Listened 9/7/14 - 9/20/14
4 Stars: Strongly Recommended to readers of books 1 & 2, for, you know, obvious reasons
Audio 9.6 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Released: September 2014
WARNING: Do not read this review if you haven't read Annihilation and Authority. I can't be blamed if I end up spoiling a whole lotta shit if you do....
Read my review of Annihilation here.
Read my review of Authority here.
Jeff Vandermeer brings the creepy back in the third installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy. And he also brings a bit of a twist. Unlike its predecessors, the mysteries and history of Area X come to us through multiple narrators, spanning across three different points in time. Oh yeah, you heard me, we're back inside Area X people! And we're carried back in on the shoulders of Ghost Bird (read by Carolyn McCormick) and Control (read by Bronson Pinchot); Gloria, the original director (read by Xe Sands); and Saul, the Lighthouse Keeper (read by Bronson Pinchot). It's like an all-out Border reunion, yo!
And so we venture back into the land of mystery - after aching for it so badly - by way of another entry point, one found or made by Ghost Bird at the end of Authority. As she gives Control the grand tour, heading directly for the island and its dilapidated lighthouse in search of answers, we are treated to a second story line - that of Gloria and her time within The Southern Reach... including her first, unapproved, foray across the border with Whitby and how - or more importantly WHY - she secures herself a spot in the 12th expedition. And while THAT story unravels itself, we're introduced to Saul the lighthouse keeper (AKA the Crawler), pre-Area X. His story takes us back to the town before the Border came down, before shit got weird, and sheds some light - or possibly shadow - on the S&S Brigade, who strangely enough, are in some way, shape, or form, present at the time of the "change" that comes over what will soon become Area X.
Questions, questions. The trilogy is complete and I still have so many questions. And, believe it or not, I'm fairly at ease with that. Jeff Vandermeer said, in his panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival this year, that he specifically and intentionally left portions of this story open to reader interpretation, stating that, as a reader himself, he never liked authors who took care to clean up all the loose ends. And you absolutely get a sense of that as the final book unfolds. Those subtle little nuances that nibbled at you throughout the entire series - why can't the expeditions bring electronics into Area X with them? why must everyone forgo their names and be reduced to their skill sets? what causes the catalyst that created Area X? is it a tower or a tunnel? what is the light at the bottom of its steps and where do those words that the Crawler is writing come from? what is howling in those reeds? what is up with that dead mouse and indestructible plant in the Director's drawer? why is Whitby so doggone strange? - each one of those questions are brought back into play and played with some more in the third installment. Are any of them actually answered? Well, That, my friend, is between you and the book, isn't it?!
What I found most interesting about these additional perspectives - the history of Area X before it was, well, Area X; the home-like tug it had on Gloria; the desire it created in Control to learn more; the uncertainty it created for Ghost Bird - is how they added just as many questions as they had answered. As any series worth its salt will. I marveled at the way Jeff Vandermeer slowly unraveled each mystery, at the time and care he took to allow our minds to wander where it would, without hindering or aiding us, giving us just enough information without giving it all away, making us as much a part of the story as his own characters. As we read, it was as if we watched over their shoulders, weighing out what they were observing, what they were thinking, and pulled together theories of our own. It was all very LOST-ish to me, towards the end, for whatever that's worth.
A brilliant mind-fuck of series. One that worked incredibly well as an audiobook. For those of you who haven't read the series yet (for shame! Didn't I warn you not to read this review unless you've read Book 1 and 2?!) I highly encourage you to experience the entire thing in audio. Downpour.com has them for your immediate downloading pleasure! Go, listen, and prepare to have your mind blown.