appears to be an uprooted plant that was left in the desk drawer in the old director's office. What he finds is more and more strangeness similar to that found in Annihilation, only this time outside of Area X.
The main character's given name isn't Control -- it's actually John Rodriguez -- but he prefers to go by that moniker. He's carried that name since he was young, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that he's struggling to maintain control in all aspects of his life. Aside from feuding with the assistant director, who firmly believes that her old boss will be returning, he's managing his past, his present, and his future, all while just barely holding on to all of it. By the end of the novel, he seems to have regained some of it, but like Annihilation, Authority doesn't end with happy endings and everything neatly explained. Given the shift in attention VanderMeer made from book one to book two, I expect book three will be something else entirely.
The story took a little longer to read (let's face it; reading details about office politics isn't as engaging as reading about a brand new world with a serious case of oddness about it), but it felt worth the effort. The only time I really felt like I was struggling to stay with the story was near the very end, where I felt VanderMeer stretched out the pacing to the point of annoyance. I get that he was trying to build tension, but by that point in the story, I had lost patience in it and was ready for the story to reach its inevitable confrontation.
Aside from that, though, the novel takes us in a new direction and shows us that what we thought we knew about Area X (such as it is) was only the smallest part of the story. I'm eager to see how the series wraps up, but I feel pretty confident in the series so far to believe that it won't be a disappointment.