Animorphs #25: “The Extreme” by K.A. Applegate
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: It’s time for the Animorphs to acquire some cold-weather morphs. The Yeerks are at it again, and they’re causing trouble near one of the coldest places on earth: The North Pole.
Plot: So, all I remember about this one is that somehow, someway they end up at the north pole. And they were very cold. And that was much of the story.
The story opens with the usual listing of what’s really happening, we can’t tell you our names, etc etc. But, more importantly, Marco has a date. With Marian. The hottest girl in school. But unfortunately the date is for a trip to the orchestra. Worse, Marco discovers about halfway through that he is thoroughly not into the orchestra. So much so that he falls asleep and Marian ditches him. At school, as he is regaling Cassie with the tale of his terrible date, when Erek, the friendly Chee, shows up. Never a good sign. He informs them that the Yeerks are trying to set up a Kandrona ray broadcast system using satellites which would allow them to turn any ordinary swimming pool into a Yeerk pool.
The Animorphs all meet up with Erek at Cassie’s barn to discuss their plan. The Chee don’t know the location of the Yeerk base that is working on this project, but they do know Visser Three plans on visiting it soon and the location of his new feeding pasture. The plan is obvious: they need to hitch a ride with Visser Three from this pasture on the way to the site. But they still don’t know the location of the base, so to deal with what might be a prolonged absence, Erek and three of his Chee friends agree to pose as Marco, Jake, Cassie, and Rachel while they’re gone.
The next day they fly to Visser Three’s meadow, spot him, and one-by-one land in the woods surrounding him. They then morph fly, and Marco notes that they waste half an hour trying to find each other in the meadow cuz fly senses aren’t that great. Per Ax’s knowledge, the decide that the best way to intercept Visser Three without him seeing is to fly up beneath him and try and land on his underbelly. They all manage to land, and Visser Three boards his ship. As they get ready to depart, they overhear some bad news: the flight time will be 3.5 hours long.
As they contemplate what to do, the Bug Fighter lands in the Blade ship. They overhear Visser Three ask if all of the Venbar are on board, and Ax becomes very excited, only to then say he must has misunderstood. Time passes, and they wait, still on Visser Three’s belly while he works on his computer in his personal cabin. Marco passes the time by telling terrible jokes, but eventually they decide they need to do something to allow them to demorph. Ax, using his best Visser Three impression, yells out for guards to come into the cabin. He does this a few times, each time resulting in Visser Three becoming more irate at being interrupted. Finally, he becomes so mad that he charges out of his room and the Animorphs bail off him. They quickly demorph and try to remorph, but Marco highlights how exhausting the entire process is, comparing it to a 200 yard dash. Everyone gets through but for Ax and Marco when a Taxxon barges into the room. Ax takes it out with his tail blade, but now they have a problem as it will be clear that something else happened here.
All now back to flies, they buzz out of the room. They plan to head to the storage bay, hoping it will be empty, when Visser Three returns, sees the Taxxon, and calls for guards. They manage to make it, but Cassie notes that the Yeerks know about their bug morphs and could flood the place with insecticides, so they all demorph. Marco quickly notices a long line of tall cylinders each containing some type of new alien, ones with silver bodies slashed with streaks of red and blue. They’re all frozen. Hesitantly, Ax says they look like Venbar, but that they have been extinct for thousands of years. The most notable thing about them was the fact that they lived on an ice moon in below freezing temperatures.
They feel the ship landing. Marco wonders why Visser Three would land, knowing the “Andalite bandits” are trapped on his ship. They morph their battle morphs. As they land, three of the bay doors open: they are surrounded by Hork Bajir warriors and Visser Three himself. Marco realizes that the fourth door hasn’t been opened, and that’s the door to the outdoors. They guess that Visser Three won’t fire lasers in the room for fear of hitting the canisters, so Marco goes for the control panel to the door outside while Rachel slams into the nearest canister. As he frantically tries to pry open the door, tiger!Jake is overwhelmed by Hork Bajir, and wolf!Cassie is thrown past him, obviously injured. Rachel finally mages to break open a canister, releasing the freezing mist that freezes any body part of the Hork Bajir it touches. Marco gets the door open, and they all bail. Visser Three calls for the ship to take off, but the manage to jump out when it is only 20 feet up. The Blade ship, following Visser Three’s orders, continues to rise.
They land on ice in the freezing air. Quickly, those who are injured try to demorph and remorph. Gorilla!Marco’s skin sticks and peels off on the ice. Tobias spots a base or town in the distance, and tries to morph himself, his hawk body not handling the cold. But before he can, he collapses. Rachel grabs him and curls herself around him as she re-morphs grizzly. Above them, the Blade ship heads for the base. Still, they know they need to get out of there. They take off running, but don’t get very far before Ax starts to stumble. Without good cold weather morphs, Jake tells Ax and Tobias to morph fleas and hide in Rachel’s fur. The remaining four continue to run. Throughout it all, the cold bites and hits them all hard. Marco begins to become confused and disoriented.
They find a cave and do an assessment. None of their morphs are equipped for this level of cold, but wolf!Cassie and grizzly!Rachel are managing. Marco slumps to the floor, his thoughts becoming muddled. The others frantically try to get him to demorph, and he only comes to when grizzly!Rachel punches him in the face. They decide that the wolf morph is best, so the other three join Cassie in that form. Cassie says they may be able to use the wolf morph to survive, but they’re barely functional and will need to avoid fights. Looking out of the cave, they spot a pair of the Venbar sliding around on their ski-like feet. They realize that the Venbar are using echo-location to find where they are. The Venbar turn towards them and fire canon like weapons, bringing down the cave walls around them. The Animorphs take off, running along the shoreline of the half-frozen ocean.
After running for almost their allotted two hours, the manage to lose the Venbar and proceed circling each other as they, one-by-one, demorph and remorph. They continue on their way, desperately looking for shelter as it begins to get dark. Behind them, every once in a while, they get a whiff of the Venbar still following them. Suddenly they get a new scent: a polar bear. They continue to run, with the polar bear meandering to their side, but eventually they decide they need to stop for the night and dig themselves a snow lair. Overnight, they continue their miserable rotation of demorphing and remorphing.
As they wait through the night, Ax tells the history of the Venbar, how they were wiped out by another race called The Five, who then also disappeared to history. He theorizes that the Yeerks have been able to retrieve some frozen DNA from Venbar corpses and combined it with other DNA and used it to grow the Venbar now chasing them. Even more disturbing, Ax suggests that it is likely human DNA that was used as a patch.
The night is terrible, and only the morphing ability which restores them to full health each time, saves them from freezing to death. Morning comes, and outside they spot the polar bear out on the ice fishing for seals. Starving, they do what they have to and gorge themselves on the remainders of the bear’s leftover seal. After eating they spot a pair of baby seals, ideal cold-weather morphs. Cassie and Marco morph dolphin and quickly nab one of the babies for the others to acquire. They all morph seal and relish in finally being warm.
Suddenly the Venbar turn up and start shooting. As they all flop towards the sea, they realize that the Venbar must have seen them morphing and now know the truth about them. They now have two choices, not allow the Venbar to return to the Yeerk base or destroy the Yeerk base itself. As they swim towards the base, a pair of orca whales attack. Chaos ensues, but the Animorphs manage to get back on top of the ice and demoprh into less-appealing meals. But as they’re standing on the ice, they realize that an Inuit man has been watching them from his boat. He asks whether they are animal spirits.
“My grandfather used to talk about animal spirits all the time. I just thought he was crazy.” He spun his finger around his ear in that universal gesture of insanity. “But I always told him, ‘Yeah, that’s right, Grandpa.’ “
What follows is a very bizarre scene with the Inuit guy (Derek) thinking the Animorphs are animal spirits, handing them seal skins to wear, and discussing how mad he is at the “Star Trek guys” who are shooting the seals with lasers. Turns out he knows quite a lot about the Yeerk base and the space ships he’s seen there. Also doesn’t seem to think much of conversing with an alien (Ax) and a talking bird (Tobias.) What’s more, Derek has been following around Nanook (the polar bear) for days and can lead the Animorphs back to him. Grizzly!Rachel and gorilla!Marco go in together to try and subdue the polar bear and manage to pin it to the ice so the others can acquire it. After this action, Derek just takes off and they all morph the polar bear.
They make their way back to the base once again, just as a storm winds up. Darkness begins to fall and they sneak up on the base. The Venbar are working away on building the satellite, but they don’t see Visser Three’s Blade ship anywhere. They slowly sneak towards the base, until a woman finally spots them and raises the alarm. Another Controller shouts to program the Venbar to attack quadrupeds. The Venbar attack, nearly taking out Jake and Tobias, but also opening a convenient “door” in the wall of the hanger that the rest pile through. Ahead of them, they see what remains of the Venbar that went through the wall: it was a biological computer. In the warmth, the Venbar chasing them desolve, but they follow their programming and continue to come in. Boarding a Bug fighter, the Animorphs watch as all of the Venber destroy themselves. They demorph. Ax takes the flight controls and Marco covers the guns. This isn’t the first time they’ve been in a Bug fighter, and it helps them fly this one now. Using the ship, they destroy the satellite and the entire base.
As they turn to fly away, the see the Blade ship moving to intercept. They fly as far as they can south, then set the ship to auto-destruct and fly away as birds. It takes them two more days to finally get home, flying and hiding out on trains and trucks. Back home, Marco luxuriates in a lot of hot showers.
The Comic Relief: Well, this was a dud for a Marco book. Up to this point, Marco books have been some of my favorites. Not only is his internal voice one of the strongest, but he has a good point of sustained drama and emotional tension with the situation with his mother as Visser One. Here, not only did we get none of that, but the story itself didn’t play to Marco’s particular narration strengths. In fact, this book wouldn’t have played well to ANY of their narrative strengths. There was simply no heart to it. Marco’s telling of this story could have been anyone’s telling of this story: it was cold and it sucked. The end. The one real moment of “Marco-ness” we got, other than some of the jokes in the beginning about his date, was when they were realizing they would need to eat a seal to live:
If I had to be the jerk in this situation, that was fine. I was used to it. I was usually the first one to state the obvious, no matter how ugly it was. Just call me Mr. Ruthless.
This was a pretty good character beat, and in line with what we know about Marco. Too bad it came from such a nothing moment.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake comes up with his usual good plans, remains the steady leader they need, and notably has a few self-sacrificial moments. When they first end up in the cold, Jake lasts the longest in his tiger morph, never complaining even though he was suffering as much as the others. When they attack the base in the end, he fights off the Venbar with Tobias as back up telling the other to go on without him. They are small moments, but good ones to show how well Jake holds up even under the most strange of circumstances.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Early in the book, when they’re first escaping the Blade ship amidst all of the freezing gas, grizzly!Rachel walks into the mist to save an unconscious wolf!Cassie, and when she walks out…she leaves a foot behind. First of all, yes, this is another great example of Rachel always being the first to sacrifice herself to save her friends, braving anything to get to them. But also…WHAT IS WITH RACHEL LOSING PAWS IN HER BEAR MORPH! I swear, this is at least the third time it’s happened. First, in book #7 when they attack the skyscraper with the Kandrona. Second, in Megamorphs #1 when she has amnesia. And now again, here!! And I can’t remember if she also lost a paw during the jungle craziness in Jake’s book #11? Either way, this seems to happen to her a lot!
Also, Rachel…and polar bears…and now all of the sobbing.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, with Ax, ends up spending the majority of this book in flea morph. Which just raises the question about why more of them didn’t do this. Have maybe two of them stay as wolves for the two hours, the rest go flea, and then alternate. Seems like this would limit the time each member would actually need to spend in the freezing cold.
In the beginning of the book when they’re all in battle morphs on the Blade ship, it’s starting to feel more and more ridiculous that Tobias’s “battle morph” is his original hawk body. I mean, really? It made sense when he couldn’t morph, but now that he can it’s just crazy that he wouldn’t use something with more fire power in moments like this. Particularly after this book, he’ll have a polar bear morph to use and yet he’ll continue with the hawk. It’s just weird.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Early in the book, when they’re all morphing on the Blade ship, there’s a mention to Cassie demorphing from her fly morph in a matter of seconds. This seems like an error (I’m going to start blaming ghost writers for everything, now that that’s at thing.) Yes, it is referenced that Cassie morphs more quickly, but I don’t think that it went down from 3-4 minutes to her being able to do it in a matter of seconds? But maybe I’m wrong.
She also has this to say in the face of Marco’s skepticism about whether or not she’d be on board for eating seals:
Do you guys think I’d put an animal’s life over yours? Or mine, come to think of it?”
“I don’t know,” I started to say.
“You don’t know? When did you start thinking I was some kind of fanatic? We’re freezing, we’re starving, and I’m going to go all tree-hugging, never-eat-anything-with-a-face on you?”
It is a nice sentiment, and it does make sense for her. But there have been books in the past where she seems to have this EXACT thought! I can never quite get a feel for where her moral lines really are. They seem to change quite a lot from one situation to another with little explanation. It makes her unpredictable and also a bit less real seeming, as if her character is just there to present whatever moral lesson is needed in whatever moment.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax recognizes the name “Venbar” when they hear Visser Three mention it on the Blade ship, but then doesn’t inform the others about it until much later. Presumably to build tension in the story, but it mostly just reads as false. Jake would immediately call him on it and get him to explain. Later, when he does explain, this turns out to be a subject that he did pay attention to in school, and he is able to give a pretty thorough history of the species.
The best part for Ax (and arguably the entire book) is the running gag joke between him and Marco about Ax’s tendency to refer to time as “your minutes.” Two examples:
“Ax, I really think you can just deal with the fact that they aren’t our minutes. They are everyone’s minutes.”
“About twenty minutes,” Ax replied. “Of your minutes,” he added, with what I swear was deliberate provocation.
It’s a joke that has come up repeatedly throughout the series, but they really go all-in on it in this book, and it plays pretty well. Especially in a book that really is a snooze fest in most other ways.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There were actually quite a few disgusting moments in this book. Marco’s bird morph early on describes his fingers growing back out of his shoulder blades and twitching around back there. Ick. And then when the Taxxon walks in on them in the Blade ship and Ax swipes it with his tail blade, we get a lovely description of it eating its other half. And then later, the description of the polar bear hunting the seal pulls no punches. It catches the seal through a hole, but the seal won’t fit back up, so…shredded seal. Very gross.
Couples Watch!: At one point, Marco blatantly calls Tobias and Rachel’s relationship out, when flea!Tobias is, according to Marco “all nice and warm in his honey’s back fur.” Rachel is shocked, but Marco shrugs the whole thing off, noting that it’s not like it’s a big secret. More examples of the fact that Tobias and Rachel’s relationship seems to be more of an accepted thing than Cassie and Jake’s ongoing awkward flirt-fest.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: First thing of note: when they’re on the Blade ship in Visser Three’s quarter, he has a collection of torture equipment on his walls. Cuz of course he does.
Second, it seems like a huge miss that he let the Blade ship even get close to landing when he was trying to trap the Animorphs in the loading bay. How many times have they escaped him by jumping out of windows? You’d think he’d learn his lesson on this by now.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The baby seals of the dead mommy seal the polar bear kills!! Though the moment does, again, provide Cassie an opportunity to highlight her inconsistencies. Because here she says a very nice bit about how you can’t feel bad for the deaths of baby seals without feeling bad for the deaths of baby polar bears and baby whales who would die without hunting them. Right, yes, that makes sense Cassie! Tell me again about the part where Tobias was terrible for killing a baby skunk? I WILL harp on this until the last! #NeverForget #NeverForgive
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!:
We had a plan. The four fateful words that usually end up meaning a lot of yelling, screaming, mayhem, and madness.
Most of their plans were fine here. I mean, there’s no way they could have known about ending up in the north pole, so I’ll give them a pass on this. I still think they could have managed the cold better with more people going flea, but who knows, the psychological bit about being more alone in the cold for the one or two who had to remain as wolves might have been even harder.
“No, no, no votes,” I said. “Jake decides. Then if it goes bad we can all blame him.”
They’re all pretty good about not blaming Jake for decisions, but as we’ve seen in other books, there is a distinct element of panic when he’s not around to make calls for them.
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 11
For all that I thought the book was a dud, and the fact that the majority of their time is spent shivering in caves, they do manage to take out the satellite Kandrona system that would have turned all pools of water in Yeerk pools. This is a pretty major win. Too bad it’s couched within this story.
Rating: Not great. I remember liking this book more the first time around. Probably because as a kid, adventures in the north pole sounded exciting enough for me. In this re-read though, I was majorly bored for much of the time. Which is really surprising for a Marco book, as he is usually able to salvage other duds of story lines purely on his strength as a narrator. But, really, no narrator is going to make hours of sitting around freezing entertaining to read about. Beyond this, I’m more bummed that we didn’t get more pages devoted to their return journey! It took days! They had to have run up against some adventures there, and it’s really the first time we’ve seen them run into a major time issue with their missions. So it seems like a huge missed opportunity. Remember, they’re still kids, for all of this war stuff. And now they have to “Homeward Bound” it all the way back to their city!
I also question the use of the Inuit man who shows up. I don’t quite know how to feel about it. It kind of walks the line on some offensive stereotypes about animal spirits, but I don’t think it crosses it. It also seems strange that the Animorphs wave it off so easily that he knows the truth about them being humans. The guy has clearly been snooping around the Yeerk base since he knows all about it. Chances are good he’s going to get caught one of these days and infested. So it seems like a weird inconsistency that this was swept aside. Further, the whole point of meeting him was so that he could lead them back to the polar bear. As they’ve run into the polar bear multiple times on their own already, there’s absolutely no point of this! They could just run into him again, since he’s nearby. Just remove the guy altogether and you lose any question marks about representation or inconsistencies with their secret.
All in all, this was my least favorite Marco book yet. I did still like some parts of it, but overall, it was pretty boring, giving me too much time to fixate on little things.
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!