The Great Animorphs Re-Read #51: “The Absolute”

363390Animorphs #51: “The Absolute”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks have taken over units of the National Guard with plans to infest all of its officers and soldiers. The plan seems to be to step things up—use the Guard to prepare for an all-out war on Earth. The Animorphs couldn’t be less prepared. They’re living with the free Hork-Bajir colony, Jake is depressed, and worst of all, the morphing cube is in the hands of the enemy.

Marco and the others know they need to take serious action to stop the Yeerk infiltration of the Guard. They decide to approach the governor—but they don’t know if she’s a controller or not. If she is, they’re walking right into enemy hands. If she’s not, the Animorphs are finally going public with their secret. And no one knows which situation is worse… 

Narrator: Marco

Plot:  This book was pretty much a mess from start to finish for me. I didn’t remember much of this book, and it’s pretty clear why. Sure, on paper, big things happen, but the story itself is pretty lackluster, all the more so for feeling like a waste of one of the few remaining books we have left.

My feelings throughout the book. But mostly about the decision to leave out half of the characters.

Marco and Tobias are on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a train bringing in large numbers of the National Guard. Given there is no holiday coming up, the Animorphs are suspicious that the Yeerks may be planning a mass infestation of the units, now that the war is coming out to the public more and more. It turns out that yes, the train is under surveillance by the Yeerks, now able to morph and watching it in the form of several birds of prey lead by no other than their own red tailed hawk. Tobias and Marco have to put their bird skills to use to try to escape, and even then, they only make it out by stealing a tank that Marco has to drive. Yet again, Marco’s driving abilities leave something to be desired, and Chapman’s house is the latest victim to his inability to steer or brake.

Back in the Hork Bajir valley, they decide they need to take a big step to prevent this: inform someone high up of what’s going on. Jake splits the team into two groups. The first, made up of Marco, Tobias, and Ax (the “finesse” group) is to find the governor and convince them of what’s going on and try to prevent the National Guard from all coming to town. The remaining Animorphs and James and his group will try to create a diversion to also delay the troop movements. During the conversation, Jake makes it clear that he doesn’t want Cassie out of his sight because he no longer trusts her, though the others don’t understand what has happened between the two of them.

Marco, Tobias, and Ax make their way to the Gardens to get some long distance flyers. The manage to acquire ducks, but end up being spotted and chased by Controllers as well. They  make their way to the capitol but realize they don’t know where the governor lives or what his name is. They get the address for the mansion, eventually, and once there, morph cockroach and go on a wild ride clinging to the limo that they see a pair of shoes they assume is the governor enter. They end up at a fundraising event and follow the governor and a woman in heels into the bathroom. Once there, they demorph and begin the rundown on the situation (they then also realize that not only did they not know where the governor lived or what their name was, the governor was in fact the woman in heels, not a man at all). As they’re attempting to convince her, it becomes clear that her husband is a Controller and they have to make a wild escape with a brave bodyguard named Collins helping to hold the Yeerks at bay.

Many high-jinks ensue involving Tobias driving a limo, them having to jump off a bridge and on to a yacht, and said yacht getting blown apart and sinking beneath them with Marco having to rescue the governor who had been attempting to steer it to ground to save the people on it. They end up retreating back to the governor’s mansion and finish explaining the entire situation. Collins, the brave body guard, meets them there. They ask whether the governor knows anyone high up in the National Guard who has been gone for at least three days and she mentions a high rank member of the service and his unit of several hundred soldiers who have been out of the country for the past two weeks.

Later, back in the valley, they all gather to watch TV and see the fight that Jake and the others were in on TV. It hadn’t been going well until a unit of the National Guard showed up as support (the governor’s troops). The governor then gets on air herself and explains what is going on: aliens have invaded and the world is in a war for its survival.

The Comic Relief: This might be in the running for one of the books where the main character has the least interesting things happening to them. Really, there’s practically no emotional arc or character development in this book. It’s a real shame as now that his mom is back in his life, I feel like there could have been some really good stuff there. We’ve barely seen them together, and it’s always only been briefly in other character’s books. It’s too bad because it seems like there would be a lot there with them having been on opposite sides of this war for so long.

We also see very little of Marco the practical, ruthless strategist. Big things are finally happening in this war and with those events come some big moral situations and Marco’s perspective on these types of choices has always been unique. But again, we don’t get any of that. We get a few good comedic lines and a return of Marco driving poorly, but this late in the series, I would have really appreciated more for him.

Our Fearless Leader: Frankly, I think we saw the wrong two characters highlighted in this third to last book. We’ve seen very little from Jake ever since his sinking into depression, and there’s ton to be mined there. Even more so from the perspective of his best friend, Marco. Early in the book, Marco notes how badly Jake is doing and Marco’s own guilt about being happy about his own family situation in comparison. But then Jake’s gone for the rest of the book. We don’t see him facing his ongoing challenges as a leader. We don’t have any moments between Jake and Marco as best friends whose roles have been swapped. It’s all really unfortunate.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, another character who I’m super frustrated to not see more of. As I’ve said in the past, other than Jake, Rachel has one of the most interesting arcs over the entire series. And then, of course, knowing her end…it just seems incredibly wasteful to not get to see more of her here. She has a few good lines, but then is off page for most of the book. The governor is compared favorably to Rachel several times with her ability to stay cool under heavy fire and say “Let’s do it!” to crazy plans. But there’s no replacing the real Rachel, especially this close to us losing her for good.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias puts his flying knowledge to good use early in the book and then gets to actually drive a vehicle in the end, something usually Marco does. Marco did get to drive a tank in this one, though. I will say, however, the descriptions of Tobias’s driving sound much more “Bourne-esque” than Marco’s. Yes there is still a lot of damage, but he’s also in a high speed chase and weaving around to avoid gun/Dracon beam fire. It comes off a bit more badass than, say, taking out garbage cans in a pickup. Tobias and Marco both assume the governor is a man, and take some flack from Ax for not knowing anything about her, even her name. Tobias has an excuse having been out of society for quite a while now, but Marco has a rather poor showing, all things considered.

There’s also a strange bit where Tobias jumps off a bridge in his Hork Bajir morph and somehow manages to morph hawk before hitting the water. The timing mechanics of morphing seem to be yet another casualty to the rushed feel and lack of thought that went into this story.

Peace, Love, and Animals: And our third character who we lose out on. After the major events of the last book, it’s really a shame to not see more of Cassie and how she’s working within the group. Especially her relationship with Jake. We see that it is strained, even from the small moments we get, but we don’t see how else Cassie is dealing with the fallout of her choice. In this mission, it would have been interesting to have Cassie there when they’re dealing with the Controllers in morph. It’s also clear that no one knows how exactly the blue box fell into the Yeerks hands. Probably a good choice by Jake on that one. I can’t see the others taking it very well, maybe especially Marco, who has been known to be practical to the point of ruthlessness in the past.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For being on the main mission of this book, Ax had very little of note. Again, he served as “proof” of the alien invasion story by showing up in his real form to greet the governor. He also had a few funny lines, at one point whipping out a line of sarcasm that Marco notes is a new level of humor for Ax, though it comes at an inopportune time.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not a lot really. When they’re acquiring the ducks, Marco, rightly, questions why they never thought of getting an endurance flyer like this before (really, this is a major strike against Cassie and her animal knowledge that it never came up before. Not only can ducks go long distances, but they can fly together without it being strange), Marco brings up the unfortunate fly!Jake swat incident for years ago. He mentions that if they had thought of duck morphs then, that could have been avoided. That really was one of the more gruesome animal injuries any of them sustained. There are also some passing comments about the extreme levels of bodily injuries a cockroach can sustain. But other than that, not a lot other than the typical morph explanations.

Couples Watch!: Zilch. Though the governor does seem to take it rather easily that her husband has been infested by an alien, mind-controlling parasite…so that’s odd.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One makes a brief, pointless appearance towards the end of the book. In all honestly, I just finished reading it and I can’t remember anything notable about him being there and am pretty sure I forgot that he was one of the human “Controllers” running around during all of the action. The one notable thing about the villains that stood out in this book was the way the morphing has changed things. At one point, Marco notes that this constant paranoia must be how Visser One has been existing for the past several years, suspecting every animals is an enemy in morph. I thought it was clever how the book highlights that while the ability to morph is huge, the Animorphs still have a slight advantage in being more familiar with their morphs’ abilities, as seen in the bird chase in the beginning of the book. I also thought it was notable that the red tail hawk seemed to be leading the charge for the bird!Yeerks. Golden eagles are much bigger, stronger birds, but you have to wonder if the Yeerks assumed that red tailed hawks had some mystical advantage since one of the “Andalite bandits” had been using it as a battle morph this entire time. So the honor of getting that morph went to the head Yeerk in that situation.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much of anything. This book is almost entirely taken up by action pieces and chases. So maybe that’s the most sad thing: we’re getting so close to the end of the series and huge things have been happening for all of the characters. And yet, when all of these great characters moments could be happening, instead we’re reading back-to-back generic chase scenes. It feels like a huge waste and missed opportunity. The saddest bit of it all is that we have an entire book that is missing half of the team. The strongest part of the entire series has been reading about this team of very different characters working together to save the world. Why you would lose one of your few remaining opportunities to play to this strength and instead only focus on  only three of them (and arguably the less important three) is beyond me.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Whenever the plan to “reveal all” to people comes up, it’s always landed in this area. And really, this one isn’t any different. Yes, the stakes are higher now and their secret out there anyways, so if there’s a time to do it, this is probably it. But the whole thing hinges on the governor just happening to be a super chill lady who just accepts this bizarre story out of nowhere. Even more so, high ranking members of the National Guard are willing to just go with it too when the governor calls on them. It’s all a bit unbelievable. The crazy levels people will go to to not have their comfortable world-view challenged has always been the problem with this plan, and it feels like it works out here more because it had to for the sake of the story than for any actual reason. The only way the world “finding out” really works is if it’s all revealed to a large number of people and recorded, or something. These one-on-ones are just hard to buy and the fact that members of a military branch would believe it enough to fight their own, based on zero evidence, is also highly questionable.

On a smaller scale, the beginning little antics that somehow ends with Marco running a tank over Chapman’s house…It’s never quite clear how the tank goes from “middle of nowhere on a train line” to “Chapman’s house.” It seems like that would be quite a distance, and any benefit of speed would be lost once you ended up in an urban neighborhood and off highways. What’s worse, they’re being followed by Controllers the whole time, and it’s not like a tank is very inconspicuous. The story conveniently skates over how Marco and the others managed to escape the whole situation after the destruction of Chapman’s house. We have to assume they go fly or something. But overall, it still reads like one of those throw-away action scenes that is supposed to be fun to read but doesn’t hold up to much thought.

Favorite Quote: 

Before gorilla!Marco jumps off a bridge with the governor, one of several Rachel comparisons.

<You scared of heights, Governor?> I said.

“As opposed to what? Bullets? Laser beams that vaporize solid concrete? A bridge that might collapse under me at any moment?” She shook her head. Took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”

“Let’s do it?” A vision flashed into my head, the governor when she was a kid. She looked like . . . Rachel?

And a good line about Tobias’s driving:

<Just keep your eyes on the road,> I said. <And I don’t ever want to hear another word of criticism about my driving.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 18

We’ll give this one to the Animorphs. Getting a high-ranking official to believe them and mobilize human troops against the Yeerks is huge. And as it seems like the secrecy game was going to be shot anyways by Visser One’s insistence on speeding up efforts, the fact that the Animorphs have been able to keep up as well as they have is pretty big.

Rating: This was an unfortunate book all around, I think. I mean, on its own, it’s fine. But given how late we are in the series, it felt pretty wasted. We get tons of action scenes, but at this point, those are fairly low on my priority list, especially when they just feel like generic chase scenes and take up about 80% of the book. Maybe these were more fun to read when I was a kid, but as I’ve re-read this series, these types of escapades are always the parts that I found myself skimming. So to come up on one of the last books and have it so devoted to only that…*sigh* And, again, big changes are happening, this time with the reveal of the war to the general public. But there is very little emotional build up and absolutely zero follow-up action as the book immediately ends after the TV announcement from the governor. Like several of the last books, I feel like they’re all ending right before we get to the good stuff of the Animorphs having to actually unpack these huge changes in a war that has largely stayed the same as they’ve fought it for the last several years. You can’t help but feel that either the author(s) just didn’t care about this part of the story, figuring kids will be distracted by tons of action scenes. Or that the ghost writers weren’t challenged with taking on bigger character moments like these. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself more often mourning the things that are left off the page than appreciating what’s actually there. Well, one more book before we’re there! We’ll see how Ax fairs in all of this.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #50: “The Ultimate”

363403Animorphs #50: “The Ultimate”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: “Really big trouble” is an understatement these days. The war between the Yeerks and the Animorphs is full on–and it’s definitely going to get worse. But Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a lot more going on than just trying to stay alive. Now they have to actively protect others. And they no longer believe they can do it alone. The Yeerks are just too powerful.

So, Cassie and the others have to ask themselves a very important question: Is it time to increase their numbers? They all remember too well what happened with David–the Animorph gone bad. But this time do they really have a choice?

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: I was kind of dreading this book. I only really remember one part of it, but it’s one of the two big moments that made me dislike Cassie as a character when looking back on the series: when she gives up the blue box, inexplicably. So, it was with trepidation, I started reading…

Cassie and the other Animorphs are drilling for the inevitable day that the Yeerks discover the new Hork Bajir valley where they, the Hork Bajir, and now their families are hiding out as the war continues. The drills aren’t going very well as Cassie is distracted by worries over her parents and Jake’s head and heart are clearly no longer in the game after the loss of his parents to the Yeerks.

What’s worse, their parents don’t seem to be catching on to the reality of their situation. Rachel’s mother keeps trying to escape the valley to contact the authorities, putting them all at risk and driving Rachel crazy. And Cassie’s parents don’t have a grasp on the enormity of the situation, fixating on the size and comfort of the enclosures where the Hork Bajir will hide if they’re attacked, not only treating the Hork Bajir like animals but clearly not understanding that comfort is the least of everyone’s concerns.

To try and get Jake’s mind back in the game, Cassie calls a meeting, putting Jake on the spot to come up with an idea. They eventually decide that the only real power they have is the blue box and their ability to give others morphing abilities. Due to the adults inability to, you know, act like adults, they rule out all of their parents, one by one. They then proceed to rule out all adults, deciding that adults struggle too much with coming to terms with so many changes to their world view. This leaves recruiting more kids. And to avoid the concern about approaching Controllers, they decide to target disabled kids. They figure that they Yeerks would never infest them in the first place, and after morphing cured Loren’s eyesight, they also wonder if some of these kids could be cured in the same way.

Dressed up in costumes, a few of them sneak into a facility to try and find some volunteers. They meet a group of kids, lead by a boy in a wheelchair named James. After various forms of show and tell, they manage to recruit some kids to the cause. With the first set, only James is cured of his disability, able to stand again after he demorphs back to his human form. It is also decided that James will be the leader of this other group of Animorphs. Over the next few days, the Animorphs continue to recruit more kids and even manage to bring them to the Gardens to acquire some fighting morphs.

Ax locates a new facility, one that is a home for blind kids. They decide to check that out next. Cassie’s dad overhears them all discussing this process and comes down on Cassie for it, asking whether or not she thinks it’s humane. She snaps at her dad to come to grips with the stakes they are working with and leaves with the other Animorphs.

They arrive at the school for the blind at night, but as they start to approach the kids, Cassie feels that something is off. She eventually morphs a fly and spots an infrared camera, but before they others can escape, Tom and a bunch of Hork Bajir burst in. They force Jake to hand over the blue box and march the others out of the room to the loading dock. Fly!Cassie escapes, morphs owl, and heads to the rehab center to fetch James and the others.

They wrangle everyone up and head back. On the way, they see a limo speeding towards the loading dock; Cassie guess it’s Visser One. Once there, she tries to give the others a quick pep talk on what the fight will be like, but they begin to freak out. It’s only a steady speech from James that gets them back on track. They all morph battle morphs. James has chosen a lion, which makes Cassie think of David and how very different he and James are.

A massive fight breaks out and in the chaos Tom loses the blue box which lion!James snatches up. Visser One arrives with Taxxons in tow and blames Tom for losing the blue box. The Animorphs all line up, ready to escape with the blue box. It’s a strange feeling, having enough numbers on their side for once. Visser One fights with Ax and Jake before beginning to morph himself. Bull!Kelly gets injured badly and has to demorph in the battlefield, leaving her fairly helpless. Gorilla!Marco snatches her up and heads away to allow her time to remorph.

Visser One completes his morph, becoming a tentacle monster of some sort. He snags tiger!Jake by the throat and begins slowly throttling him. Tobais is smashed into a wall, and things generally take a turn for the worse. Jake almost dies but is saved when a rogue Hork Bajir, a member of the Yeerk Resistance, slices off the tentacle holding Jake. The Taxxons converge on Visser One and the Hork Bajir have to fight them off. In the chaos, the Animorphs retreat. As they do, they see Tom take off with the morphing cube, clearly having decided to keep it for himself. Jake and Cassie set off after him.

In the woods, they come to a stand off, and Cassie decides that it’s not worth it, not worth Jake having to kill his brother to retake the morphing cube. Just as Jake is about to spring, she grabs him by his injured let. Tom escapes into the night.

The next day, Jake is still angry with Cassie. She tries to explain that she was saving him from having to kill Tom, but he asks why she didn’t go after Tom herself then. She doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t know, other than the fact that it had felt right and she still thinks it was the right choice.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is an interesting Cassie book, I’ll give it that. We essentially have two different Cassie’s: one, the girl who has been fighting a war for years now and, when confronted by her parents who are pretty much spouting some of the same naive things she’s said herself in the past, she finds herself coming down on the other side of an argument from her usual stance.

Cassie, the Animorph who has arguably the best relationship with her parents throughout the series, has to have tough conversations with both of her parents. Her mom fixates on the state of the hideaway shelter, falling into the trap of thinking about the Hork Bajir as animals whose habitat isn’t satisfactory. She is having trouble accepting that these would be shelters in the case of an invasion where to be found is to be killed. Comfort is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Cassie’s dad is then concerned when he overhears Cassie and the others discussing their project to recruit more Animorphs, saying that recruiting disabled kids is not “humane.” This is also an interesting point. I think in any other book, we would have expected Cassie herself to be making this same argument and to have never agreed to it in the first place. But there is also an underlying discussion throughout the book on how we view those with disabilities. Ax points out that putting them in a hospital and stashing them away is almost as bad as his own people’s problematic attitudes. Even the Animorphs themselves fall into this trap and James has to point out that they are capable of making their own choices. He uses this same point, that their hardships have made them more capable of fighting, not less, when he’s giving his pep talk at the end of the book.

So, Cassie’s dad, essentially, is doing the same thing that her mom was doing: he’s saying that Cassie and her friends are “using” the disabled in the same way you would use animals. This attitude completely disregards the kids’ choice in the matter, treating the disabled kids as not capable of making decisions for themselves or almost so helpless that “able bodied” people like Cassie and her dad need to protect them from the choice at all. And really, the fact that Cassie’s mom and dad have taken themselves out of the running as soldiers themselves by behaving so poorly and needing their own kid to parent them is much more worth her father’s reflection.

On the other hand, however, to counterbalance all the thoughtfulness and moral pondering that Cassie goes through during much of the book, her decision to let the blue box slip through her hands because it “felt right” is a return to the complete nonsense decision making that we’ve seen from Cassie a few times. The decision on its own is infuriating, but the fact that it’s slotted in at the end of a book that is really discussing some big issues head on is rather unfortunate. There’s a line where Cassie tries to draw it all together, that some things maybe aren’t worth the moral compromise, but I think the point is lost when you actually look at the stakes. Just like her father was wrong to behave so poorly that his own kid can’t turn to him as an option when looking for support and then to question the only option (as far as the kids see it) for winning this war, Cassie is also wrong to let the blue box go, potentially losing the war right there. It’s not “just morphing.” The whole premise of the series is that morphing is powerful enough to allow five kids and an alien kid to stand up to an evil alien empire.

Our Fearless Leader: Man, there’s a huge change to Jake from the last book to this. It really highlights how tenuous was Jake’s mental space and that losing his parents was really one of the last straws to his ability to lead. Even when he gets it together somewhat, we see him going into missions without plans and failing to provide the general strength and assurance that the others rely upon so much. The events in this book don’t help and the contrast between Jake now and James (very much like Jake was at the start of this war) is really heart-breaking.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot, but she does have a scene where she gets in her mother’s face about sneaking off. Apparently, her mother has done this several times, and each time she does it, it sets the whole valley on high alert and risks everything. Again, with adults behaving has poorly as all of this, you really can’t blame the Animorphs for coming to the conclusion that recruiting more kids is the way to go, even if, on its own, that seems like a really terrible idea.

A Hawk’s Life: We see a few brief moments of Tobias with his mother that are very sweet. It’s not clear whether or not Tobias has told Loren about her history at this point, but you think that would come up soon. And, given what we know of Loren, it’s almost hard to believe that she wouldn’t be insisting on getting into this fight on her own. She already has morphing powers and has proven that she is still brave. Losing her memory wouldn’t make her lose her entire personality, and the Loren we know of old would definitely insist on helping her son in this war.

The Comic Relief: Marco is probably doing the best in the ole parent arena, his mom being the only adult to truly understand what they’re in the middle of. But it also seems to make him oddly complacent about the fact that things are falling apart, especially his best friend Jake. This all felt a bit out of character for him. Yes, his mother was his main motivation, but we’ve also seen how singled minded and strategic Marco has been in the past about winning this war, even in the face of losing his mother. So it’s kind of strange to see him as disconnected as he is here. Obviously he has to be to push Cassie into being the one to take action, but it doesn’t really ring true on a character level. We do see how important his gorilla morph is though when he’s able to carry Kelly away from the battlefield when she had to demorph to heal herself and ended back up in her body which has limited mobility. One other new Animorph has a gorilla morph, but given this situation, more might have been better for just this circumstance. Plus, we’ve seen how valuable Marco’s gorilla morph has been in the past. Way more so than a bull. Just saying.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s prejudices about the disable make an unpleasant reappearance in this book. But it’s clear that he has learned a lot from his original book and has now evolved to the point where his questions shine a rather harsh light on the reality of our own world’s treatment of people who are different.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Bull!Kelly gets gored pretty badly during the fight. And then the Taxxons get at her. She survives it, but I do think that getting eaten alive by the Taxxons has to be one of the most horrific things. But, on that note, I do have to question these battle morphs that the new Animorphs chose. I get that from a book-perspective, it’s cool to use new morphs. But from an actual war standpoint, these are some pretty limiting and poor choices. A bull is a prey animal. Sure, it can do some damage, but it simply isn’t built for fighting, with no natural armor, pretty spindly legs when you get down to it, and only one way of attacking, one that isn’t very nimble and depends on a lot of open space for charges. I could go down the line with the others, too. Crocodile? Bobcat?? Bobcats are only a tiny bit bigger than a large domestic cat!

I also think a case could be made for getting the same morphs the original Animorphs already have, if possible. For one thing, everyone knows that Jake is the tiger and also the leader of the group. Having a bunch more tigers is not only good due to their fighting abilities but also camouflage for the general of the resistance, essentially. And Rachel’s grizzly and Marco’s gorilla are pretty hard to top. We saw the Animorphs try to direct David’s morph options, and while that didn’t go over well, I think a well-reasoned suggestion would fly with James and could have been helpful with some of these choices.

Couples Watch!: Nothing from Tobias and Rachel. And as for Cassie and Jake, this is the beginning of the end. It actually feels like it’s coming a bit after the beginning of the end as Cassie mentions that their relationship was already strained at the start of the book. We’re left to guess that their romance is yet another casualty to Jake’s loss of self when his parents were taken. And the events of this book sure don’t help things.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One uses his tentacle morph to pretty devastating effect in the last battle in this book. He flings tiger!Jake around like a ragdoll and almost kills Tobias when he smacks him into a wall. The only thing that saves Jake is a Hork Bajir member of the Yeerk resistance coming to his aid at the last minute.

There’s also an interesting bit where we see Tom make the decision to go it on his own with the blue box. Given Visser One’s penchant for killing his underlings on the slightest provocation or whim, it’s a wonder other smart Yeerks didn’t pull something like this ages ago. Visser One definitely doesn’t inspire loyalty, so it makes sense that an ambitious Yeerk like the one in Tom would think twice about handing over a powerful weapon like the blue box. Especially when he was already on the outs with Visser One after losing it earlier in the fight. Visser One isn’t one to forget and forgive, so there’s a decent chance that getting it back wasn’t going to save him anyways.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Jake’s situation is by far the worst at this point, which is saying something since Tobias has had that spot staked out since pretty much day one. In his own books, we’ve seen his inner struggles with the burdens of being the leader, but this is the first time where it’s really clear to everyone around him and his actual performance is starting to suffer. He’s angry, sad, indecisive, and generally lacking the patience and focus it takes to continue on as he has been. It’s only being pushed by others that gets him through this book, and even then, we see mistakes along the way. Knowing how he ends up after this all, this book is really the first one where it all begins to be foreshadowed.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if it’s so much crying out sadness, but the way the parents behave in this situation is really bad. At one point Cassie even narrates that half the reason she’s angry at her parents is because they are forcing her to be the adult in this situation. They’re all acting as if they don’t even know what war is. It’s one thing to question the enemy itself (though the Hork Bajir are right there), but general war time tactics and life should be perfectly clear with a simple history lesson. When your life is at stake, you don’t quibble about the conditions of the hidey-hole. When humanity is at stake and you find out your child has been fighting a war for years, you don’t leave them out there on their own still, essentially making yourself so useless (or an active problem, like Rachel’s mom) that your kid is forced to resort to recruiting other kids because all of the adults so far have proven to be completely incapable of adapting. It’s pretty tragic, when you think about it that way. For all the criticism about recruiting disabled kids, it’s pretty solidly on the parents’ shoulders at this point for being so unhelpful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Cassie’s decision to let Tom escape with the morphing cube is one of the most controversial decisions the character makes in the entire series, right up there with letting herself get infested back in book #19. There’s a decent build up to the emotional side of this decision, Cassie’s concern that she is losing her humanity to this war (well-trod ground for the character, so not super new other than its contrast with her parents who are somehow even more out to lunch about reality). But this time she’s also concerned about Jake’s downward descent, and from this emotional view, she believes herself to be saving the remaining thread holding Jake’s sanity together.

Sure. I can’t argue whether or not that is true. But in the very end of the book, Jake asks her why she did it, why, if she was just trying to spare Jake, she didn’t go after Tom herself and leave him behind? Cassie was in wolf morph, the perfect morph of them all to track someone down in the woods. Her going after Tom herself to spare Jake makes sense. Her choosing to let Tom get away with the cube? Is idiotic to the extreme and really enough to make others question whether she should be on the team, if her decision-making is really that screwed up.

The only thing they had going for them was that cube, a fact that was made all the more clear in this book. And she just let Tom take it. And her reason? “It just felt right.” She even goes on to say that she can’t understand it herself but that, even now, it still feels like it was the right thing to do. And we’re all the way back around to the Cassie who essentially breaks the third wall with the readers. She’s a character who has authorial finger prints all over her and pretty much just announces it with the line about it “still feeling like the right decision” even though she can’t even justify or explain it herself. Her decisions, in the world she lives in, don’t make sense or they are indicative of a person you sure has hell don’t want on your team in a fight to save humanity. They are only “right” because the author allows them to be in the end. Under no circumstances was this the “right” call in the world the character lives in.

Favorite Quote: 

These are two bits from the section where Cassie talks about her frustrations with her parents and the adults, and it really gets at what I was talking about:

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was angry. Mad that my mother, a scientist, wouldn’t—or couldn’t—face the awful truth. That we were at war. That the rules had changed. That we had to do things we’d never choose to do under peacetime circumstances. That we didn’t have that luxury. That every single minute of every single day we had to make scarifices we’d rather not make. And I was angry that my mother was forcing me to confront her with this truth.

“That’s right, Mom,” I said, my voice hard. “The Hork-Bajir could die. Every single one of us, human and Hork-Bajir and Andalite, could die. Any day. At any time. I still don’t get your point.”

______

Angry mostly because I had wanted to hurt her. Because she was making me be the grown-up. And even after all the endless months of fighting, with all the disgusting acts I had witnessed—or committed—I still sometimes wanted to be normal again. Also, because I was worried. Not just about my own parents. If the adults didn’t accept the reality of the war, they would never be prepared when the time came to fight. And if they weren’t prepared, they wouldn’t survive.

Also, for some irony, here is Cassie giving the speech that she’s been on the other end of a few times and chosen to ignore coughQuitTheAnimorphs#19cough:

But being here, talking to James, seeing these kids, I realized in a serious way, maybe for the first time, that they weren’t helpless. Just like our parents. “You know what,” I continued. “You don’t really have a choice here. This is duty time. You’ve been tapped. So step up to the plate. Whatever. Fact is, we need you. Your friends need you.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 17

I’m giving them each a point. The Animorphs get a point for recruiting 17 more people to their cause, but the Yeerks definitely get a point for walking away with the blue box in the end.

Rating: I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s almost the exact opposite experience of the Super!Rachel book. Instead of hating the first 3/4 and then loving the last quarter, it was flipped. I enjoyed the majority of this book up to the last bit where Cassie undoes all of her good work by making one of the most boneheaded decisions in the series with no other excuse than an author-magic-wand-wave that it “felt right.” And yes, I know the explanation has been floated that it’s because of Cassie’s status as a disrupter (from Megamophrs #4) that she has a predictive feeling like this, but I don’t buy it. Even if that’s the case, it’s lazy writing. This moment also feeds into my overarching anger with the character at the very end where she’s the only one who comes out of this all OK and it’s mostly just because her bad decisions were allowed to be right ones without her having to pay the logical price that would most likely have occurred by these choices.

But, like I said, I did like the majority of this book. It’s a new side of Cassie to see her as one of team members who is more committed to the war effort. It also makes sense that having her parents present would have a tangible effect like this, making her more invested, not less. I also liked the reflections on Jake’s descent coming through her eyes. The only other character who would have a similar point of view would be Marco, so we’ll see what he has to say in the next book.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #49: “The Diversion”

125339Animorphs #49: “The Diversion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are finally starting to realize that the “Andalite bandits” are probably not aliens at all. They’re finally starting to realize that maybe they’ve been dealing with humans all along. And no one–especially the newly appointed Visser One–is happy with this knowledge. Not happy at all.

When Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax realize that the Yeerks are about to find them, it’s by accident. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less serious. Because in war, one side wins. And one side loses…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: The last Tobias book! Sadness! And, per the usual for his books, there’s a healthy dose of tragedy here as well. Though, in a shocking turn of events, by the end, a good thing has actually happened to him!

Tobias is experience his typical woes: the challenges of the hawk life with regards to getting food. While things aren’t as desperate as they have been in the past, he’s still happy to see Rachel show up with McDonalds. He eats part of it as a hawk, the only way the calories will sustain him, but morphs human to enjoy the rest as a boy who can appreciate taste. After that, they head off to Cassie’s barn for a group meeting.

There, Cassie informs them that her parents came back with odd news from The Gardens, that people had been there requesting blood samples from very specific animals, like wolves, grizzly bears, tigers, gorillas, etc. They were particularly upset when they discovered the zoo didn’t have a red tailed hawk in residence. The Animorphs are quick to put this together: the Yeerks are on to the fact that the “Andalite bandits” might be more than they seem and are collecting blood samples to try and match any humans with morphing abilities. They all try to recollect if they’ve had blood drawn recently, and Rachel is the only one with a concern that back when they all had the Andalite flu, her mom took her to the hospital and they may have drawn blood then.

They agree that the chance is too great, and Marco and Ax are set with the task of locating the blood bank where all of the samples are being stored and tested. By the next day they’ve already discovered the facility and the Animorphs are quick to take off to investigate. Once there, they come up across the typical problem now of Biofilters at all of the entrances. They decide to use their Hork Bajir morphs and tie blue armbands around their arms to pose as the elite Hork Bajir fighters they’ve recently come up across. Using this “authority,” they are able to weasel their way into the facility and get to the computer system. Ax demorphs and investigates and finds that the Yeerks already have a partial match and it’s Tobias’s lost mother who, it turns out, has been living only a few blocks away from the neglectful uncle whom Tobias stayed with when he was a boy.

Controllers break into the room, including a Granny-like Controller who seems to be in charge. She sees the flashing light on the computer and realizes that the system had found a match. A fight breaks out and the Animorphs flee the facility, but Marco is critically injured in the fight, forcing him to demorph and confirm the fact that there are humans with morphing abilities.

They manage to get away but know that now that Marco has been spotted, the game is up for them all, the Controllers will quickly put together who the other members could be. At the barn, the reality really begins to set in with what it will mean to tell their families and hide them away with the free Hork Bajir. Jake tells them all to take the night to think about it and they’ll begin the next day.

In the mean time, Tobias goes to scout out his mother. He discovers that she is blind and scarred, but she’s also kind to her guide dog and doesn’t show any outward signs of being a Controller. Having been fooled by a tactic like this in the past, Tobias is still wary. He’s also hurt and confused by why she would give him up only to live so close by.

They start with Cassie’s family whom Cassie says are scientist and will respect the truth. Tobias flies in and begins thought-speaking to Cassie’s mother while Cassie begins telling her what is going on. When Ax appears, Cassie’s mom tries to hide Cassie behind her in case Ax is dangerous. Cassie’s dad arrives and they explain to him too. The Chee agree to watch over the remaining animals at the barn clinic, and Cassie and her family pack up and head out.

Rachel’s family is next. Rachel morphs grizzly and speaks to her mom, who naturally freaks out. Ax walks in with one of Rachel’s little sisters on his back. Rachel’s mom grabs a spice rack and lunges at grizzly!Rachel. Like with Cassie’s mom, Tobias is struck with the bravery of mothers protecting their children. Rachel wrangles her family out, and the remaining Animorphs take off for Jake’s house.

They arrive to discover that Tom went with Jake’s parents to do chores. As the time ticks by, Marco and Tobias become increasingly concerned and Jake finally begins to admit that it is strange for Tom, a high ranking Yeerk, to go on a random chore run that morning. When they spot Jake’s family returning, but they are followed by two black SUVs. Through the window, Tobias can see Jake’s mom’s face twisted with anger and in her hand, a Dracon beam. They retreat.

Later, Tobias takes off to spy on Loren once again and sees that she is under Yeerk surveillance. While he’s there, Marco and Ax show up saying that the guide dog is Tobias’s way in. They follow Loren into a grocery store and, while posing as “rowdy youth”, they steal Loren’s guide dog and have Tobias acquire it. Tobais then returns in in place of the dog and makes his way back to Loren’s house with her. After she goes to sleep, Tobias searches the house but finds no evidence that Loren is a Controller. He does find a letter from an insurance company that mentions the fact that Loren lost her memories in the accident that scarred and blinded her.

The next morning, in his human form, Tobias confronts his mother. He learns that she knew she had a son, but had no memory of him. Worse, her memory was so badly damanged that she had had to re-learn how to do basic functions like brush her teeth. This all being the case, she had chosen to give him up as a baby to relatives, hoping that he would have a better life that way. As Tobias begins to explain the danger that she is in, it becomes clear that Loren has very vague memories of aliens, specifically Elfangor. Using these glimpses of shared knowledge, Tobias convinces her to stay in her house for three days and then meet him in a nearby park.

After the days have past and Loren hasn’t left the house, proving that she isn’t a Controller, they put the plan in action. When Loren gets to the park, she enters a tunnel and the Animorphs are able to switch out her dog for dog!Tobias once again without alerting the Controllers who are following her. Back in her house, with very little time as the Yeerks close in, Tobias has her keep her hand on his face while he demorphs. He then has her use the blue box to get morphing abilities, acquire his hawk form, and begin to morph herself. She manages to complete the morph right when things get crazy. The other Animorphs arrives as back up, but granny!Controller his back and in a helicopter.

Tobias and hawk!Loren take the sky and give the helicopter quite a chase. Tobias lures the helicopter away with his mad flying skills, but is almost hit by a Dracon beam shot, only saved by Loren flinging herself in front of him and taking a hard hit herself. The helicopter goes down and Loren demorphs to heal her injuries. Her blindness also heals in the process.

Back in the valley, all of the families are beginning to settle in. The Hork Bajir love Cassie’s parents and Rachel’s lawyer mother is helping them draft their own Constitution. Tobias is getting to know his mother, and while he’s sad that she still has no memory of him, he is comforted by the thought that when it came down to it, like Rachel and Cassie’s mothers, his own mother had tried to save her son as well.

A Hawk’s Life:  Most of Tobias’s books have to do with his struggle for identity between his life as a boy and his life as a hawk. But there is only brief point in the beginning where he again confronts the challenges of eating as a hawk, amusingly noting that Marco would have no problem living in his girlfriend’s room being hand fed, Tobias can’t let himself do that, even though Rachel has offered. Other than that, his main theme of reflection is on parenthood, specifically the relationship between mother and child.

Up to this book, there has been very little mention of Loren and really, until it shows up as a plot point, I realize I didn’t really notice how strange it was that it got so little attention, especially after Tobias learns about his real father. You’d think once that information had gotten out, Tobias would at the very least have been more curious about his mother’s whereabouts, even if he is still hurt and angry about being abandoned as a child. Regardless of that, his reflections throughout this book are very good, highlighting both his sense of abandonment, his distrust about new-found family, and his sense of hope even in the face of so much disappointment.

Loren, for her part, is great to see again, even if she doesn’t remember any of her adventures from “The Andalite Chronicles.” Her accident (did the Ellimist cause this??) and the resulting amnesia is a decent enough excuse for her abandonment of her child, if a bit soap-opera-like, a fact that Tobias himself points out in a good bit of self-awareness on the author’s part. But even without her memories, we can still see the essence of her original characterization. She is brave, throwing herself into danger to protect others. She is quick to accept the bizarre and adapt to insane circumstances with amazing agility. And she’s just generally a decent person.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a rough go of it in this book. He questions his choices with regards to timing with both the first and second mission, feeling that he went in too quickly with the blood bank and waited too long to retrieve their families. The loss of his parents, on top of still not being able to rescue Tom (his primary goal for being in this fight from book one) has to be a crushing blow. And as I discuss later, Jake’s perhaps more in need of family support and getting this win than the others. At the end of the book, Tobias reflects on the fact that he and Jake have essentially switched positions since the beginning of this entire affair: Jake has now lost his family and Tobias has gained one of his own.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Rachel serves as a diversion at several points in this story, using her elephant morph to good effect (I always like when she breaks out this OG morph). Her choice to break the news to her mother by walking into the kitchen as a grizzly bear…not so sure about this. I get her concern that her mom being a lawyer means that a different approach is needed than with Cassie’s parents. But I have a hard time thinking of any personality type that is more receptive to news like this while staring down a grizzly in their house. And then her mom pretty much gets wrestled into the car and drove off before she gets a chance to really process things. Does make me wish we could have seen the scene when they all arrive at the Hork Bajir valley.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie really doesn’t have a lot in this book, but her interactions with her parents really does highlight the great relationship she has with them. I think we really spend the most time with Cassie’s parents throughout the series, with Jake’s family coming in second. Whenever the books dealt with Jake’s family, Tom rightly came to the forefront. But Cassie’s parents have shown up not only in her books but in others, due to the meeting location so often being the barn. It’s also no surprise that they would settle in well at the Hork Bajir valley and quickly become favorites of the local residents.

The Comic Relief: Marco helps Ax with tracking down the blood bank and assists in the various family rescue missions. As his family has already been taken care of, he doesn’t have too much in this book. While it’s both him and Ax that show up when Tobias returns to spy on his mother some more, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Marco was the one to figure out what was going on. Not only is he clever like that, but he has a good amount of experience under his belt with absent mothers and what the sudden return of one can do to a person’s mindset.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Other than helping Marco with the blood bank search, Ax mostly serves as the final nail in the coffin of the other family members’ innocence about the state of the world. While both groups are exposed to morphing and thought speak, it’s Ax’s arrival that seems to really cement things in their minds.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down this goes to Tobias’s introduction of the morphing technology to his mother which he does by giving her no warning or explanation of what’s going to happen, only instructing her to put her hand on his face as he morphs. We know how disgusting this process can be, and one can only imagine how horrifying it would be to only feel with your hands, having no idea what to even expect. To be fair, Tobias didn’t have the time to really spell out what was going to happen at this point in things. Lucky for him that Loren has the brave, accepting of the strange, temperament that I mentioned earlier.

Couples Watch!: My lasting regret will always be the fact that for some strange reason, other than a few exceptions, we only really get good insights into Rachel and Tobias’s relationship in his books, and he has fewer books overall than she does in the first place. His books and the scenes therein are excellent, don’t get me wrong. But I also feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities in Rachel books to deal with how she feels about dating a bird and, more importantly, a boy who is choosing to remain a bird. But no, instead we had to hear about “King Rachel” and how she was “like, the most powerful ever!” This book has a nice scene in the beginning with Rachel showing up with food for them both, and it’s just the sort of casual, every day scene that works really well as a glimpse into what the Animorphs’ lives are like when they’re not out on missions. This being the last Rachel or Tobias book though before the end though…oof. Hurry, distract oneself!

“You know, Tobias,” she said, “we have very weird dates.”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One isn’t in this book. Instead, we have the rather comical granny!Controller to contend with. It’s definitely the kind of choice that is made for the bizarre mental images of a granny tearing around on a helicopter shooting laser beams. But funny

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Tobias’s musings on motherhood and what a unique relationship it is is quite touching throughout this book. He reflects on how incredible it is that Cassie’s mom throws herself in front of a “mutated deer”/Ax to save Cassie and that Rachel’s mom lunges at a fully grown grizzly with a spice rack in an attempt to protect her daughters. Tobias’s loss of family has always been tragic, even more so since we discovered his origin story in ‘The Andalite Chronicles.” But this one really hits home on this fact with the sad state that is his relationship with his mother. She has no memory of him, has been living only blocks away, and even now, safe in the Hork Bajir valley, there’s no regaining that time. But it also ends on an incredibly hopeful note with Loren’s own instinctual moment of putting herself in harms way to protect Tobias and how meaningful this is for Tobias who has never had a family member who cared about him, let alone was willing to risk their own life for his.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Jake beats himself up quite a bit about the plans in this book. Most notably the speed at which they went in on the blood bank, perhaps not scouting it out well enough, and then the slow response to getting their families out, giving it a night for them all to think about it before moving into action. But really, I don’t think either of those decisions were bad in the moment. They both seem pretty standard for the way Jake has approached decision making in the past, and it’s only hindsight that makes him feel otherwise.

I will say that perhaps Jake’s family should have come first in the order of rescue. Tom being a known Controller makes his family that much more of a quick target and a higher risk all around. At the very least, they should have come second after Cassie’s family (who went first only because they were at the barn already when they all made the final decision.)

Favorite Quote: Two rather longish ones, but there were some pretty funny sequences in this book, stuck in-between the soul-crushing sadness of the entire situation, of course.

“But unless you count the Victoria’s Secret Web page, there are no babes in my life anymore,” Marco said.

<There were no babes in your old life,> I said.

“Oh. Very nice, Tobias. Go for the jugular. You’ve got Rachel tending to your every need. Me, I’ve got Ax-man.” He jerked his thumb toward Ax, who was gazing lovingly at a magazine ad for the new original M&M’s. “I’ll trade you right now, straight across.”

And the entire scene as performed by Ax when trying to get the dog from Loren was pretty good.

“Ah.” Ax nodded. “She does not understand how menacing we are.”

He tapped her on the shoulder. “You do not know me,” he said, “but I am a juvenile delinquent. I do not trust authority figures, I probably will not graduate from high school, and statistics say my present rowdiness and vandalism will likely lead to more serious crimes. I am a dangerous fellow, and I am causing mayhem in this store.”

He reached behind her and pulled three jars of baby food from the top shelf. Shoved them behind a box of macaroni. Shuffled the Cheez Whiz in front of the Marshmallow Fluff. Tossed a bag of lady’s shavers onto a bag of hamburger buns. “There. I have now shamelessly destroyed the symmetry of this shelf, undoing hours of labor by underpaid store employees. If you could see me, you would be frightened.”

“If she could see you, she’d have you committed,” Marco muttered

Scorecard: Yeerks 14, Animorphs 16

While the Animorphs did manage to save most of their families, the loss of Jake’s parents is a pretty big blow. All of them are important members of the team, but you have to think that having the leader who is facing some huge decisions is going to suffer more in going into the endgame with a messed up mindset over the failure to not only save Tom but lose his parents as well. Outside of that, the loss of their human identities is a big hit. Not only do now none of them have the normalcy of their regular lives to help balance out and provide a distraction from the war effort, but a lot of their safety came from the fact that the Yeerks weren’t on the lookout for humans.

Rating: I really liked this book. It’s awesome to see Loren again, but man, that entire family has to win the tragedy card. You have Elfangor, tricked away from his pregnant wife and then dying after meeting his son for five minutes. Tobias who grows up neglected, is bullied, and pretty much chooses to trap himself as a bird, since that’s the better option and then ends up in this terrible war. And now Loren, already having her mind tampered with by the Ellimist, gets in a crash, loses her sight and her memories of her infant son, forcing her to give him up for adoption, and even when they’re re-united, her memories can never be regained.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but in hindsight, I think the Tobias books are the best overall when you look at one single character’s contributions and quality. His always delved into important topics, not only for him as a character, but in the grander scheme of things (suicide, torture, PTSD, loss of family and found families, etc.) He’s also an excellent narrator and I’ve always appreciated the appropriate balance of action, humor, and even romance that is often found in his books.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #48: “The Return”

363356Animorphs #48: “The Return”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the “sixth Animorph,” is back. When the Animorphs and Ax decided to give another human being the power to morph, it was one of their biggest mistakes. David tried to destroy all of them–and almost succeeded. Rachel and the others thought they’d seen the last of him.

They were wrong.

Rachel knows what a threat David is. He’s cunning and dangerous. Worst of all, he knows their secrets. Now he’s captured Rachel as part of his plan to take over everything. David wants power. Money. But more than anything, he wants revenge.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, for 90% of this book I was banging my head against a wall at the sheer waste of the very last Rachel book we’re going to get. There’s a strong argument to be made that, other than Jake, Rachel has the most interesting over-arching story line throughout the series. And then, in the last book before we lose her for good, we get this. Dream sequences within dream sequences. A return to the crazy Rachel who wants to fight Jake for leadership. A bizarre Crayak appearance that comes with the worst “morph” (and cover art) ever. And then, at the very end, some truly good stuff about Rachel’s role on the team and how the others view (and use) her. But we’ll save that for just a few throwaway pages at the very end, just to really rub it in your face that there was in fact good stuff to be had here. But we had to get those dream sequences in, you know?! Priorities.

It was trash. Then it was even worse trash. Then it…made some super strong points?? Then it ended on a cliffhanger…

Rachel and the other Animorphs are on a school field trip to the White House when the Yeerks attack, leading with a shot that takes out Tobias. Enraged and assuming that the Yeerks are now going on the open offensive, so they might as well too, Rachel and the others go into their battle morphs. Grizzly!Rachel begins taking out Hork Bajir, but takes a lot of hits while she’s at it. Gorilla!Marco pulls her back and tiger!Jake orders her to stand down; that she’s taken too much damage and is out of control. This enrages Rachel and she decides that she’s done taking orders from Jake and it’s time for them to fight it out for leadership of the group. They fight, but Rachel continues to take too much damage, slowly bleeding out in front of the White House, only to wake up, drenched in sweat in her bed.

Later, Rachel is visiting Ax and Marco in Ax’s scoop in the woods after failing to find Cassie in her barn. Rachel is concerned about the repeated nightmares she’s been having of fighting Jake, one-on-one. On the Internet, the discover a first hand account of the attack on the battle carrier. Rachel expresses her excitement that the war will finally be out in the open. Marco and Ax are both concerned about this level of enthusiasm from Rachel, and she begins to feel ashamed herself. Marco goes on to explain that if the war does come out into the open, the Animorphs are finished.

Eagle!Rachel flies back towards home with Tobias. On the way, they get into another discussion about Rachel’s enthusiasm about the war, with Tobias pointing out that she was beginning to disturb everyone with her attitude. Rachel once again starts down the “Jake is threatened by me” mentality that we are all so familiar with and loved back in the “Rachel is the leader” book.  As she ponders this, she almost hits an electrical wire before, again, waking from her dream.

Awake, Rachel is disturbed by her dreams and reflects on the David incident, one of the most extreme examples of her past ruthlessness, but also an example of when the hard thing had to be done and the fact that while the plan ad been Cassie’s, Rachel was the one who had to actually follow through with it.

At school, she sees Jake in the halls and feels that his nod of greeting is more cold than usual. She worries that she is still in another dream, feeling disturbed and as if something is wrong with the world. In class, she begins to see red flashes and thinks she hears rats in the wall, crying out for help. She skips the rest of school and sends a note to Cassie to meet her at Cassie’s barn. When she arrives, she sees Cassie run out, pursued by a mass of rats that being attacking her as she tries to morph. The rats come after Rachel too and she tries to escape them by jumping in a pond. But once there, she is grabbed by something beneath and almost drowns.

She wakes up in some type of dungeon/sewer location, trapped within a hard, plastic cube. Two thugs show up and one pulls out rat!David. David tells her of the horrors of living on the rock island, but explains that, because he’s so smart, he was able to recruit a few of the “smarter” rats as lieutenants and then sneak off the island on a boat brought in by a group of naturalists. Once on the mainland, he was able to recruit another 200 or so rats to his “cause” and, being able to get into small places, like banks, gather the funds to pay off thugs like the two in the sewer with them.

The two get into a conversation where David tries to manipulate Rachel into taking all of the blame for what happened to him and gas-lighting her into thinking he was an innocent victim. For his revenge, he wants to force Rachel to morph rat and become stuck, like him. The red light returns and reveals another corner of the room where Cassie is being held prisoner in  similar cube. David says he’ll let her suffocate in the cube if Rachel doesn’t morph. To buy time, Rachel does as he asks, hoping to still find an out. As she tries to think of a way out of the situation, David continues to prod at her about her role on the team. He also reveals that he has a solution to the Yeerk problem: wipe out the humans on Earth with a plague, then the Yeerks have no reason to be here anymore. As David talks, his voice starts to sound strange. He continues to manipulate her, almost hypnotizing her into agreeing that without Jake, Rachel could be in charge and wouldn’t that just be better?

The red glow returns and reveals itself to be an eye. Rachel snaps out of it and realizes that David can’t have an army of rats, they aren’t smart enough for that. And thus nothing that has happened can be real, like her and Cassie being attacked by rats. In the cube, “Cassie” turns into the Drode, and Rachel realizes that the red haze/eye is Crayak. She also realizes that Crayak’s hatred of Jake has been behind her strange dreams, setting Rachel up to hurt him. David, it turns out, is also only working for Crayak.

Crayak tells Rachel that she needs to free herself from herself and magically pops her out of her cage and into a giant, warrior version of herself with claws for fingernails. She is able to transform to and from this form at will, and begins to revel in the power it offers. She tries to attack the Drode, but everything is an illusion. Crayak transforms her back into a rat, now trapped in her cube with David. She gets in a fight with David, but he has more experience as a rat. Just when she is beginning to lose, Crayak pops her back out and into human form. She transforms back into Super-Rachel. He tempts her with thoughts of the power she could have in this form, able to take out the Yeerk force all on her own. Then pops her back into the cage with David, a rat again. The contrast starts to drive Rachel crazy.

Back in Super-Rachel form, Crayak lays out what he wants: she can retain this form and power if she kills Jake. Rachel refuses, telling herself that she is one of the good guys. To push Rachel further, Crayak somehow snaps Visser One/Three into the room. Crayak tells Visser One that he is now involved in a fight to the death with Rachel. If Visser One wins, he gets Earth; if he loses, he and the Yeerks must retreat.

They fight. Rachel is able to instantly morph to any of her forms, including Super-Rachel. When Visser One morphs some type of sentient goo that Rachel can’t fight, she discovers that she can create morphs, essentially, turning into a killer plant of her own imagination. Even after Visser One beheads her, Rachel is able to quickly reform herself. Rachel prepares to kill Visser One. But as Crayak urges her onward, she begins to reflect on Super-Rachel and how the world and the other Animorphs would see her: not as a someone to be honored and respected, but someone to be feared and hated. She releases Visser One, repeating that she is one of the good guys.

Back in the cube, back as a rat, Rachel begins to despair, not sure what is real and what is not. Crayak and the Drode disappear, leaving rat!Rachel with minutes before she is trapped as a rat and with Cassie, back trapped in her airless cube. She remembers the two thugs, and quickly calls out to them, highlighting the crappy situation of working for a talking rat like David. She promises that if they let her out, she will find the money David had promised them and they’ll be free of him. They let her out and she morphs grizzly and scares them off while David scampers away. As they run off, Rachel realizes that eventually they’ll talk and a Controller will realize that there’s a rat out there who knows all about the “Andalite bandits.”  She releases Cassie and tells her to go on ahead, that she still has something to do, to return David to the island. Cassie tries to stop her, and Rachel gets angry, saying that Cassie knows what needs to be done, and can she do it herself? When Cassie hesitates and says she doesn’t know, the matter is settled.

She catches up with David, who is sitting staring at the sun; he doesn’t run when she approaches. He tells her he’d rather die than go back to the island. When she tells him that she can’t kill him, that she’s one of the good guys, he replies that she should do the “good thing” and put him out of his misery. Horrified, Rachel tries to tell him to just run away and promise never to tell anyone about them. David laughs a manic laugh and calls her a fool. Despite herself, she feels sorry for him and sorry for herself that they are in this situation. Rachel sets him down and cries, half hoping that he’ll just run away and spare her the decision. But he doesn’t. He repeats that if she is one of the good guys, she’ll do the right thing and kill him. But Rachel doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, so she sits there, a teenage girl in an alley staring at a white rat.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  As far as Rachel’s character goes, I feel like we only really get into it towards the last third of this book. There’s a horrible return to the power-hungry Rachel who has some type of grudge against Jake for the first half to two-thirds and I don’t really want to even bother going into my feelings on that yet again (instead I’ll do it in the Jake section next!)

Instead, I wish the story had focused on the David stuff the entire time as there is plenty of character stuff to mine there. Not only do Rachel’s actions in the David trilogy play a big role in her relationship with Jake, but we also see how Rachel’s view of Cassie has been affected by that group of books as well.

I really liked effect had by the repeated mantra of “I’m one of the good guys” and then the heart-braking pay off for that phrase in the end when David asks her to kill him, saying that that would be the “good” thing to do. Crayak mentions that good and evil are only simple to the small-minded (deep burn to Cassie!) and it’s another great payoff that we see that thought in action with Rachel’s decisions at the end of this book. What is the good ting to do?

I also really liked her reflections on her role in the team, once she settles upon the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

I  looked  at  Cassie’s  face.  It  was  a  sweet  face.  It  was  wise,  too.  But  still…I  don’t know…oddly innocent somehow.

I’d been protecting her. Them. Jake.  Cassie.  Tobias.  Even  Marco  and  Ax.  Helping  to  protect  their  innocence. Letting them see themselves as the good guys. It was a symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent, whatever. They needed me to be the bad guy.

And I needed them to be the good guys. See, if they were good guys, and I was on their team, then that automatically made me a good guy, too. Even if I was different.

For all of the book’s flaws, I’m really glad that this part came out of this story. It’s essentially the conclusion and thesis to Rachel as a character throughout the entire series. It’s just excellent all around. If only it had come in a book that didn’t have a god awful cover of Rachel morphing some mutated version of herself. *sigh*

Our Fearless Leader: It’s unfortunate to see a return to the “Rachel is jealous of Jake’s leadership role” take again in  a Rachel book. While the later explanation by Crayak that his goal in recruiting Rachel is to take out Jake, it still seems to play off the idea that Rachel, on her own, still covets the leadership role and harbors some type of violent inclinations towards Jake. It was hard to swallow this the first time and having it reappear doesn’t really improve things. Since that book, again, we’ve seen no evidence that Rachel covets the leadership role, that the other Animorphs would ever accept her as the next in line for leadership, or that any of this type of tension lies at the heart of Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Given where the book ends up in the last third, with Rachel’s realization/acceptance of the role she plays in the team, especially when connected to David, there were a lot more interesting routes that could have been taken with her relationship with Jake given his and Rachel’s interactions back during the David trilogy. And when you know where the series is headed with Jake’s use of Rachel…I just feel like there were a lot better options to explore there than some weird jealously/leadership angle that has never made sense.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias isn’t even in this book in reality, only in a dream sequence.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  You have to wonder whether Rachel and Cassie talk more about this after the fact. And, as I’ll get to in the “crazy plans” section, like David, I’m not sure why real Cassie had to be involved in any of this either. But it’s good that she was, because, again, the end of the book had some good stuff between her and Rachel as Rachel is understand truly where she stands. Rachel thinks repeatedly about the fact that Cassie was the one who came up with the plan to trap David (ironic, since earlier in this book, David mentions that he would have picked Cassie as a companion because she was nice to him, but he didn’t want to torture her with being a rat, so he chose Rachel. If only he had know who the ultimate mastermind of his fate had been!) but how Rachel was the one who had to suffer actually executing it. There’s also this great interaction at the very end when Rachel is having to go after David once again to return him to the island:

“I don’t think you can do it a second time,” Cassie said quietly.

I felt all the old anger bubbling up. Why was she arguing? She knew what had to be done. Why was she pretending not to understand what had to be done? So  she  could  sleep  at  night?  So  she  could  say  “I  tried  to  stop  her,  so  it’s  not  my fault?” so she could say “I didn’t know.”

I looked her in the eye. <I’m not sure I can, either. So will you do it?>

Cassie’s face creased. Her mouth opened and closed. Her eyes flickered.“I don’t know,” she whispered finally.

<I didn’t think so.>

It really highlights how even Rachel’s best friend is willing to let Rachel suffer the brunt of these kinds of things. And Rachel’s right, it’s worse because Cassie and the others often do things like this, use Rachel to do the dirty work and then judge her for it. The symbiotic relationship Rachel references feels a bit uneven at that point. It’s one thing for Rachel to do the dirty work to be one of the good guys, and the others to let her, so that she’s the bad guy. But then taking the extra time/breath to judge her for it, that’s tipping the balance towards the others being in the wrong ultimately. Rachel’s essentially paying a double price at that point.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, isn’t in this, other than the dream sequence. Though his contributions in the dream conversation hold pretty true to the Marco we know. He’s also the example Rachel uses in her discussion with Tobias about why one bad behavior in the group (Marco’s whining) is tolerated but her gung-ho-ness is not. I’m not sure about this comparison, but, again, it’s a dream sequence so probably not worth over-analyzing it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is only in this in the dream sequence, and even there he doesn’t contribute much.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the most horrifying part of this book is the cover. Full stop. Super!Rachel is such a stupid idea. She ends up having unlimited morphing abilities as it is in the fight with Visser One, able to morph instantly and create imaginary morphs. There’s no reason to have some steroid version of herself included too. It’s just stupid and a truly unfortunate choice to include as the cover. If readers weren’t already jumping ship off this series at this point, I’m pretty sure showing up at the bookstore and seeing this cover might have been the death knell for a good number of people.

Couples Watch!: Man, I can’t emphasize enough just how disappointing this book is on this front, considering it’s the last Rachel book we have in the series. The past few Rachel books have been disappointing in this arena for the most part too, and it’s really unfortunate as it felt like at one point about halfway through the series this relationship was going somewhere interesting with the whole “Rachel is frustrated with Tobias’s choice to remain a hawk” thing. But then that whole plot point was just dropped all together pretty much. And the only interactions we get in this book are during a dream sequence that Crayak creates and in which Tobias is again mostly a jerk towards Rachel. What made them an interesting pair was their ability to understand the choices the other made, choices that were often hard for the main group to understand. Rachel can appreciate Tobias’s commitment to the war, and Tobias has his own ruthless streak to match Rachel’s (again, remember that he is ultimately the decider behind the destruction of an entire alien race back in Megamorphs #2). So yeah, it’s a bummer that we’re left out in the cold here. There’s some good David stuff in this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that in Rachel’s last book we get more on her relationship with psycho David than with Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There are essentially three villains in this book: Visser One, Crayak, and David. Visser One only shows up for the brief battle royale and you have to imagine how confusing this whole thing is to him. He tries to get arrogant/snippy with Crayak initially but quickly seems to realize he’s outmatched. And then he lucks out that Rachel has a crisis of conscience at the very end or he would have been a goner.

As for Crayak, he’s again kind of just a nebulous, Sauron-like bad guy with a fixation on Jake. Frankly, other than the “Ellimist” book, the Drode has been the more interesting villain from this group and I think the story might have read better with him and his snark taking point, rather than the pretty cheesy “master villain” vibe that Crayak had going for him.

David is by far the most interesting villain in this story. I’ll get into why it’s weird that he’s here at all a bit later, but regardless of whether it makes sense, I’m glad they included him since the best parts of the book were at the end when Rachel was having to deal with him. He’s pretty interesting throughout this story. We see the full scope of crazy!David, from his extreme egomania, to his the cowardice at the heart of him, to his deranged sense of being wronged and the extremes that he will go to to fight back, to the part that is still a human boy who is living through hell. I’m not convinced that David ever had to come back, but since he did, I would have rather had the entire book deal with him and the fallout from the events back in the David trilogy. Crayak and Visser One just seem kind of ridiculous in comparison to some of the pretty heavy stuff that comes to play with the David sections of the story.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The end of the book definitely got to me. Not only does Rachel begin to feel bad for David, but the reader does too. There are just some really powerful lines and images dropped in there. Like when Rachel first comes across David again after chasing him down and she describes him as standing up on this back legs, facing the sun and delicately waving his paws around to appreciate his freedom and the world. And his pleas that Rachel kill him, that ultimately that is what a “good” person would do, all things considered. And the line, of a girl crying in an alley, staring at a white rat. It really hits home how terrible this situation is and that, regardless of all of this, Rachel is still a teenage girl faced with terrible choices. And choices that her friends have left her to make on her own.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Crayak’s plan to try and turn Rachel on Jake seems overly complex. I’m not sure why David had to be involved at all really? The threat to trap her as a rat with references to her past ruthlessness with David would probably have been just as effective without him. Or, as we see throughout this book, Crayak is perfectly able to create illusions, so the real David was never necessary to the actual plan. And then why David had to have a plan of his own with two actual human thugs to carry it out? What benefit did this have for Crayak other than introducing points of failure to his plan which then…did fail because of them! If those thugs hadn’t been there, and David hadn’t been there, Rachel and Cassie would be done for. I guess maybe this would have been against the “rules” in Crayak and the Ellimist’s game. But the rules are pretty hard to really understand as it is, so I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason for the overly complex nature of this all.

Favorite Quote:

This is a long quote, but it sums up a lot of good stuff from this book and Rachel’s realizations about where she fits in the team. The biggest frustration for me, the reader, a Rachel fan, is the fact that Rachel has realized things like this a few times, but the other members of the group never seem to realize the same thing: that they need Rachel to do these things and that they are foisting a burden on her and the least they could do is keep quiet instead of shaming her further.

I looked into Cassie’s eyes. Did she want to know? Did she really want to know? No. she didn’t. That’s why I’d been so angry. Not just at Jake. At all of them. Because they had kept their hands clean. They had pretended they didn’t know I’d done something extreme like threaten to kill David. And his parents.And when David had confronted them with the truth, they’d made their disapproval known.  Separated  themselves  from  me.  Made  it  clear  I  was  deranged  and  out  of control and so, so unlike them.

And  then,  Cassie had  come  up  with the  plan to  trap  David  in  morph. But  only  I’d had the nerve to endure the two gut-wrenching hours of David’s misery.Why  hadn’t  I  fought  back?  Defended  myself  against  accusations,  insinuations  of craziness? Okay, I’d confronted Jake. But had anything really changed between us since then? Did  he  generally  approve  of  my  actions?  No.  Only  of  their  results.  He  needed  my results.

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

No change! Nothing really happens in this book and there aren’t any long-standing changes to the overall war effort on either side.

Rating: So, as evidenced by the gif at the beginning and my thoughts throughout, I had a very mixed response to this book. I think the inclusion of Crayak was questionable (and his plan was idiotic), and that the dream sequences were a waste of precious page space in Rachel’s last book. But I also think that the last third of the book dealing with David and Rachel’s realizations about her role on the team and how the others have treated her is crucial character development for her before the final chapter in the series. Other than the obvious end of the series, I think this book highlights why Rachel is one of the more tragic characters in the series. Tobias obviously has the roughest go of it, but I think Rachel might even beat out Jake. Jake at least gets some of the respect that comes with being a leader and the hard choices that come with that. We see in every other Animorphs book how much the others respect and recognize the burden Jake takes on in this role. Rachel, on the other hand, plays an equally important role, and the others use her for it knowingly, but she also gets only derision and shame for doing these hard things.

I also have mixed feelings on the end. I’m not sure if I like or dislike the fact that it doesn’t resolve Rachel’s choice about David. In some ways, it feels like the same type of cop-out that the Animorphs themselves take: leave it up to Rachel. But here, the author just side-steps the whole terrible choice by leaving it unanswered. So yes, on one hand you have the interesting situation where each reader can decide for themselves what Rachel did (or they would do in her place). But it also seems to avoid answering the main question of the entire book and Rachel’s arc throughout the series: what is the “good” thing to do vs. the necessary? And the fact that there really isn’t an answer to that question doesn’t mean that people/characters don’t still have to ultimately decide. Rachel can’t sit in the alley forever.

I do think the last lines of the book is one of the more beautiful endings of any book in the series, however. So I’m torn on whether I’d want to lose that in exchange for some more resolution.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.  And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.

A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.

It would be hard to believe the entire fat of the planet depended on that girl.

A girl who wanted to do the right thing.

But who had no idea at all what that was…

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #47: “The Resistance”

363349Animorphs #47: “The Resistance”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have to make the most important decision they’ve ever had to make: Do they continue to fight the Yeerks in secret, or is it time to let everyone know there is a resistance? That the Animorphs exist. And that Earth does stand a small chance against the invasion.

Jake knows that either choice is a major one. Not one that some kid should be responsible for. But he’s getting tired of the pressure. So, even though he realizes the other Animorphs need him to be strong, he doesn’t feel that way. In fact, he feels just the opposite. And Jake knows if he starts to lose it the Animorphs are done…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Why. Why would we waste one of the Jake’s last precious books on this steaming pile? It’s only half a Jake book at best, and even that half is so, so not awesome. I think I could have resigned myself to this kind of nonsense if we were still in the doldrums that was much of the books in the 30-range, but here?? Now?! No.

This is the perfect image of rage and sadness at the same time. My feelings for this book so well expressed.

Look, I’m too mad to even detail the Civil War plot. Let’s be honest, I skim read all of these sections. Not only did I not care one bit, but the parallels that were being drawn were so on the nose that it was just uncomfortable at times. And also unnecessary. The series as a whole has always done an excellent job of presenting complicated wartime decisions without the need to prop those conversations up against some historical event. So, here is the plot description for the half of the book that was, you know, actually an Animorphs book.

Jake returns home, exhausted from yet another mission. On top of that, after Marco’s exposure and their exploits on the military ship, the team is in the middle of a serious debate about how/when/or if they should make their war public. Everyone is grumpy, and Jake doesn’t know what is the right choice. His mom greets him with a chores list to clear out the basement. Trudging down, he begins going through boxes and discovers a journal from a past relative who served in the Union during the Civil War. [Here enters the alternating storyline that I will actively try to forget even happened.]

Cassie calls and through code informs Jake that he’s needed at the free Hork Bajir valley. Once he and the others arrive, they are told that the worst has happened: a couple of Hork Bajir warriors have been captured and will have been infested by now, exposing the location of the valley to the Yeerks. Jake and the Animorphs immediately insist that the Hork Bajir must flee the valley, but Toby insists that they want to stay and fight, even in the face of what has to be insurmountable odds. Once it becomes clear that they will not be moved from this position, the Animorphs get down to trying to plan their defense.

As they explore around the valley, they come across a beaver dam and pond. From there, Jake gets an idea: if they build up the dam even further, they can use the pooled water as a timed released to flood out the invading Yeerk forces. The team also discovers a group of campers in the area. The team split up to get to work with several of them morphing beavers and starting to build up the dam. Tobias and Jake head out to try and get the campers to move out.

They decide to approach the campers in their human form with some lame stories about incoming weather. Not surprisingly, the campers don’t believe them. They then decide to just forget it all and morph in front of them. Luckily for them, the campers turn out to be huge Stark Trek nerds and are immediately down with the idea of believing a wild story about invading aliens. Some of them take off, but a small group (a father and his two teenage kids) decide they want to fight alongside the Animorphs and head back to the Hork Bajir valley. There, they join in an assembly line where the Hork Bajir are building spears to fight against the Yeerks.

Finally, the attack comes. They manage to hold back the first line of Hork Bajir, but shortly follows Visser One (Three) himself, in the morph he used in the first book when he chased the Animorphs out of the Yeerk pool, along with a group of Taxxons. Jake frantically signals for the dam to be released as free Hork Bajir fall all around the fighting Animorphs. Tiger!Jake ends up in a one-on-one fight with Visser One, but luckily the flood of water hits right when things start looking bad for him. He manages to swim his way out, and Visser One and the remaining Taxxons retreat.

Knowing that the Yeerks will likely try again, Toby prepares the remaining Hork Bajir to flee into the woods where they will remain until the end of the war. Marco’s parents will accompany them. As for the campers, the dad died in the attack and the two teenage children are shell-shocked. Jake and the Animorphs head home, with Jake reflecting that all they can ever do is what they think is best in the moment.

Our Fearless Leader: The beginning of this book is really great for highlighting just how exhausted Jake has become at this point. He mentions the fact that the group is barely making it through school and are all running on empty. To then get home and be presented with a list of chores…you can see how it would almost be enough to break him. Especially on top of the looming debate about going public.

There are some good moments between him and Tom. Tom even slips up a few times, making comments under his breath that would be suspicious if Jake wasn’t already in the know. It goes to show that the war is beginning to take a toll on the Yeerks as well; everyone’s guard is beginning to fall as things start to come to a head.

As for the rest of the book, we see a few good leadership moments from Jake, especially with his idea about the beaver dam. But we also see a lot of moments where things and people are definitely out of his control. He reflects on the choices that Ax made in the last book and has to come up against Toby and the Hork Bajir when they refuse to follow his direction to flee the valley.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is, of course, pro to the idea of the team going more public. She also uses her grizzly morph to help get the dam built more quickly when the beavers have a hard time moving some of the bigger logs. Not much else, other than that.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is with Jake when they confront the campers, so I equally blame him for the sheer stupidity of this move. I will detail my feelings on this whole “plan” later, but essentially I think it was a pretty terrible choice on both of their parts. I also wish we had gotten more from Tobias with the debate with Toby and the other Hork Bajir about the future of their life in the valley. He’s the closest to this group, so it always feels like a missed opportunity when he’s not more at the center of any discussion or interaction with them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is the one to wade into the beaver pond and captures a beaver for them to acquire. Not sure how believable her method is, but if anyone was going to do it, it would be her.

The Comic Relief: Marco, as usual, is the only reasonable one in the group when it comes to the nonsense that is the idea that the Hork Bajir want to stay and fight and the fact that Tobias and Jake revealed themselves to the campers. The entire time, he repeatedly points out that they have no chance of winning and fighting simply for pride or something is just a way to die more quickly.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I have to say, one of the bigger disappointments of this book is the way that we get very little follow-up on the monumental decisions that Ax made in the last book. Jake pretty much says that they’ve both kind of silently agreed to just not talk about it. Jake admits that he is secretly glad that Ax took the decision out of his hands, but he’s also still mad that Ax would disobey him so directly. For his part, we see that Ax won’t meet Jake’s eyes and clearly still has strong feelings about the entire experience. And that’s about all we get. There is zero reference to the fact that Tobias, Rachel, and Marco all agreed with Ax’s plan and helped him execute it as well, which has to be almost as notable to Jake.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not really a lot. The beaver morph was pretty straightforward, as far as morphing mechanics go. The fight between tiger!Jake and Visser One is pretty  brutal, however. Poor tiger!Jake, always with the neck injuries!

Couples Watch!: Really nothing at all. There were a few nice references to how well Marco’s parents are doing with their life in the valley, but Jake and Cassie don’t have much and neither do Rachel and Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: It’s a cool call-back to have Visser One come after them in the same morph he used in book #1. I think this may be one of the first times we’ve ever seen him re-use a morph? I’ve always thought it was strange that he didn’t have preferred battle morphs in the past, but if he was going to have one, this one seems like a solid choice. The only reason it didn’t work way back in the first book was due to its size and the small tunnels in the Yeerk Pool. Out in the open, it seems like a powerful choice. He gets in his usual corny lines, so it’s nice to know that the promotion has done nothing to improve (?) his campy villain mode.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The whole decision with the campers, especially when you look at the end result which is two teenagers who are now orphans. There was absolutely zero reason this had to go down the way it did. It’s one thing to reveal themselves to military personal on the ship, individuals who have signed on and trained for battle. It’s completely another to involve unprepared civilians. Not only  have we seen the Animorphs deal with scenarios exactly like this in the past super easily (just send in grizzly!Rachel and the problem is solved), but they only make the barest attempts to convince the campers to leave before just jumping to “let’s reveal all of our secrets to a group of complete strangers!”

Then, to make matters worse, it becomes immediately clear that the campers are in no way tracking with the seriousness of the issue, making tons of references to Star Trek and such (these were fun for laughs, but should have been seriously worrying for Jake and Tobias). So what do Jake and Tobias do? Agree that sure, it’s fine if some of them want to join in the fight. And sure, it’s fine if the others want to head out, now knowing all of their secrets. Jake and Tobias even make some passing reference to the fact that no one will believe them because they’re Trekkies. Do you know who will believe them? The Yeerks, that’s who!! They’ve known this for literally years now, which is why it’s always been so important to not reveal their human forms. It’s just insane that they now hand-wave it away or “forget” this part of it.

And then what happens? The dad and teenagers get there and then the dad realizes that wait, yes, this is real and death is on the line. But, oops, it’s too late, and now the Animorphs have civilians who all they can do to protect is to tell them to hide. Which they do, and the dad still ends up dead. There’s no reference to what happens to the kids past this point. But there is zero excuse for any of this nonsense. Jake and the others essentially just exposed their whole operation for no reason and got two kids’ dad killed for nothing. It has to go down as one of the worst things they’ve done in the entire series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole idea that the Hork Bajir wanted to stay and fight. This falls largely on Toby’s shoulders, but also on the rest of the Animorphs for giving in as easily as they do. I get that they couldn’t force the issue, but Toby really has no excuse. There were a lot of pretty lines about freedom and defending one’s home, but all of this is completely pointless in the situation they were in here. Freedom is meaningless if you’re dead. Not to mention, in the middle of battle preparations Toby is also preparing her people for the necessary retreat at the end of it. What the hell?! It’s bad enough to be naive enough to think they could win the battle, but the fact that they know and acknowledge the fact that they’ll need to retreat at the end of it anyways? Then you are literally just throwing your life away for pride or some nonsense. And asking others to do it too by involving the Animorphs. It’s pure stupidity for nothing. They still suffer huge losses, and somehow we’re supposed to believe that this counts as a “win” because now they’ve “protected their home” or some such nonsense? You’re still retreating to life in exile in the woods!! Nothing changed from this other than the fact that you lost a lot of your people for nothing and had the same end result.

I will say that the beaver/dam issue was rather clever. I’m not sure about the mechanics of how this would work (how fast would water really build up?), but it’s a cool idea nonetheless.

Favorite Quote:

A good comical line from Marco. The same could be said about the cover. Here we are, getting close to the end, and we have…a beaver morph.

<You know, this mission is seriously important. I’m thinking the morph should be a little more, I don’t know, glamorous. I mean, going beaver to save an entire colony of aliens is like putting James Bond behind the wheel of a minivan. With a bumper sticker that says, “World’s Greatest Mom.” No offense.>

Marco, again, calling it like it is. Jake’s rebuttal is completely weak, too. Marco legitimately did have to do what he did. Jake absolutely did not. If they had to reveal themselves to every person who’s been in the way on one of these missions, they would have shown themselves to people in almost every book.

<Exactly the problem!> Marco said angrily.<Jake, who decided it was okay to make public appearances?>

“Well, you, actually,” I said. “And that’s not an accusation. It’s a fact. When you told your dad about us. You did what you had to do and so did I.”

<That was different with my dad,> he said forcefully. <Maybe even with those sailors and marines on the aircraft carrier. I don’t know. But come on, Jake. You don’t even know these campers. Who they work for, who they’re related to, where they’re from.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

A point for the  Yeerks! Not only did the Animorphs/Hork Bajir make terrible decisions throughout this all, but the Yeerks successfully flushed out the Hork Bajir and took one of the Animorphs’ main bases of operation off the table.

Rating: This book was infuriating. I only covered the half that had to do with the Animorphs and as you can see from my multiple rants above, even that part was incredibly angering. And that’s not counting the fact that a full half of the book was wasted on a Civil War plot line that was completely unnecessary. Look, I get that in long-running book series or show, you reach a point where this type of experimentation with storytelling comes to play simply due to ideas running dry. But we were at that point books and books ago. Now, things are actually ramping up! The series is clearly building towards an ultimate conflict. This is absolutely NOT the time to waste an entire half of an already short book on stupidity like this. And really, it’s not like the Civil War story added anything to this. I skim read it, but I could have literally read zero of it and missed nothing. Like I said above, any parallels that were drawn were so on the nose as to seem comical. And Jake’s not even reading this story or anything where he could be making these connections himself as his own story plays out. It’s just two completely seperate stories running next to each other. I’m not here for the Civil War; I’m here for Animorphs, and there’s so little of it left that it’s almost insulting to read a book like this where half the page count is essentially just thrown out on a pointless side story.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #46: “The Deception”

363401Animorphs #46: “The Deception”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have managed to contact the Andalite home world. But the battle is far from over. Visser Two has arrived on earth, and he’s not happy about the state of things. He decides the best way to take over Earth is to have the humans destroy the people and the land the Yeerk’s don’t need. He decides to start World War III.

Ax and his friends know that Visser Two means business and there will probably only be two ways to keep him from destroying everything they know: Find a way to stop the war. Or, find away to stop him …forever..

Narrator: Ax

Plot: Another “beginning of the end” book where we see the start of the expansion of what, to this point, has been a very small war up on to a much larger, global scale. And poor Ax really embraces his role as being of two people and what that means, and it’s just rough.

Poor Ax, with the worst choices of all.

The story picks up right off the back of the last with the Animorphs reaching out to the Andalites. In no surprise to anyone, even, notably, Ax himself at this point, the Andalites are huge dicks and immediately question the validity of the information the Animorphs are providing about the Yeerks preparation for the Andalite fleet. They accuse the Animorphs of potentially just trying to make things up to re-direct the Andalite fleet back towards helping Earth. Ax even gets on at one point and they say that while they’ll take what he says “under consideration,” he “might have confused his loyalties” by all of this time on Earth at this point, so they can’t completely trust him. Again, Andalites, showing their true colors as just the worst (all the more so for always strutting around claiming to be the best).

Later, Ax, Marco and Tobias overhear a garble report from the Yeerks on the transmitter. Ax manages to hack the transmitter into the NSA computer system and with its greater power is able to more fully receive the full Yeerk report: Visser Two is on his way to Earth to begin to put Visser Three’s (now Visser One) more grand plans into action. They overhear a set of coordinates and immediately need to make a plan.

They discover that the location is far out over the Pacific Ocean, and with the short amount of time before the plan, whatever it may be, is set to be put in motion, they won’t have time to make it out there using any of their morphs. This sets off the moral debate about whether or not they’ve finally reached the point where they will need to compromise on their general practice of not morphing humans. Cassie protests, but Jake is able to convince her that by this point in the war, they have to make these tough choices.

They make their way to an air force base and there Rachel and Ax knock out two pilots, morph them, and commandeer a fighter jet. The other morph flea and hang on for the ride, their small bodies able to survive the increased pressure from the incredible speeds the jet reaches. They make their way out to a large nuclear carrier ship in the middle of the ocean. But by the time they’ve gotten there, the original pilots have been discovered and everyone is on high alert. Ax manages to execute a controlled crash into the ocean and they all morph seagulls and make their way to the ship.

Jake, it turns out, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of huge military ships like this, and using this information, they infiltrate the ship with Ax morphing another human sailor and making his way around. The problem is: they don’t know what they’re looking for! Until they spot some new arrivals who include a familiar face: Chapman. Alongside an officer called Admiral Carrington who they quickly discover is Visser Two, Chapman approaches the ship’s captain and says they have a special delivery for him. Ax slips two of the roach!Animorphs into the captain’s pocket and they are able to get in the room with him, but they are too late and the captain is infested. Ax and the others go to battle morphs to try and help, witnessed by several sailors around them. They barge in and Ax upends the portable Yeerk pool. In the madness, human soldiers barge in and the Animorphs have to bail to avoid hurting innocents.

Cassie and Ax end up together and Ax once more morphs his human sailor morph and, with Cassie on board, makes his way through the ship to an information deck that Jake had mentioned. There, they overhear an announcement of an incoming Chinese missile which shortly after hits with a massive explosion. Ax is quick to put together the Yeerk plot: they are planning on setting off WWIII by instigating a war between the Chinese and the U.S. Ax frantically calls out to Jake who orders him to do whatever he has to to reverse the admiral and captain’s orders to retaliate. Ax shoots the admiral/Visser Two in the leg. When the medics arrive to take him to medical bay, Ax follows them and quickly knocks them out when they are in a private room. He acquires the admiral and returns to the control center where he orders the captain to reverse the order for a counter attack.

Chapman and the captain return to the room where Visser Two is lying, but the room is now also full of the rest of the Animorphs in their battle morphs. They demand to know what the rest of the plan is. In the way of any true villain, Visser Two immediately spills the rest of the plan: in a few hours, the US will hear that the ship has been attacked by the Chinese, and a specific sub, manned by Yeerks, will set out with a nuclear weapon to attack China. They try to threaten Visser Two into telling them which sub is the one controlled, but Visser Two is a true believer and zealously wackadoodle with his visions of Yeerk glory and refuses to tell them.

They are interrupted by the arrival of a bunch of Bug Fighters carrying Hork Bajir. Pandemonium breaks out on the ship with the human crew fighting against the Controlled crew and the alien invaders. Several members of the crew begin to recognize that the Earth animals that have suddenly appeared on the ship are fighting on their side and try to team up with the Animorphs. However, they are all badly outnumbered and it is hard to tell which humans are Controlled and which aren’t in the madness. In the madness, Visser Two escapes.

Ax sets off through the battle to track him down. To do so, he decides to follow Chapman and to do that, he gets another human morph, this time asking the individual in question who quickly agrees. He tracks down Chapman and, holding him at gun point, tries to get him to reveal the location of Visser Two. But before he can make much progress, he gets knocked out. He comes to, returns to his Andalite body, and makes his way back through the ship where he discovers the dying Captain. The Yeerk slithers out, but Ax knows it won’t make it far. The Captain says he tried to fight it, and Ax reassures him that he did all he could and stays with him until he dies.

Ax meets up with Tobias who has also acquired another human morph. All around them, the battle is being lost, with more and more of the ship falling under Yeerk control and the real humans being massacred. They meet up with the others and debate what to do, knowing that Visser Two, in his mania, can’t be threatened into revealing the Yeerk-controlled sub.

It’s at this point that Ax realizes the only way forward and privately thought speaks Jake. He tells him that in this situation, they only threat that could work against Visser Two is  a threat against the Yeerk pool itself. And fighter jets on the ship has some pretty strong bombs…Jake is horrified, knowing that they’d have to kill thousands of humans to drop a bomb through the middle of their city to reach the Yeerk pool. Ax realizes that Jake can’t make this decision, but he, Ax, the alien and outsider, can. He knocks Jake out and tells Cassie that he’s been injured.

He spots Visser Two and calls out to Rachel, Tobias and Marco that he needs there help; he needs to steal a plane and Visser Two needs to be one it with him. Tobias and Rachel don’t stop to question him, but Marco is suspicious asking not only where Jake is but what Ax plans on doing once he’s in a plane with Visser Two.

<You Andalites. You people have a tendency to destroy what you want to preserve.
And that plane is carrying a nuke. I saw it being fitted up by some of the visser’s
men.>

Ax acknowledges that he and Marco have not always trusted each other, but that he, Ax, knows that Marco has always been one to put the mission first, to do what needs to be done in the face of horrible choices. Rachel looks to Marco, and Tobias looks away. Marco finally agrees to help, asking whether they ever really had any choices in this war.

With Marco, Tobias and Rachel’s help, Ax manages to get Visser Two on a plane and take off, right as Cassie and Jake run up. In the plane, Ax lays out the situation for Visser Two: either contact the submarine and have it stand down, or he will drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. At the very last moment, Visser Two agrees and Ax lets him use the radio to contact the submarine. He releases Visser Two and makes his way home, wondering how he will be received by his friends.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax, with a lot of important notes for his character. One of the smallest ones, but one I still found interesting, was seeing just how far Ax has come in his understanding of human behavior. Throughout this story, instead of the general confusion and bewilderment at “strange humans” like we’ve seen in past books, instead we saw more and more evidence of how thoroughly Ax has come to understand humanity. From little things like know what rhetorical questions are and even using them himself, to larger things like being able to imagine facial expressions alongside comments made by his friends while in morph, thus increasing his knowledge of what is truly being communicated beyond the words themselves.

We also see in the very beginning of the book how much Ax has had to readjust his perceptions of his own people. He’s no longer completely surprised by the Andalites’ poor response to pleas for help from him and his friends. And, when asked by Jake later, he admits to not knowing whether the Andalites will ultimately listen to their warning.

Throughout the story, we hear more and more about how much Ax now sees himself as both Andalite and human. He is horrified by the evils of each race, but also loyal and and values them both as well. The destruction on the ship and loss of human life hurts him just as much as it does the others. But then, in the end, he also realizes the unique role he has come to inhabit on the team. He has adopted humanity as his own, but he is also still an alien, still the only one capable of making a decision such as the one to drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. That being the case, however, we see how much this decision tears him apart. Marco accuses him of perhaps doing it for Andalite glory, but as a reader, inside of Ax’s head, we see how terrible this decision weighs on him the entire time. And, given that Marco, Rachel, and Tobias ultimately agree to help him, we have to imagine they sense that his real reasons are still in the right place: trying to avoid WWIII.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s pretty lucky/convenient that Jake has so much knowledge of the layout and organization of a massive battleship like the one they end up on. But on the other hand, as someone who has been leading an underground war for years now, it’s also probably not surprising that he may have spent his down time researching other military avenues.

The moment between Ax and Jake where Ax brings up the suggestion to bomb the Yeerk Pool is exceptionally good. We see that while Jake has come far in his ruthlessness and willingness to bend moral lines to do what needs to be done, he still has a pretty hard and fast line with regards to the loss of human life. Ax, to his credit, is quick to realize this as well and to even conclude that it hadn’t been right of him to even ask or expect Jake to be able to grapple with a decision like this. This is pretty close to the end of the series, and I think from here on out, Jake’s progress down this ruthless path goes faster and faster.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot in this one. Of course, she’s in on the action the entire time and is chosen to be the other Animorph to morph another person to operate the fighter jet with Ax in the beginning. Ax mentions that she was elected to this role for her “nerves of steel,” since the incredible speeds of the plane would be pretty intimidating to most. It’s also worth noting that in the end, when confronted with Ax’s plan, she looks to Marco to make the ultimate decision about whether they will help Ax.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, too, doesn’t have much other than his involvement in Ax’s plan in the end. Looking at the three who end up involved in this, I think it makes a lot of sense. Of the entire team, Rachel, Tobias and Marco have a pretty solid history of making big, often ruthless decisions. Let it not be forgotten that Tobias and Ax were the ones to ultimately decide the fate of an entire alien species back in Megamorphs #2.

Peace, Love, and Animals: One of the more notable moments for Cassie came with the discussion about morphing humans. She immediately resists the idea, but Jake is able to convince her that it has to be done (though, notably, she doesn’t do it herself). She also says that Jake is the only one she would trust to know if the time has come where this type of moral compromise is truly necessary.

The Comic Relief: As I said, it makes sense that Marco, Tobias, and Rachel end up being the three to ultimately decide to go with Ax’s plan. It’s also great seeing just how quickly Marco figures out what is going on. Ax even notes that he had prepped for Marco to ask where Jake was, but even with that prep, Marco jumps immediately to the correct conclusion about Ax’s use of the plane as well. It’s interesting to see Marco accuse Ax of potentially doing this for Andalite glory. Being in Ax’s head, especially in this book, we’ve seen the transformation he’s underwent with regards to the naivety he used to have about his own people. We see how much he values Earth and sees the Animorphs as his family. But from an outsider’s perspective, especially someone as naturally cynical and suspicious as Marco, it’s interesting to note that a motivation like this could still be assigned to him. But Ax’s direct reasoning, that WWIII can not be allowed to happen, is exactly the sort of Point A to Point B line of thinking that would resonate with someone like Marco.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a whole lot as far as body horror goes in this one, other than your usual morph descriptions. I will say that it’s interesting to see just how “all-in” they went on the morphing humans thing once they decided that was the way to go. Ax ends up acquiring something like three human morphs over this entire book, and he’s the one of them that even has a human morph already that couldn’t be traced (though, of course, the fact that he’s a kid would stand out). And then Tobias and Rachel each morph people. Rachel’s makes sense, but I’m not sure that Tobias really had to. It almost seems a bit too easy, morally speaking. Like once they got the go-ahead, any moral qualms were immediately out of the window, making it seem like the only one who truly cared about this particular issue was Cassie herself. The others just start morphing people willy-nilly.
Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot in this one, unsurprisingly given it’s an Ax book. Marco notes at one point, after riling Rachel up, that he doesn’t know how Tobias does it. And, of course, we see Cassie’s trust in Jake’s judgement when he gets her to agree to them using human morphs.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Whelp, it has happened: Visser Three has become Visser One. And we get the introduction of yet another Visser, Visser Two. For the most part, he’s played for pretty comical effect. I mean, the title of this topic area pretty much fits him perfectly. He immediately reveals the Yeerks’ entire plan under very little pressure. And he randomly starts saluting and genuflecting throughout his various speeches about the coming glory. For all of this, he’s also set up as a pretty unmovable foe as far as being threatened into giving up any real advantages. Unlike Visser Three who values his own life above anything, it’s made pretty clear that Visser Two would die before giving up the submarine, which ultimately forces Ax’s hand at the end to take things to a much more extreme level.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There are a handful of pretty sad scenes in the last third of the book when we see the poor human sailors fighting against the Hork Bajir. Ax’s own encounter with the dying captain, and his last words essentially trying to apologize for everything, was pretty heart breaking. But there’s also another scene where at one point a sailor solutes gorilla!Marco, having noted that the Earth animals seem to be on their side. And later in the battle, Ax spots Marco kneeling over the body of this same soldier. Scenes like these also prompt Ax further into action, as well as the others, who all see how badly this individual battle is being lost and are, for the first time, losing fellow human fighters alongside them.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: A lot of people see them morph in this book. Like…a lot. Pretty much immediately it seems they all throw caution to the wind and start morphing/demoprhing in front of pretty much anyone. I don’t get this! For one, it’s pretty well established that they don’t know who is Controlled and who is not. And for two, it’s also pretty well assumed that almost everyone will be eventually Controlled once the Yeerks show up and start laying the smack down. So all of those people who saw kids morphing…not only is now really obvious that its humans morphing, but after the close call with Marco in the last book, it’d be really easy to figure out the exact identity of these kids. Obviously, the whole secrecy thing is going to go out the window pretty quickly now, but the Animorphs themselves have no reason to assume this, so their lack of caution is pretty strange.

The other really strange thing is the idea that somehow preventing the Yeerk-staffed sub from launching an counter attack will do much to stop a domino fall that’s already been started. I mean, it would already be communicated back to who knows how many bases that the Chinese attacked this ship. So…isn’t the mission already successful for the Yeerks? Theoretically, the US on its own would launch a counter attack, no need for a Yeerks-only sub at all!

Favorite Quote:

This line from Jake to Cassie when they are discussing the morality of morphing humans is a pretty good summation of the general thought-process/experience of every one of the Animorphs that we witness playing out in each of their books in the entire series:

“But…doesn’t it always come down to each one of us, all alone, asking ourselves: Am I right in doing whatever it takes for the greater good? And, do I trust myself enough to know I won’t become evil in the process? It always comes down to something that personal.”

There are so many good lines from Ax as he reflects on his choices at the end of the book, but he concludes with this simple, but sad, realization.

I would accept the consequences of my actions. I would accept full responsibility. I was the alien.

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 16

I’m going to give this one to the Animorphs, since preventing WWIII is a pretty big win (regardless of whether or not it’s believable that they actually accomplished this.)

Rating: This was a really good book. It reads a lot differently than other Ax books, which, at this point in the series, is pretty great to see. We see how fully he’s come to embrace his role as belonging to both species and how that effects the way he thinks and interacts with each.

The story does drag a bit in the middle when it feels like they just spend a lot of time running around a huge ship with no real idea of what to do. But then it concludes with a massive battle on the ship, with humans teaming up with the Animorphs for the first time really. And then the excellent, huge moral dilemma that Ax finds himself in at the end of the book.

I didn’t remember that this one ended without really resolving how Ax’s return to the group plays out. I’m not sure I like the cliff-hanger like ending here, though. I get that there’s potentially a lot that would need to be gone through with that reunion, but it also feels wrong to not get that scene from Ax’s perspective in particular, after spending so much time in his head for the rest of it. Oh well, still a great book!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Ellimist Chronicles”

363351Animorphs #45.5: “The Ellimist Chronicles”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: He is called the Ellimist. A being with the ability to alter space and time. A being with a power that will never be fully understood. He is the reason Elfangor came to Earth. He is the reason the Earth now has a fighting chance. And though his actions never seem quite right or wrong, you can be certain they are never, ever what anyone expects.

This is the beginning and the middle of the story. A story that needs to be told in order to understand what might happen to the future. The future of the Animorphs. The future of humanity. The future of Earth.

He is called the Ellimist. And this is his story…

Narrator: Toomin/Ellimist

Plot: I only read this one once as a kid, and now I remember why…

tumblr_masu65g8f81qcnb92
That prologue! That epilogue! Just..nooooo!

There will be spoilers for the end of the series in this one for sure! You have been warned.

Bam. An Animorph will die. Just right there, in your face in the first few sentences of this book. I can’t remember my reaction as a kid, but it had to have been terrible. Especially since at that point the books were still being released so I didn’t know how many were left, whether it would happen in the last book itself or the very next one or when at all! Now, having a firm grasp on the few precious books we have left with dear Rachel, it’s not much better. And I had completely forgotten that these small bookend scenes were even part of this story, so that was sure a joy to discover when I picked this one up!

The story starts out in the nebulous unknown with a recently killed, unnamed Animorph questioning the Ellimist about the meaning of it all. Not having a succinct answer, the Ellimist lays out his story.

Long ago, he was born a member of the Ket race, an advanced alien life form that lived on crystal formations that the winged Ket kept in the air through shared lift duting. A young Toomin has lead a happy life of community and, importantly, gaming, where he goes by the gamer tag “Ellimist.” He and his friends regularly participate in a complicated game called “Alien Civilizations” which has complicated scenarios in which players try to control the outcome of alien races throughout time. In the midst of all of this, the Ket are preparing to launch their first Z-space ship to explore the greater galaxy. Toomin is lucky enough to be sponsored and drafted as non-essential crew for this ship.

In the months leading up to its launch, Toomin and his friends (he’s especially pleased to hang around more with the attractive female Aguella) visit another crystal colony where he meets another gamer named Menno. Menno describes how their crystal has recently adapted a democratic system of governance, doing away with the traditional form of following the leadership of an older member of the Ket. His mentality of chasing change crosses over to his approach to gamesmanship. Toomin is both fascinated and distrubed by Menno’s attitude.

As Toomin continues to learn about the ship and his impending trip into space, he and Aquella (also drafted to the crew) are brought into the secret that the Ket race had recently discovered a new species and part of their mission will be to reach out this new race. A few days before the launch, however, a mysterious ship shows. With brutal efficiency, it uses a host of weapons to take out Toomin’s home crystal, killing thousands. Toomin and about one hundred others happen to be on the ship at the time and so escape immediate death. Using a crystal shard, Toomin is able to take out the small alien ship, but as the Ket ship makes its final escape, they trap the now disabled alien ship in their force field. Out in Z-space, Toomin and the others discover that the alien is a member of the race that they had been planning to visit. They know they must head back to their planet to see if they can find any other survivors.

But when they get back, all they find are empty skies. They do manage to find one crystal however: Menno’s crystal that is using cloud cover to run away from the chasing alien ships that are leisurely hunting it. Toomin and the others land and meet up with Menno and the leadership of this crystal. They discover that Menno and the others, so proud of their embrace of change, sent out videos of themselves playing games in “Alien Civilization.” But the real disaster is they sent no explanation for what is being shown in the videos, leaving it to look like the Ket are a race of beings that simply play with the fates of others species for the fun of it. Menno and a few others make it onto the ship before the other aliens blow up that crystal as well.

Over the next 60 some years, Toomin and his crew scour the galaxy for a new home world. Menno, who Toomin makes his second in command to appease the Ket from the other crystal, pushes for them to accept their reality and adapt their own biology to become a land-based species. Toomin, Aguella (the two have now bonded into a pair but are waiting to have children until they can find a home), and the others resist this idea, insisting that they are beings of the air. As they continue their search, they discover a blue moon. Toomin heads up a crew of a handful of Ket who pilot a smaller ship into the ocean that makes up much of the moon. Once there, the ship is quickly destroyed.

Toomin “awakes” to find that he is the only member of his crew that is still alive (Menno and the original ship tried to save them after seeing the exploratory ship being attacked). He has been assimilated, essentially, into the living being that essentially makes up the entire moon and calls itself Father. Using plant-like tentacles, Father attaches himself to the bodies of all the beings trapped on his planet, using their knowledge to build himself up. Over the course of a century, Father insists that Toomin play games with him as a form of entertainment. Toomin continuously loses (something that he was also famous for doing back on his home world when he tried to play there, often focusing on trying to find the most moral route through scenarios). But at one point, Father introduces a new game that involves something called music. This new art form opens Toomin’s mind in a completely new way and he begins to win. As he wins more and more, Father retreats in a huff. While he’s away, Toomin reaches out and begins “downloading” the essences of all the trapped,dead beings around him, including his former Ket crew. When Father finally notices, Toomin has grown strong enough to over throw him and he does so, finally killing his captor.

With all the knowledge and power that Father had now in his control, Toomin “downloads” everything into his own mind and builds himself an advanced ship that incorporates his physical Ket body into it as well as creates a massive “brain” of sorts for his greater being to reside. He destroys the dying moon that was Father and takes off into the world. He wanders for a long time before finding his calling as an all-mighty do-gooder, interceding in the affairs of various civilizations throughout the universe to establish peace and order. After centuries of doing this, he returns to the site of his first “intercession” where he prevented two warring planets from continuing their conflict. He discovers that the change he caused to stop the war inspired one side to discover a new method of warfare that allowed them to completely destroy the species on the other planet. And then, without that conflict driving them, the winning species slipped backwards in technological advancement and is living a primitive life. As the Ellimist watches on in dismay, another all powerful being arrives who calls himself Crayak.

Crayak says he has been searching for this inter-galactic do-gooder and is pleased to finally meet the Ellimist. Crayak shares that he has an opposing goal: where the Ellimist wants to bring order and prosperity, Crayak simply wants to exterminate. And so begins another game, with Crayak racing ahead creating manipulative and cruel “games” with the lives of entire species and forcing the Ellimist to always play what turns out to be a losing hand. Slowly, Crayak begins winning and more and more life begins to disappear from the universe. Eventually, the Ellimist despairs and races away to a far corner of the universe.

There he discovers a primitive race of grass-eaters and he creates a body for himself and goes down to live among them. He calls these aliens Andalites and throws himself into his new life there. He marries a female Andalite and has a child, but is devastated when that child dies from a disease that he knows he could have prevented (though he has learned caution about how far he can/should intercede with the lives of species.) He is shocked when his wife comes to him later saying she wants to have another child. Over time, they have 5 children, two of whom live. It is through his wife’s vision of hope that he finally discovers a way to beat Crayak: where Crayak destroys, the Ellimist will create. Some may die, but others will live. He leaves the Andalites and goes about doing this, spreading life amount the stars. One of his favorite creations is a species called the Pemalites who he sets out to spread life as well.

Eventually, Crayak catches up to him, but by this point the Ellimist is even more powerful. As centuries go by, the Ellimist begins to win their battle of extinction and creation, with more of his lifeforms thriving than Crayak can exterminate. On this high of success, the Ellimist finally confronts Crayak himself. The two engage in a massive battle that takes place across the entire universe, crushing planets and civilizations in their wake. The Ellimist slowly gains on Crayak until, in a bout of over-confidence, he is lead into a trap and is sucked into a black hole. There, somehow, while his entire “body” is destroyed, the vast being that is now the Ellimist survives, even managing to gain control of new abilities like managing time itself. He continues his work against Crayak subtly but is eventually discovered. Now past the point of being able to be physically destroyed by each other, Crayak and the Ellimist strike a deal for one last game with a final winner and loser. It will be the last game and it will need to have rules. And so it has been playing out for millennia.

Back with the dying Animorph, the Ellimist ends his story. The Animorph knows that they cannot ask whether they will ultimately win or lose and the Ellimist agrees that even he does not know that. But the Animorph has one last question: did they matter. And the Ellimist says yes, yes they did.

Ellimist/Toomin: Oof, as per the usual for our “chronicles” characters, Toomin leads a rough life. He essentially has a few happy years as a child and then is thrown into a millennia of existential horror. From the loss of his entire home world, to a few short years (relatively speaking) of aimlessly wandering the galaxy looking for a new home, to witnessing the ultimate destruction of the sole survivors of his race, to being trapped in some mind game scenario surrounded by his dead friends for centuries, to getting caught up in another horror scenario with some random force of evil that tracks him down, to ultimately getting sucked into a black hole during his one brief moment of almost-triumph, to finally, another game that he’s been stuck playing for who knows how long. I mean, what part of any of that sounds like a good time?

In this light, we see how important it must have been for him to have that brief life span as an Andalite where he married and had kids. And even that was tragic, with the loss of his kids, while knowing that he could have saved them!

Of course, the running theme of the book is around his being a brilliant loser, so we have to see him do a lot of just that. And the story does do a good job of highlighting the importance of those few relationships he had to building up his identity and giving him enough strength to persist in what can often feel like foolish optimism in the face of impossible odds. It’s also interesting see all of this “losses” in the light that, from our perspective, we’ve only seen the Ellimist come out ahead, winning all of the smaller skirmishes that he’s been involved in with the Animorphs.

Poor, doomed Animorph: In the prologue, there’s really no clues as to who this Animorph could be. I’d say be the way he/she is written to speak, we can pretty easily write off Ax and Cassie, but other than that, the remaining four would all work. But then once you get to the epilogue, it gets narrowed down quite a bit. The Ellimist refers to the fact that this Animorph wasn’t one of the one he’s selected, but a lucky addition. From what we know from the fourth Megamorphs book, that leaves us with either Rachel or Jake. And, I guess, you could probably make a reasonable guess that Jake wouldn’t be the one to be killed off since that would essentially end the series in a lot of ways. So, without being told as much, by the end of the book, I think it would be fairly reasonable to be confident that Rachel is the going to be the one to go. And, obviously, we know that’s the case. I don’t remember making this connection as a kid, but I think I was so busy being in denial about the whole thing that I didn’t spend much time really thinking about it and putting the pieces together.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There are quite a few bad body horror moments in this book, really. But the worst has to be Father and the way that he is essentially a living graveyard, with his tentacles twisting in and out of the millions of dead beings trapped on his surface. Toomin’s brief looks into reality (when he’s not pulled in the gaming mind zone with Father) are pretty stark. He’s surrounded by his dead friends, some of whom are torn up by their deaths, and he can see the tentacles going through his own original body as well. Pulling himself out of all this when he finally escapes is pretty gross, too.

Couples Watch!: We see Toomin/Ellimist form two major relation
If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Crayak is obviously the primary villain in this book, but in some ways I feel like we almost got more from Father than from him. At least with Father, by the end, we understood what he was: essentially a moon-sized sponge the built itself off everything that was caught in it. His motivations were also clear. Crayak…is just kind of evil for evil’s sake? And the main problem in creating an entire book that gives a backstory to an all-powerful, godlike character is that it raises a lot of questions about how another can also exist. There were millions upon millions upon millions of odds that had to play out just right to end up with the Ellimist gaining the abilities he had by the end. It’s hard to imagine a similar order of events playing out for the creation of Crayak. And, if so, I’m just as curious about those as I was am about the Ellimist, if not more so. Not only how did he become as powerful as he was, but why does he have the destructive goals that he does? It all just raises more questions than it answers, ultimately, and Crayak really exemplifies the worst part of this.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Like I said, the “chronicles” characters always have a tragic story it seems, and the same goes for this. I mean, it’s pretty hard to choose a crying moment when you have genocide and then the loss of not one but two spouses. I think though that the saddest part has to go to the loss of his first Andalite child. Not only is the loss of a child horribly tragic, but you have to add that on to the fact that the Ellimist knows that he could have easily prevented the disease that killed his child. And he’s having to choose not to do this. And, of course, this tragedy leads to his greatest realization about how to beat Crayak, by putting his weight behind creation in the face of destruction.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, the worst plan has to be Menno’s. I have to think that Applegate pulled inspiration from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” with the whole misunderstanding of aggression between alien species and how that leads to a war.

We had lost our world because the Capasins thought we were aggressors when we were not.

But man, isn’t it fairly obvious that blasting out videos of your species essentially playing god with entire civilizations and worlds without any explanation that it’s just a game is just a terrible idea?? And it’s definitely interesting that more aliens than just the ones that conquered the Kets must have seen these videos, because this is the exact perception that Ax has about the “Ellimists” as a species when they first encounter the Ellimist: that they’re all-powerful gods that play with other species just for the fun of it.

Favorite Quote:

This quote highlights both the arrogance at the heart of what gets the Ellimist in trouble at various points throughout the story, but still, even at the end, the driving force that moves him as he plays out his “game” with Crayak.

Boldness allied with restraint and a minimalist aesthetic, all in the service of moral certainties: that peace was better than war, that freedom was better than slavery, that knowledge was better than ignorance. Oh, yes, the galaxy would be a wonderful place under my guidance.

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 15

No change!

Rating: I really liked re-reading this book. Mostly because it read so differently this time around as it did as a kid. When I read it the first time, I was pretty not into it to be honest. So much so, that I was actually dreading reading it this go around, as all I could remember was being extremely bored. And really, I can see why I didn’t love it as a kid. This is the most “hard sci-fi” book in the entire series. Not only do we have a ton of alien species thrown at us, with very little explanation for them all, but there are a lot of “high concept” theories being tossed around throughout the story. It’s less one of action and what happens, and more the slow moral development of this godlike character’s approach to creation, destruction, and balance. Expand this book out a bit more, and it would fit in perfectly in the adult science fiction section at the bookstore. But as a kid, there was not enough from our main characters and much of the greater questions and theories either went over my head or were simply not interesting to me at that point.

I do still question whether it really adds something to the Animorphs series as a whole. Like I said, it’s only a few steps away from being a good stand-alone science fiction novel on its own. But as part of this series? I’m not convinced. In many ways, I think it introduces more questions than it answers and there’s almost too much “neatness” in the way that other aspects of the series are all tied together with the Ellimist’s journey (his creation of the Pemalites, his time as an Andalite, etc.). Bitter moment: the fact that this book exists makes me even more angry about the introduction of “the One” in the final book and the weirdness of whatever other godlike creature was at work in Jake’s book a few books back during his period spent in an alternate universe where the Yeerks had won. If you’re going to have a bunch of unexplained god-like creatures, don’t bother explaining any of them. Because all this did was highlight how very much the odds are against any being like this existing, given all of the things that had to play out just so for the Ellimist to end up how he does. And now we have not only the Ellimist, but Crayak (unexplained), the One (unexplained), and the nameless one from Jake’s book that has been noted by the authors to not be the One either (also unexplained). It’s just too much, and while I still would never love that number of god-like characters in a series like this, it would be easier to swallow if we were just given them all on equal footing. The explanation of the Ellimist just highlights the problems with the others.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!