Annihilation: A Tournament of Books Selection

Posted 13 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Annihilation: A Tournament of Books SelectionAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Published by Macmillan on February 4th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, General, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 195

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.     The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.     They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

This is a great horror novel for people who don’t like horror novels. By that I mean that this novel is delightfully atmospheric without a lot of blood or killer clowns jumping out at you. Some readers may find the story to be a bit slow – but I thought that Vandermeer did a great job in creating a slow burn, but be warned Reader – this is the first of a trilogy (Southern Reach trilogy) and honestly that’s the downside. 

As a Tournament of Books selection – this doesn’t stand alone very well (the good news is that all three books in the trilogy were published in quick succession and therefore are all available). There is a slow building to a climax and then … more mystery. Which is fine – just go get the other two books (or have them on hand before you start). I liked the fact that the expedition was made up completely of women, which enabled Vandermeer to avoid the common sci-fi/horror trope of women being there solely for the men to rescue. 

The characters are interesting and compelling. What’s the biologist’s deal? What the hell is the psychologist’s problem?

Overall, this is an incredibly readable book, but it can’t be read as a standalone – there are just too many questions left open. Area X is described in detail so that the reader can almost feel it closing in around her. 

Added bonus, each book in the trilogy is also short enough (no more than 350 pages) that they can be read in just a few sittings so ideally a reader can get through the whole thing in about a week or so.

As far as The Tournament of Books goes – I don’t see this one lasting long because it simply can’t stand on its own.

Also, here’s a great tell all from Vandermeer in the Atlantic on his writing of The Southern Reach Trilogy. (Spoilers)

Finally, Michael at Literary Exploration has an excellent review on Annihilation here.

What about you, Reader? How do you feel about atmospheric novels? Read any good ones lately? 


April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • Katie McDermott

    I listened to this on audio, and just finished it in the last 2 days… I just don’t think it was for me. Like you stated above, I DO like that it was 4 women, but that was about all that was redeeming for me. I felt there was no character development, making me not care at all about any of the characters. I also really didn’t care what was down in the tunnel/tower… It all just felt pretty anti-climactic. I normally like atmospheric books quite a bit, but I just wan’t into the picture this one was painting. I’m not planning on continuing on with the trilogy, unless someone gives me a truly compelling reason to do so. Nice review, and I agree – I can’t see this lasting past the first round really for ToB!

    • I think that Dept. of Speculation is going to annihilate it. (Ha! Get it? 😉 )

      • Katie McDermott

        You so funny 😉 I could see it going either way, to be honest… I didn’t really like either of the two all that much, but if I HAD to choose (and I do), I personally would choose Dept. of Speculation.

  • I like that you call this a horror novel for people who don’t like horror novels, but series aren’t really my thing (unless we’re talking about Harry Potter). It’s too bad this book doesn’t stand on its own!

  • I have this in my TBR. And I had to laugh – I just finished reading IT so the “killer clowns jumping out at you” was quite appropriate! 🙂

  • Jennine G.

    Two things you stated that I am very grateful for, cause others would neglect to mention it. First, that people who don’t like horror novels would like this one. Second that it’s the first of a trilogy. I’ve bought books that were praised without knowing they were the first of a trilogy. I’ve gotta plan ahead for that ya know! Lol, make sure it doesn’t interfere with my review schedule and make sure all of the books are out (yea, I’m looking at you James Dashner). So thanks April!

    • No problem! I didn’t think about it being a trilogy when I picked it up, which did interfere a little with my ToB reading – but they’re all pretty short so it was okay. 🙂

  • I’m anxiously awaiting the other two in the trilogy to be returned from my library. I agree that this just isn’t a standalone, but I’m thrilled to see where it goes!

  • Does *everything* published in horror/SF/F have to be a series these days?! Really really seems like it…

  • AnnabelSmith

    I LOVED this trilogy so much, and I think you’re absolutely right – it is horror for non-horror readers. I would never pick up a book which was described as horror but I loved these. The horror was all implied and it had a subtlety and weirdness to it. I agree with what you said about being 4 women – that was very refreshing.

    • Yessss, I’m all about the atmospheric horror novels (I’m also for the straight up horror novels too) but these were definitely atmospheric. 🙂

  • This sounds like my kind of horror 🙂 I’m not sure I’ll go out of my way to pick it up until the rest of the series is out though, because for me that’s a great way to start and never finish a series!

  • Alyssa Mathers

    I absolutely loved this book! I loved how weird and horror-y it was. Like uncomfortable, something’s lurking, horror. Of course, the mystery aspect of it makes me love it as well. I said love a lot, sorry 🙂

  • I’m reading this one now, and I like it, but it has a distinctly LOST feeling to it. 🙂

  • Lost in Literature

    I tend to avoid series as well but you’ve got me all interested in this one.
    “Atmospheric” horror is a new term for me but if it feels “LOST-Y”, then I’m interested.
    That’s probably one of the things I really loved about LOST but didn’t know what to call it.:)