Annihilation and The Goblin Emperor quick reviews

Travelling to work on the train the past week has allowed me to catch up on reading and on two books I’ve seen recommended a lot. Namely Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer; and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I’ll review them in the order I read them.

Annihiliation by Jeff VanderMeer3/5

I’m afraid to say this book just wasn’t for me. It’s well written and I finished the whole thing but it was the story I didn’t enjoy. It’s not the kind I usually read – you could argue why did I read it in the first place but been trying to broaden my horizons and it’s been recommended a lot – and it didn’t grab me. Found it interesting enough, but not enough felt like it had been resolved by the end of the book.

The whole book had a very X-files vibe to it. Secret government agencies, Area-X, strange expeditions and goings-on. The secrets behind the plot were teased overtime, mixed with flashbacks to help flesh out and give depth to the central character. The flashbacks felt like an unnecessary addition at first, but the main character ends up spending a lot of time on their own and they helped illuminate the reasons behind their actions without the usual mirror provided by the reactions of and conversations with another human being.

The plot just didn’t grab me, a few too many odd things happening and conspiracies within conspiracies for me to enjoy. But the book was well enough written that I finished the whole thing over the course of a day.

For someone who enjoys these stories more I’m sure it would be a 4 or 5/5. Just wasn’t for me.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison4/5

I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy this book from the first few chapters. The story, of the unfavoured 4th son of the old Emperor of the Elf lands who now finds himself replacing his dead father, should be an easy introduction to the world of the book. The main character has to learn how things go on at the Imperial court as much as we do. However the book doesn’t shy away from throwing a bewildering amount of strange terms at you and it took me a good while to settle into enjoying the book.

The plot, centered around the challenges of the new Emperor as he adjusts to the complexities of court and running his empire, I think is well handled. Most of the conflict comes from other characters, and there are plenty of well fleshed out ones each with their own motivations and lots of depth to them. The underlying story threads kept me interested and I was curious to see how each one resolved and I ploughed through the book in a couple of days.

I do wish a bit more had happened in the book. From what I understand there is no sequel planned, which is frustrating as there are a lot of unanswered questions at the book. The ending is satisfying, but perhaps more of the plot threads could have been advanced or resolved. The plot moves along at a graceful pace, and over the course of the 500 pages of it there are two big moments that happen. If the pacing had moved along a bit quicker, and more aspects of the story had been drawn to a conclusion by the end, I think this would easily be a 5/5.

But I can’t overlook the tricky opening, the abundance of terminology for readers to get their heads around – though there is a handy glossary at the back of the book – and the slow pace of the plot and the unresolved aspects of it.

A thoroughly good book which I recommend, especially for the tone of hope and optimism that runs throughout it, that personally I feel falls just shy of true greatness.