Animorphs #21: “The Threat” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1998
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: “The Threat” is a new Animorph named David. At first he’s a valuable warrior. But as crucial battle plans unfold, the Animorphs realize they’ve made a terrible mistake.
Plot: Part two of the David trilogy here I come! This is the one where shit gets real.
This books picks up immediately where the last one ends: with half the team falling through the air as cockroaches. The situation is quickly handled by Rachel and Tobias swooping in to grab them from the air. They all land and demorph. But David, notably, doesn’t have a morphing suit yet. Tobias goes to steal some clothes from a near by shop, but Jake warns that they will need to pay them back. David goes on for a bit about how cool their abilities are and how they could probably steal anything they wanted. Jake is unsettled by this, but has to keep moving. They decide to morph gull to continue scouting out the resort. David is all too eager (again unsettling Jake) to morph his eagle and take down a gull for him to morph, but Jake has Tobias to it (not killing it), and both Tobias and David acquire the gull.
In morph, they team begin circling nearer the resort, but all they can see is security, security, and more security. They can’t see a single way in to this place. All of sudden, Jake is hit by an incredible flash of pain. They realize that one of the guards below is using his sunglasses to shock animals flying nearby with low level Dracon beams to scare off any Andalite bandits. Jake tells the others to take the hit, and then fly away like a real gull would. David does, but is sarcastic about thanking Jake when Jake compliments him on doing a good job.
They all head home, with David crashing in Cassie’s barn. At home, Jake finds out that his cousin Saddler (a kid he never got along well with) has been hit by a bike, and they’re not sure he’s going to make it. Jake is appalled to realize that his first thought is how this will affect the mission. Short answer, it plays out well since his parents leave town for a few days, freeing up Jake to focus on the world summit problem. That is until Cassie calls, cryptically warning Jake that “Dave” from “Letterman” is suddenly off the air: David is missing. Jake heads to the barn and meets up with Cassie and Rachel (Marco can’t get away that night), and decides to morph Homer to track David. Rachel, in owl morph, goes to fetch Tobias, but can’t find Ax. Owl!Cassie follows along. Jake is enraged to discover that David used his lion morph briefly, but then morphed eagle. Looking around further, and after asking Cassie what David talked about that evening (whining about missing TV), they discover a Holiday Inn with a broken window. Jake demorphs and barges in. He confronts David and says they don’t break the law or use their morphs for selfish reasons. David is rebellious and tries to tell Jake that sure, he’s the leader on Animorphs missions, but he doesn’t get to tell David what to do in the mean time. Jake knows that there is a line that needs to be drawn.
“No, that’s not what it’s like, David. I don’t want to come down on you, but the way it is is like this: You want to go around using your powers in selfish ways, then we can’t have you around. You’re just a danger to us. And you’re against what we stand for.”His eyes widened. He rolled off the bed and stood up. “Are you threatening me?”“No. Just telling you the way it is. We’re the only family you have now, David. The only people you can trust. The only people who can help you. We’re all you have. Deal with it.”
David sullenly goes with him. The next day, Cassie comes up with a plan of attack for getting into the resort. Jake morphs a dragonfly (the one bug they can think of that has good eye sight) and the others morph flea and jump on his back, having to bite into him to hold on as he flies. Tobias carries them as close as he can to the resort and then sends them off. To get in, Jake flies under a bellman’s hat, and manages to sneak into some air vents inside. By this point, they are all running low on time in morph (it took quite a while for the fleas to get on his back as they couldn’t aim their jumps very well). Jake gets caught in a spiderweb at one point, and David begins panicking and demorphing, risky crushing and exposing them all. At the last minute, Jake is able to escape and make it to an empty room that seems strange. They all demorph, right up against the time limit. All but Marco, who only makes it part way. Cassie, the fastest morpher, grabs him and begins calmly talking him through his demorph. He manages to finish it, and cries and hugs Cassie. Everyone is awed by Cassie’s abilities, even Ax, who says he’s always known she has a rare morphing talent, but this is almost miraculous.
They look around and discover they are in a hologramed pillar that contains a mini Yeerk pool. Jake goes out to look around and has to hide under a table when some people enter the room, arguing about the change in plans for the banquet. Jake realizes that the man they saw Visser Three acquire in the book wasn’t the President, but this man, the social coordinator for the White House who is now directing that all world leaders will need to pass behind the column when they go up for their speeches. They all eventually leave, and Jake sneaks back to the column. The only way out seems to be up through the hologram that is being projected through a hole that the Yeerks must have made in the ceiling. But before they go, Ax asks about the Yeerks in the pool. Jake says to leave them.
David volunteers to pull a fire alarm to distract everyone from a bunch of gulls emerging from the roof all together. He manages it, but trips on his way back. The others escape, but Jake rushes out to help David. David hides under a table and begins morphing lion, ignoring Jake emphatically mouthing “no” at him repeatedly. Jake frantically crawls towards him and just manages to grab him before he attacks a Controller who comes in to check the room. The Controllers decide that since the Yeerks in the pool are alive, it couldn’t be Andalites. Jake and David escape as dragonfly and flea once again. As they escape, David wonders aloud which would win, a lion or a tiger?
Back in the barn, they discuss the Yeerks’ plans and Cassie hits the nail on the head, saying that the reason they didn’t simply infest the social planner guy all came down to character. Notably, Visser Three’s character and his need to be on the ground when his biggest success goes down. Jake thinks hard about what Cassie has said about character, evaluating how little he knows about David and going over in his mind some of David’s more questionable choices that hint to the fact that his moral compass isn’t quite pointed the same direction as the rest of theirs.
He mentions the situation with his cousin and is even more unnerved by the strange look of excitement in David’s eyes. Later, he talks to Cassie who also admits that she’s confused by David and that he doesn’t quite seem upset enough about losing his family and home (I mean the guy was whining about TV for Pete’s sake!!).
The group regather with plan in mind to disrupt the Yeerks’ plot to infest the world leaders. That night, they all fly back to the resort. On the way, Cassie, the only one in owl morph with good eyes, thinks she spots the President wandering around near the pool in his shorts. But they fly on. They manage to get into the hologram above the building. From there they can spot three Controllers below them in the hologram pillar. Carrying fishing weights, they dive, release the weights, and knock them out. Rachel, carrying cobra!Marco, swoops down to join them.
They all get in place, ready to nab the passing world leaders and hopefully frantically convince them that the world is being invaded. But as the banquet ends and the speeches start, something is wrong: the world leaders are all walking directly to the stage, not behind the pillar at all. Jake realizes that it’s a trap, a hologram within a hologram, and sure enough Visser Three steps out from the hologram, and drops the facade all together, revealing an army of Hork Bajir surrounding them. Then, of course, he begins to gloat and threaten to kill them, but it doesn’t seem that he’s spotted Marco, still a snake on the ground.
As he continues to threaten to shoot them, David begins to break, calling out that he doesn’t care about the rest of them, and yes, he’ll demoprh. Wolf!Cassie grabs lion!David’s leg to stop him and they begin to fight.
<Rachel! Explain to David that he needs to knock it off!> I snapped. Rachel was on all fours. She half rose up to a sort of bear crouch. She reached out with her left paw and swung hard. She connected with David’s snarling, snapping jaw. David staggered. Cassie released David and jumped back.
Throughout this all, Jake’s been thinking. How did these Hork Bajir get in here when they could barely get in as one little dragonfly? He has Marco slither out, knowing that if he’s wrong, Marco will die. David continues to panic, yelling to Visser Three that they (the Animorphs) are threatening him and running towards him saying he’ll demorph and he’s on his side. Just them, Marco bites a Hork Bajir and it is confirmed that they are all holograms and it’s only Visser Three and a few human Controllers in the room. A fight breaks out, David quickly saying he can get Visser Three since he’s closest. It ends at a standoff after Cassie’s been shot and Ax has his tailblade at Visser Three’s neck. They all retreat, and the Animorphs fly back up and out of the hologram.
On the way home, Jake privately thought speaks with the rest, telling them not to confront David about his cowardice. David is busy telling them how it was all a trick anyways, that he was just trying to get close to Visser Three. As the others agree and nod along with him, he goes even further and starts bragging about how he could have taken Visser Three on his own and how he saved Cassie. (It’s all very intolerable and you can almost feel Jake’s skin crawling as he listens to it). In the end, Jake doesn’t trust David at all, but still wants to give him the benefit of the doubt; after all, he really could have been playing a trick.
They all head home, but after rigging his bed to look like he’s sleeping, he heads back with Tobias and Ax to watch Cassie’s barn. If David stays there, maybe things will be ok. Of course, he doesn’t, leaving in the middle of the night in golden eagle morph. Jake has Tobias follow him while he and Ax morph bird to join. They lose track of them, and as they’re flying Jake becomes more and more worried, unable to contact Tobias. He tells Ax to keep an eye out, not in the sky, but on the ground.
They head to David’s house, thinking that must be where he is heading. Ax wonders what they will do if David is truly joining the other side, and Jake doesn’t know. Outside David’s home, they spot a truck and know that there are likely Hork Bajir stationed there in case David returned. Jake has Ax go to the back of the house and demoprh to provide back up. He heads to David’s room, still in falcon morph. Eagle!David is watching TV (what is with his obsession with TV, btw??), and beside him there is a bloody, brown mass of bird.
Jake is stunned, frantically calling to Tobias and trying to listen for a heart beat. David goes into a whole speech about his having no choice, that the Animorphs were just like cliques at school and would never accept him. He has no life, but now he has this power and he’s going to use it to create one for himself, morphing some other human and making his own way.
<You murdered Tobias because you think this is some stupid school thing?!> I yelled.
David says Tobias was just a bird. And so is Jake right now. He attacks. Jake, more familiar with his morph than David is with his own, manages to escape to under the bed, and then when David begins to demorph to try and grab him out, Jake flies at his face, scratching him up. The commotion draws the Hork Bajir and they both escape out the window. Ax scoops up Jake and runs away. Jake tells Ax to go get Rachel who lives the closest, and takes off after David.
David leads him to roof of the mall and Jake knows what he wants, a showdown between his lion and Jake’s tiger. The two morph and fight, with Jake struggling against the lion’s mane. They end up on the skylight and break through. As they fall, Jake feels the lion bite him on the neck. End scene!
Our Fearless Leader:
This is the perfect book to illustrate the many, many strengths that Jake brings to the team as the leader. He has to make tough calls, he’s the first to realize that they’re being tricked by Visser Three in the resort, and, most importantly, we see how crucial his understanding of his team is to their success.
I knew each of the others. Name any situation. I could tell you exactly how Cassie or Marco or Rachel or Tobias or even Ax would react. But David remained unknown. Unpredictable. He’d been brave, mostly. He’d done what he had to do, mostly. But there had been things . . . the way he’d been in eagle morph and attacked some passing bird for no reason. The way he’d gotten weird in the lion morph. And the thing with breaking into the hotel room. All totally understandable. Nothing really awful. Not given how his entire life had been ripped apart.
Throughout it all, he’s off balance with David, something that isn’t helped at all by David’s erratic behavior and his tendency to get on the wrong side of everyone else on the team (yes, the biggest one is Marco, but there is at least one example of him coming up against the wrong side of every single member of the group in this book).
There are probably two big moments for Jake in this book, leadership-wise. The first is how he handles David’s break-in to the hotel. He knows that coming down on him will change their relationship forever, but Jake knows his role and that protecting the group, and enforcing these rules, is crucial to their survival. He doesn’t really have an option to be soft on David. And, importantly, he walks a fine line with this confrontation. He’s not soft, but he also isn’t needlessly cruel. One can only imagine what Marco or Rachel’s responses would have been. Jake is firm, leaving no room for questions, but he also doesn’t shame David.
And second, after David turns coward, he knows that he must go into damage control mode. By silently contacting all the others, he lays out their game plan, making sure to leave room for the shrinking possibility that David really was trying to play a trick. It’s clear that Jake doesn’t really believe this, but his actions here prove why he’s the leader. He wants to be as optimistic as Cassie, and knows that he can’t be as harsh as Marco and Rachel. So instead, he lays the groundwork to test David’s character by letting him think they all believe him, then gathering a select group to spy on him, knowing that if he leaves the barn, they have real problems.
And then, once David “kills” Tobias, Jake doesn’t hesitate to call in the big guns, sending Ax to go get Rachel in case they need to do something drastic. But Jake doesn’t back away from fighting David himself, either.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Like Marco, Rachel has a hard time not blowing up at David. She immediately comes down on him when he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, calling him a spineless coward. David later rants about this, trying to say that maybe Rachel is the real coward. As we’ll see in the next book, these two’s power struggle is being set up in this book for a big pay off later. When they’re flying back, Jake has to very firmly hold Rachel back from continuing to come down on David.
And, in one of the most important moments for Rachel in the entire series, likely, Jake tells Ax to get Rachel after he thinks David has killed Tobias. He notes that Rachel lives the closest, but that is clearly only an excuse.
<Yeah. Get Rachel. If David’s killed Tobias, we may have to do a terrible thing, too. Get Rachel.>
Jake knows his team well, and this is the right call. But we, as readers, know how much this decision, and the action of the next book, will ultimately mess up Rachel.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is along for most of the missions in this book, but doesn’t have a lot of stand out episodes of his own. At one point early in the book, Tobias makes a comment about gulls being like rats of the sky, and David says that Tobias must be really into this bird stuff and says he’s kind of a “bird racist.” Cassie is quick to jump on this and point out that birds are different species, unlike people. David just answers with a sulky “whatever.” (A good example of David casually saying stuff that gets him on the wrong side of members of the group, this time both Tobias and Cassie).
Later, when he’s raging at Jake in the hotel room about what the long term plan is for him (and how much he misses TV, I’m sure), he mentions that he’s not like Tobias who isn’t human. In some ways, yes, this is factually correct that in his current form, Tobias is better equipped to live out in the woods. But it is also another disturbing little reminder of David’s skewed way of looking at the world and serves as some pretty dark foreshadowing for David’s main justification for becoming a murdering psychopath. Tobias was a bird; it wasn’t “murder” to kill him.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has some big stuff in this one. Not only does Ax essentially admit that her being able to talk Marco through almost getting stuck in morph is a feat of talent virtually verging on the miraculous, but she comes up with the entire plan to get in to the resort in the first place. This has to be one of her biggest ongoing contributions to the group, her ability to think creatively about the animal kingdom and then neatly pair morphs with the unique challenges of any given mission. Usually, they’re super gross solutions, but hey, that’s out of her control.
“You’re a very disturbing person sometimes, Cassie,” Marco said [in response to her suggestion of the dragonfly-carrying-fleas idea.]
Jake also specifically seeks Cassie out to get her take on David, saying that he trusts her judgement of people more than anyone. This is a fine line between Cassie and Marco. Marco, too, is a good judge of character, but Jake knows that he falls on the suspicious side of things. But Cassie, as seen in a couple of scenes in this book and the first in the trilogy, can also fall on the optimistically naive side of things, too quick to believe David’s lies and wanting to think the best of him. A balance between the two points of view would probably give the clearest answer.
And then, when David tries to give them up to the Yeerks in the resort, Cassie is the quickest to act, biting lion!David’s leg and preventing him from running off. Jake notes this with surprise, but it’s a nice example of Cassie also understanding the stakes involved with this new member and quickly seeing and doing what needs to be done.
The Comic Relief: Early in the book, Jake worries about Marco and David’s interactions. At first he chalks it up to the fact that Marco often doesn’t mix well with new people and that it will probably blow over. But as things progress, he becomes more concerned that it is an issue that he is going to have to deal with. And then, as the book goes on even further, I think he begins to understand that Marco may have simply been on to something the rest of them were late to see (which we, having read Marco’s book, know to be true). Marco misses out on some of the action in this book due to his Dad’s dating life. But that’s mostly the mission to retrieve David from the hotel, and given that even level-headed Jake lost his temper on that one, it’s probably for the best that Marco wasn’t there.
Marco, along with Rachel, also has the hardest time biting his tongue in the end of the book when they’re flying away from the disaster at the resort where David tried to give them up.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Like Tobias, Ax doesn’t have a lot action in this this book. He’s always there, but no really big moments. Most notably, probably, he’s the one to get up close to Visser Three during their mid-book battle and hold the Animorphs’ side of the stalemate. You have to wonder if Visser Three, somehow, subconsiously respects the threat of an Andalite tailblade more than he does the animal morphs he runs into. It seems that often it comes down to Ax and Visser Three in these moments.
He’s also the one to explain all the hologram technology that the Yeerks use at the resort.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When David and Jake are escaping from the resort during their first infiltration attempt, Jake has David bite him on the back and hold on while they both morph together, so that when David turns into a flea, he’ll already be on Jake. This is all to avoid the circus that was the fleas trying to aim their jumps the first time which took quite a bit of time. I mean, yes, this makes a lot of sense. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s completely disgusting. Even more so because David is a disgusting individual on his own. I mean, if this had been Marco, it would have mostly been pretty funny. But knowing what we do about David…
Couples Watch!: Other than Jake relying on Cassie for insight into David’s character, there really isn’t much couple-wise in this book. I wonder if another reason that Jake calls specifically for Rachel is due to her burgeoning relationship with Tobias, and the fact that he was the one first attacked?
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Cassie is right on about Visser Three’s ego. And, per usual, whenever they’re in a standoff that involves his own life, he backs down. But for the purposes of this arc, David is the true villain and the one more worth discussing.
David is Applegate’s reminder that humanity itself can’t be trusted. We’ve seen it before even with Chapman in “The Andalite Chronicles.” With examples like these, we see why the group of kids that make up the Animorphs are so special. It’s not shocking, maybe, that David doesn’t handle it well; perhaps it’s more shocking that all of these teens have held it together as well as they have. That they all had similar ideas about responsibility, loyalty, and bravery. Sure, they all come down on different sides of some things, but in the end, through David, we see what could have been. He does pretty much everything wrong. He uses his powers for selfish and illegal reasons, breaking into the hotel. He’s needlessly violent, killing the crow earlier. He’s too eager for battle (unlike Rachel who trusts Jake’s judgement), morphing the lion in the resort. He’s a coward who gives up his friends in a moment and breaks under pressure. He’s a liar. He’s a murderer.
And yes, David’s situation is terrible. Jake thinks about it himself early in the book, knowing that they will need to come up with something long term for David. But not every kid would turn into a psychopath. Given his words and actions from the very beginning, David is not a healthy-minded kid even from the start. And once he’s given power, his descent into complete psychopathy is sure and steady. In many ways, David is the worst villain in the entire series. Visser Three can come across as campy and is a comfortable villain: he’s a bad guy doing bad things because that’s what he does. But David, David is a kid, a kid who had the chance to save the world but instead chose to murder the kids who saved him so that he can become powerful using the gifts they gave him. He’s utterly despicable.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: In this re-read, knowing how everything turns out, I wasn’t too upset by most of the action in this book. Not sad at least, still very enraged. But I do have clear memories of reading it the first time and being legitimately concerned about Tobias’s death. I never bought that Jake would actually die, as is implied in the last scene of the book. In many ways, he’s almost the main character and as the leader of the group, he’s irreplaceable. But Tobias….I had real fears there. As we’ve seen, Tobias, even with his morphing abilities, is often the first character to get shuffled off to the side. Thinking about it now, I realize that there’s no way Applegate would have killed off Elfangor’s son without resolving that story line somehow, but as a little girl who had a major crush on Tobias and was fully shipping him and Rachel, I was very, very upset by this last scene.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: These plans to “reveal” themselves to big heads of state are always just so stupid, and this one in particular is bad due to the extremely short window of time they have to work with. Not only do they need to convince each of these head’s of state within their brief hologram-recorded speech when the Yeerks would think they’re being infested, but they also need to count on these same people calming walking back out and taking their seat again, as if nothing had happened. It’s just ridiculous.
This quote comes before the botched resort mission and the confrontation with Visser Three. It perfectly highlights how much of a creep David really is, and makes you wonder how Jake wasn’t put on high alert from things like this even before David tried to switch sides and save himself.
David’s gaze was somewhere else. He was looking at us, but from far off. Like we were each animals at the zoo. Like he was sizing us up.
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 9
I’m going to give the Yeerks another point for this one, simply for managing to so expertly trick the Animorphs into infiltrating the resort on the wrong day. Sure, it didn’t go completely to plan and they escaped, but it does show that Visser Three is trying to go on the offensive, rather than just waiting for the “Andalite bandits” to interrupt his own plans.
Rating: Excellent! The stakes are just shooting through the roof, and this book makes it clear why David is probably the most hated character in the entire series, even more so than Visser Three. Beyond that, the cliffhanger at the end of this book is much more crippling than the first. We all knew Tobias and Rachel would save them when they dropped out of the plane (plus, we’ve had about a million scenes of Animorphs seemingly tumbling to their deaths from high heights, so we’re pretty numbed to it). But here, it’s almost believable that Applegate may have killed off Tobias, and either way, the options for dealing with David are pretty limited, right from the beginning, so the tension is sky high when it ends.
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!