Animorphs #16: “The Warning” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 1998
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Jake has made an amazing discovery: a Web site about the Yeerks. Should the Animorphs investigate? If they do, they might walk right into a trap. And if they don’t, they’ll never know if they’re fighting their enemies alone…
Plot: We’re into a section of the series that I only have vague memories of. Yes, I recognized this cover. No, I didn’t remember the craziness within. And now it’s dated craziness as well, so even better! Right away, I had an inkling of what I was getting into when the story started with Jake methodically explaining his online screen name: Bball25. “Bball,” in case you were confused, means basketball! Glad he clarified. The story quickly falls into place after Jake runs an Internet search for the word “Yeerk” and discovers an entire website devoted to discussing the topic.
I’m going to just make a happy little list right here in the beginning of the many, many dated references made in this book.
- bizarre online screen names
- Yahoo (as a relevant thing)
- chain letters
- chat rooms
- limits of 10 words typed in chat rooms
- Internet speeds
And all of that is referenced quite a bit, because the whole story revolves around this website and the Animorphs’ mission to discover how much of it is legit and whether or not it is an elaborate Yeerk trap.
The group decides that while most of the users in the chatroom on this site are the usual Internet crazies, there are a few that seem to actually know what they are talking about. More worringly, one user is concerned that his father may be a Controller and is contemplating confronting him about it. But with nothing but screen names to go on, the Animorphs are stuck. They decide they will need to break into the headquarters of the billionaire techie who owns much of the Internet, essentially, to discover who these users are and whether or not this is a trap or these are real, potential allies. Unfortunately, this headquarters is located far, far away.
To get there, they come up with the rather ingenious plan to morph flies, hop a plane, and simply fly there, free of charge! Perks of being an Animorph, I guess! But this plan quickly falls apart as some of the flight passengers are rather put off by the presence of a swarm of flies on their plane, and Jake gets swatted. The rest of the group has to….gather up pieces of him off the wall, and he barely makes it off the plane to demorph. Breaking into the headquarters, however, does go much more smoothly. For a distraction to allow Marco and Ax (the two most tech-capable of the group) to hack into a database and pull the user info for the chat room screen names, the others morph into their battle morphs and put on a little show for everyone in the building: a grizzly bear with a mop, a tiger with a bucket in its mouth, a hawk flying around above it all. This seems to work, though I do question why they never worried that there might be Controllers working there who would immediately see through this bizarre little scene.
The trip back home goes as well as can be expected, though Jake is still very rattled by his near-death experience. Once home, the team must decide what to do with the list of names they now have: go after the kid who might confront his Dad about being a Controller any day now (Cassie’s primary objective) or break into the mansion of the owner of the website and figure out whether he is a potential ally. Jake decides for the latter, reasoning that the stakes are much higher than the fate of one boy.
Breaking into the mansion, however, proves to be a disaster. The mansion is completely locked down: multiple levels of gates, guard dogs, the works. While in bird morph, they even over hear the guards discussing their boss’s orders to shoot any animals that look “strange.” This just makes their need to know what’s truly going on all the more urgent, so spotting an open window, they decide to fly in, demorph, and check it out. At least, that’s what they want to happen. Turns out that the owner is even more paranoid than they thought and that there are some type of security wards on the windows as well. They only discover this, however, after Rachel has flown threw and lies knocked out (or dead?) in the room within. Ax, too, who was flying close behind her veers away only to get knocked to the ground and dragged off by a guard dog.
The Animorphs are in a state of panic. They weren’t prepared at all for this mission, and it’s showing. Now, down two people, the only goal is to get them back before they’re hurt, killed, or, in Rachel’s case, forced to make the decision to trap herself in morph rather than reveal her human form once two hours have passed.
Desperate, Jake decides the only way in is through. With that in mind, he veers off to The Gardens, quickly acquires a convenient rhino morph, and makes his way back to the group. What follows is a fun little scene of Jake simply smashing his way through everything in front of him. I don’t remember this morph being used too often after this, but the sheer destruction that the rhino leaves in its wake seems to make a good case for its more regular use. The eyesight is pretty bad, though, so I guess that’s why it doesn’t make its way into their regular rotation.
After bashing through everything in his way, Jake and the others finally come face to face with Mr. Fenestre, the billionaire tech wizard himself. They then learn the full truth, and I swear, it’s straight out of a soap opera. Turns out that yes, Fenestre is a Controller (though he implies a sort of partnership between himself and his host body, claiming that with his own superior technical skills, he was able to raise their lives from one of obscurity to the wealth they now both enjoy). But he’s not just any Controller, he’s the “lesser twin” of Visser Three himself. Guys. It’s an evil twin plot line! Though I guess the case could be made for either of them being the “evil” one. Yeerks, however, don’t look kindly on twins, immediately granting one the more privileged life over the other. Not able to make anything of himself and his life in the shadow of his brother, Fenestre turned to making a life for himself in his host body, hence the tech wealth. Visser Three, however, didn’t like this, or any, success by his brother and has been hunting him ever since. Hence why the place is locked down and the guards are to shoot any animal, in case it’s Visser Three in morph.
The Animorphs rightly wonder how he has survived being hunted by Visser Three if he needs to feed in a Yeerk pool once every three days. Fenestre, however, has yet another secret: he’s discovered a way to gain Kandrona rays through another source. Instead of soaking in a Yeerk pool, he simply eats one of his fellow Yeerks, somehow absorbing the Kandrona rays directly from their flesh. So, yes, we now have evil twins AND cannibalism. To do this, he set up the website to attract Yeerk Controllers that he can then track down, extract (you can guess how well this goes for the hosts), and eat at his leisure, thus never needing to leave the fortress that is his house and make himself vulnerable to Visser Three.
The Animorphs are horrified, Cassie most of all at the fate of the human hosts. Jake and the others, however, also see the benefit of a Yeerk who is single-handedly taking out more Controllers than they ever have. Their main priority, however, is still to rescue Rachel and Ax. Fenestre agrees to hand them over and to remain in his mansion forever. Jake warns that if they ever catch him outside of it, they will kill him.
The story ends with the mansion mysteriously burning down days later, though Fenestre does escape alive. Jake doesn’t admit whether this was him, Cassie, or just a happy coincidence that Fenestre is now out in the world again, free to be hunted by them and Visser Three.
Our Fearless Leader: Poor Jake. In all of the other books, we see him as a strong, competent leader who for the most part always makes the right decisions when he needs to. Then we get to his books. And, importantly, we see that these decisions are painful and difficult for him. And, worse, his stories are always the ones where those plans just don’t work so well.
In this book, we got another good look into Jake’s mindset of what it means to be leader and have to make big decisions. We also saw his thought process for what it means in the smaller moments. On the way back from breaking into the tech center, Cassie tells him that it is alright to be afraid and to change the plan from morphing flies due to his near death experience. He ends up getting fairly mad at her saying that the others don’t want him to be the leader who lets them know that it’s ok to be afraid and make different decisions based on that fear. He needs to be the leader that shows that you can push through fear and move forward. He rightly points out that if he began changing missions based on fears, as a group, they would rack up such a list of things that they all had legitimate reasons to fear doing, that they would essentially paralize themselves.
It’s a good moment showing both the thought that Jake has put into his own view of leadership, and showing the weaknesses of Cassie’s view of life. Her empathy is a major strength for the team, but here, we see that her approach is not always right, and Jake fairly harshly calls her out on it.
The last scene where Jake must make a decision about what to do with Fenestre is probably one of the more ethically heavy decision points we’ve seen in the series (the other big one probably being in “The Andalite Chronicles” when they debated flushing the pool of Yeerks into space). As we see with Jake’s ultimate decision, he is beginning to walk down the harsh, but pragmatic, path that many war-time leaders find themselves on. This is good foreshadowing for the Jake we see in the end of the series.
Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel and Tobias as a pair are the most skeptical of the Yeerk website, both believing it to be a trap and not likely real allies in their fight. Not sure what this says about them both. Other than that, Rachel spends almost the entire last third of the story knocked out as a bald eagle.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, as well, is skeptical of the website. This seems pretty in-line with his general less trusting outlook on humanity. He’s the most dedicated to the fight, but he’s the least likely to expect help along the way. I think this makes a lot of sense considering the way he grew up with an aunt and uncle who didn’t care for him at all. Tobias is also probably the most upset when Ax and Rachel are trapped. It’s his best friend and his quasi girlfriend, so this reads true.
Peace, Love, and Animals: In this book, we really see the different perspectives that Jake and Cassie bring to the group. Their conversation about what it means to be a leader was very enlightening both for her own perspective, and, more importantly, to hear Jake’s thoughts on the matter. Further, we see the role of support that Cassie provides Jake. Jake clearly trusts Cassie’s read of people and situations.
However. Towards the end where they learn what Fenestre has been up to, and the fact that the human hosts don’t survive the “extraction” process of the Yeerks from their heads, Cassie goes a bit crazy and tries to attack him. And then the real problems start. She doesn’t agree with the idea of letting him continue, and would obviously rather he die, even if this goes against her general philosophy. This exchange between Jake and her follows:
<What do you expect me to do?> I asked her. <You want to get rid of this
man because he’s evil? Do you want to do it yourself, Cassie?>
<You . . . your morph would do It better,> she said.
<You want me to get rid of him for you?> I asked. <That’s what you want?>
And again! Again I lose all respect for Cassie! Whether I agree with her convictions or not (in this case, she definitely not wrong, though there’s also no right answer here), the fact that she uses the excuse of Jake’s tiger morph “doing it better” to kill this guy rather than bloodying her own hands for her convictions just pisses me off. She’s essentially wanting to dictate the tough choice but make someone else do the dirty work for what that would really mean. It just reads as cowardly and selfish to me. I’d like to think that she burned down the mansion in the end, as a way for making up for this truly horrible moment.
In the end of the book, I did like the fact that she’s the only one who still thought of the boy in the chatroom with the Controller father. She goes to his house in wolf morph and tells him that he can’t trust his father anymore. And this is terrible and soul crushing for her to do, basically taking this child’s faith in his parent away from him to protect him. Another good redeeming moment for her.
The Comic Relief: At one point, Marco and Jake have a conversation about whether or not they would be able to transition back into “real life” if the war suddenly ended tomorrow. Jake is adamant that this is possible. But Marco, ever the pragmatist, is doubtful that anyone of them could live a normal life after experiencing all they have. And they’re not even halfway through their whole ordeal! It’s even more sad that Jake insists that he could be a “normal boy” again in a book where we’re really beginning to see the toll that leadership is taking on him. The Jake from book 1 would have never imagined leaving a Yeerk Controller alive who is killing human hosts just because he’s also killing off hundreds of Yeerks as well.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax plays a crucial role early in the book with his alien tech skillz. Right when the book started and Jake was searching the Internet for the word “Yeerk,” modern-day me was like “No!!!! They can track that!!” But in the very next scene they discuss taking precautions to mask their presence when searching around the chat room and website, and Ax is able to quickly do this. There are a lot of jabs doled out between him and Marco about the backwards earthlings and their rudimentary technology. And then in the last part of the book, he, too, is trapped and missing for most of it.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Jake swatted as a fly! We’ve had a few near-death experiences so far, but the description of just how bad Jake’s situation is…it’s bad. The other Animorphs are literally discussing how to best “scoop” up the remains of his body. As they’re flying away, legs that they are carrying are falling off. They’re concerned that they left behind to much of his body for him to demorph. It’s just terrible.
Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot for either couple. Jake has some good conversations with Cassie, though they are more representative of the different perspectives they each represent in the group than having to do with their relationship. Marco sends a fake message to Jake from “Cassie” in the opening scene which Jake responds to with a funny put-down that he can’t date until his friend Marco gets a girlfriend, which they both know will never happen, so “Cassie” will just have to live with disappointment
However! Jake is with me on the interesting relationship between Marco and Rachel!
Marco and Rachel have a strange sort of relationship. I haven’t figured out whether they pretend they can’t stand each other but secretly like and admire each other, or if they really just can’t stand each other.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Of course Visser Three is the evil twin! And of course he’s been a total ass to his lesser Yeerk brother this entire time. And then of course once the guy gets even a little taste of success Visser Three decides that it’s best to just kill the guy off all told. Not that this brother is really a joy either, but it does seem that he is largely a product of his circumstances. He also claims that he is in some type of partnership with his host body, which is something Visser Three would never even contemplate.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There weren’t any overtly tragic moments in this book. But this does feel like the beginning of the end for Jake’s ability to exist outside of his leadership role. He has to make so many very tough decisions in this book. His view of leadership, the fact that he can’t really allow himself to even have human emotions, is so sad. And then to see him slowly start down some highly ethically questionable paths…Marco is more right than he knows: none of them can go back, least of all Jake.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This whole section exists because of the group’s predisposition for not really planning at all. And here we see the results that, statistically, should probably be more common than we see. They did virtually no scouting of the mansion, and then when they tried to infiltrate it through one of the most obvious routes (the window) things go downhill pretty much immediately. They only escape through sheer luck based on Fenestre having very different goals than almost any other Yeerk Controller who could have been holed up there.
“A ‘mix of truth and lies’ is like the definition of the Internet,” Rachel said. “Equal parts reality and delusion.”
Truer words have never been spoken.
Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 7
No score. Not a huge impact either way with this one.
Rating: I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t remember hardly anything about it, but it’s a great combination of funny moments (even more than there were originally with the dated stuff), action scenes (the rhino part is great), and a good introspection into Jake’s philosophy on leadership and where he is headed as a character.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!