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Book Impressions: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

The South Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer includes Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance.

A is for Amazing!

These books are wonderful, but they can be quite difficult to read. They are slow going, and it is often hard to know what’s going on. The science fiction aspect is hazy and uncertain. Perhaps the reason I made it through these books and loved them madly despite their murkiness is because of the psychological aspect. There is a lot going on here that deals with the mind’s shakiness, malleability, and amazing hardiness. I consider this horror at its finest.

The trilogy left me pondering the concepts of names and individual purpose. All three books left me with many unanswered questions, and that’s a good thing! It mirrors life with all its questions, the brain straining under the weight of elusive answers.

These three books are a worthy challenge for a voracious reader—a reader who isn’t afraid to settle in and tough it out. Do you have what it takes to survive the Southern Reach and Area X? I did!

Here are my thoughts (from Goodreads) on each of these amazing books (I awarded all three books a five-star rating):


I don’t know how I feel about this book. I do know that I loved it. Everything about this story is a riddle, and I hope the next one in the series provides a few explanations. There are several interesting ideas here, but one that I found quite interesting is contradictions. So many contradictions. Here are a few examples:
“I did not want to think about it, but I could not stop thinking about it.”
“The stillness was simultaneously an invitation to let down your guard and a rebuke against letting down your guard.”
“It was so clearly not me…and yet it was me.”
“I wanted to continue on, but I could not continue on.”
“A swimming pool. A rocky bay. An empty lot. A tower. A lighthouse. These things are real and not real.”

These few quotes I gathered toward the end, but I’m sure there are many more instances throughout. This is life. Things aren’t always as they seem, and our feelings about ourselves, other people, our surroundings are often in constant commotion and constantly conflicting. When we think we have things figured out, a new variable is introduced to throw us off track.

Labels instead of names are also important here. Names can be so personal, and when you are in Area X, it’s not wise to get to know anyone else on such a personal level. But take away that personal opportunity and you also take away trust, camaraderie, and teamwork (all lacking in this latest expedition to Area X).

Did anyone else observe that the four women are all observers by nature and career: the psychologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor, and the biologist. What do you think about that? How is being observant important here?

What exactly is going on in Area X? I’m not sure yet.



While many questions from the first book are answered, more questions and riddles abound. Many Goodreads reviewers had trouble with the slow pace, but that pace is perfect for this story. The tension builds slowly and then crashes into a cliffhanger of an ending.

The sci-fi aspect is still there, but it takes a backseat to Control’s journey into the Southern Reach project (why he’s there, his background, what he discovers). He is a likable character, and his “outsider” status in an established working community is relatable and actually quite terrifying. Appearances are deceiving, and nothing and no one can be trusted. The puzzle of Area X seems to be unsolvable. What exactly is going on here?

The terror and horror are subtle and blend into the mundane points that make up the plot. Don’t be fooled. This story and everything about the Southern Reach is terrifying. The terror doesn’t necessarily come from the unknown or “alien” aspect. The terror comes from human nature. We are a scary lot.

The idea of boundaries is an interesting topic here.



This final installment in this trilogy is a bit difficult to get through. It’s a slow read, but getting through it and absorbing the entire trilogy as a whole are worth the struggle.

While several questions from the previous two books are answered here, many more questions are raised, which means the trilogy ends in mystery. I like that!

I’m still not even sure what Area X is. I think the lingering mystery is fitting because it gives it all a realistic quality. If anything science fiction happens to us, will we have all the answers? Probably not.

Throughout this series, the concept of boundaries and limits is raised. What I find most interesting is a boundary that expands and changes and a boundary that both hides and protects and confines and constricts. This trilogy is filled with contradictions, including a line at the end of this last book: “You are still there for a moment, looking out over the sea toward the lighthouse and the beautiful awful brightness of the world. Before you are nowhere. Before you are everywhere.”

The lighthouse is another interesting topic. A lighthouse is designed to serve and protect, but it can be a lonely and treacherous place. It’s all about taking the bad with the good. Everything and everyone have at least two sides.

Nothing and no one are what they seem.

The idea of names is another avenue to explore.

These books also present a sense of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So creepy!


What do you think?

My Goodreads


About Ruthie Jones

Reading by Moonlight


2 thoughts on “Book Impressions: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

  1. I absolutely love how thorough you are throughout! And I couldn’t agree more with the Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe. The books were so inherently bizarre and strange. Very creepy. Thanks for the wonderful thoughts!

    If you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!


    Posted by Book Guy Reviews | March 24, 2015, 6:31 pm
  2. Thanks so much! Many books make such wild impressions on me, and I love to share those thoughts. I will definitely check out your blog!


    Posted by Ruthie Jones | March 24, 2015, 6:43 pm

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