Have you read Annihilation and Authority and now you’re ready for some answers? Jeff VanderMeer delivers the answers you want, and much more, in Acceptance, the final book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. This is a hard one to review, because it’s kind of the “big reveal” book, although it’s really not VanderMeer’s style to smack you in the face with shocking revelations. Shocking things do happen, to be sure, but events unfold like one of the deadly flowers you might find in Area X, and you’ll find, while reading, that all the clues were there, in this, and the first two books, and the author wisely trusts his readers to follow the cleverly scattered breadcrumbs.
In Acceptance, we join up with Control and Ghost Bird as they head back into Area X, in search of a team member that Ghost Bird is intimately connected to. The lighthouse keeper, Saul Evans, is a huge part of the story, and his is a poignant and important one, as one of the first to experience the otherworldly encroachment of Area X. The psychologist/Director gets her own story, and it humanizes a figure that seemed a little to the left of human in Annihilation. If you’ll remember, she was manipulating her team, and eventually, as everything fell apart around her, she found herself succumbing to Area X. Perhaps, among the most important things for me, was the mystery of what happened to the biologist, and she has her say as well.
Keep in mind, the border of Area X has shifted drastically, and it seems to be continuing its advance, but what does that mean for mankind? This trilogy is very much about transformation, of the literal and figurative kind, and the author does a phenomenal job in filling out each character’s background, and their motivations. The alternating narrative carries an undeniable sense of creeping dread, a prelude to a quiet apocalypse, but no less terrifying for its subtlety. We learn about who these people were, before Area X took over their existence, and it’s their very human need for answers, at almost any cost, that leads them to their ultimate destination, and sometimes, to their utter doom, although some are caught up in Area X through no fault of their own.
The wild and terrifying beauty that is Area X, and VanderMeer’s ability to create such a rich, immersive, fully realized place, is one of the things that makes these books what they are, and indeed, Area X is a living, breathing character all its own. Area X is the soft rustle of the leaves, a night sky full of alien stars, and the ripples on an ocean as a leviathan breaches the surface, so similar, yet so different from our own natural world. Disturbing, strange, and beautiful in equal measure, Acceptance, like Annihilation and Authority, will transport you, and it brings the trilogy full circle. Books like this don’t come around very often, and this is a series not to be missed.