The Great Animorphs Re-Read #45: “The Revelation”

343179Animorphs #45: “The Revelation”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Things were already really weird. Fighting aliens. Battling to save Earth. And still trying to be normal. Marco, the other Animorphs, and Ax are almost used to it. Almost. But things are changing. The Yeerk invastion of Earth started out passively. Secretly. But now, everything seems to be stepped up. Even Marco’s father is talking about some top secret project at his job. Something about developing Zero-space…

Marco doesn’t even know whether his father is a Controller. But he does know he’s not going to let the Yeerks win this one. They’ve already got his mother. And Marco will do anything it takes to save his father. Anything…

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I had honestly forgotten that this was one of the first big game changer books in the end game line up of this series. For one, I think the previous Cassie book being so incredibly not relevant to the overarching plot serves as a pretty big distraction. You read that one and are left feeling like “yep, here we are, still in the middle of filler land!” Then you pick up this one and…

giphy

It’s just an average evening at home for Marco: making frozen pizza for the family, accepting Nora as part of said family, avoiding any and all views of displays of affection between Nora and his father. Then his father starts up on the dinner conversation and low and behold, his company is just a few short steps away from creating a zero space communicator. Marco recognizes this for the potential disaster it is. He immediately calls Jake and the group meets up at Cassie’s barn.

At the barn, Marco says that he tested his father and doesn’t believe him to be a Controller yet, but that they’ll need to keep him under surveillance. The group agrees, and Jake sends Tobias and Ax out on first watch: it is clear that Jake thinks Marco is too invested. Back home, in the middle of the night, Marco wakes up to a phone call. He picks it up and overhears a man from his Dad’s work saying that a co-worker’s wife has died and that he should come in for some support. Marco is quick to realize that this is a ploy, calls Rachel for back-up, and sets off after his father.

He barely makes it in time, seeing through a window that his father is bound and held by two Hork Bajir who are preparing to dunk him into a mini Yeerk pool. Without thinking, Marco barges in to save his father. Rachel shows up as back up and they make their escape. Rachel retreats to tell the others what has happened and gorilla!Marco and his father speed away in a car. After they get a ways away, Marco’s dad begins questioning everything and Marco reveals who he is and what he can do with morphing. They stop at a run-down diner and Marco tells him everything.

He allows his dad to call home, but when his dad almost reveals to Nora where they are, Marco disconnects the call, angry that his father clearly hasn’t listened to anything he said. Marco does a quick breeze through of his morphs to finally convince his dad that what he’s said is true. He also reveals that his mom is alive and is Visser One. Marco’s dad struggles not only to accept that his son is now giving him orders (like the fact that Marco has decided to stow him away with the Chee for now) and with the fact that his first wife is alive, but he also loves Nora.

Marco takes him to the King’s house where his Dad gets even more of an eye-opener on just how weird Marco’s world is. But he’s also distracted by the amazing technology on display. Erek and the other Chee go out in disguise as Marco and his dad, knowing that if they both are seen as missing that Marco will be under suspicion and through him, all of his friends. Marco takes off back to the barn to meet up with the rest of the Animorphs.

Once there, it is clear that none of them technically approve of what he’s done, but they also know that they wouldn’t have done anything differently had they been in that position. They also realize that the fact that Marco’s dad knows how to build a zero space communicator is a huge win. Marco and Ax return to the Chee and recruit Marco’s dad into helping Ax build it.

The next day, cockroach!Marco watches himself die. Erek and Mr. King, posing as Marco and his dad, are “killed” by a force of Yeerks who storm Marco’s home. Nora, now clearly infested, stands outside and watches. Once it is done, Marco realizes that life as he knew it is over, not stopping to even take anything from his room.

Back with the Chee, Ax and Marco’s dad have made progress on the communicator, enough to have discovered that Visser One has been convicted of treason and is being held in the Yeerk Pool for execution by starvation. Visser Three will be promoted to Visser One and his plans for all out destruction are imminent. They decide to rescue Marco’s mom and eventually set up his mother and father for life in the free Hork Bajir valley.

To get into the Yeerk Pool, the Animorphs need to steal a Bug fighter. The security has been upped once again and no living thing can make it through the entrance tunnel, but the shields of a Bug fighter will do the trick. They lure a ship into the forest claiming to be a forest service worker who “captured a strange, bladed monster” and quickly take over the ship. But the ship is a new version and one that Ax has trouble handling. Luckily, there is an auto pilot system installed that can take over if the pilot seems “erratic.” After a bumpy ride, the team, now all in Hork Bajir morphs, find themselves in the Yeerk Pool entrance tunnel that is accessed through a holographic sunken ship under the ocean.

They make their way to the Yeerk Pool only to discover that Visser One has been tied to a pier in the middle of the pool and is clearly at the last stages of her starvation. They head back to the ship, thinking to use it to grab Visser One. On the way, things go sideways and they are discovered. They rush back to the ship and end up having to blast their way back into the Yeerk Pool. Marco and Rachel jump out to grab Visser One, but the others are forced to retreat in the ship, leaving them exposed.

An elite force of Hork Bajir show up who are clearly more skilled at fighting. They manage to grab Eva and make their way back to the edge of the pool. Rachel is badly injured in the fight and Visser One makes a break for it, escaping out of Eva’s ear. Marco is left trying to save his mother (who is violently struggling to kill Visser One before she makes it to the pool) and helping Rachel. Eva manages to nab Visser One and with the help of Marco, they kill her. Visser Three shows up and morphs a huge, fanged winged alien that comes after them. But the other Animorphs in the Bug fighter are able to badly injure him and rescue Marco, Cassie, and Eva. However, the ship is shot and lands in the pool.

With Eva’s extra knowledge of how the ship operates, they manage to overhear the engine corp enough to get the ship up again, boiling a large portion of the Yeerk pool in the process. They finally manage to escape.

Marco sets up his mother and father at the free Hork Bajir colony. They have a happy reunion though later Marco’s father approaches him about Nora’s fate. Marco plants the suspicion that Nora was always a Controller and had been put in his path to monitor his work. Marco himself sets up camp living with the Chee at the Kings’ household, making trips to the Hork Bajir colony every once in a while.

Later, on the beach, the team finally use the zero space communicator they made to contact the Andalites. Jake is the one to speak and when asked who is on the other line, he says “This is Earth.”

The Comic Relief: This is a huge book for Marco. Everything kind of comes to a head all at once and he ends up being the first one of the group to have his cover blown. The speed at which it all falls apart is also a great example of how precariously balanced their charade has been this entire time. One little event and BAM! Marco’s entire life is up-ended and he has to fake his own death, and his father’s, and let his step mom get infested.

Obviously Marco struggles a lot with the action at the heart of the story. But on the emotional side of things, he is most struck by the realization that his dad truly loves Nora and what that means for his father to go through all of this. It’s a hard hit for Marco who, up to this point, it seems, always believed that while his dad cared for Nora, what he felt for her wasn’t the same as what he felt for Marco’s mother. To realize that one can feel that kind of love more than once and that a parent has moved on to another, it’s a hard hit for Marco.

He also questions whether he could have done more to save her and whether his own shock at his father’s feelings at all impacted his decision to not try to get back to their house to rescue her.

In the end, when he finally has his family reunited at the free Hork Bajir valley, we see that this joy, what he always wished for, has been tinged by the realities of adulthood, time, and what love looks like. His father is happy to be with his mother, but he’s also going to grieve Nora.

Our Fearless Leader: Early in the book, Marco notes that Jake is a fair leader when he asks for Marco’s input on the situation with his father. But at the same time, he catches himself wishing that Jake would just make the call, taking the weight of the decision off of Marco. It’s a nice moment to highlight how much the team members depend on Jake to shoulder this weight. Throughout the rest of the book, Jake pretty effectively highlights his hard-won ability to calmly and effectively roll with all of the punches that are thrown at them.

He’s also the one at the end to speak via the zero space communicator. He initially waves towards Ax to do it, but Ax rightly recognizes that Jake needs to be seen as the leader from the very beginning, so Jake ends up with the great closing line.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel ends up teaming up with Marco several times in this book. She’s the one he calls when he sees his dad taking off in the middle of the night, and she’s also the one to end up on the pier with him at the end. Some of it is necessity (she’s the one available by phone and the one with the power morph at the pool), but at this point it’s also clearly more than coincidence that these two work well together.

We also get a great moment from her that highlights that she’s more than just the tank of the team. When they’re in the barn discussing how useful (or not) the zero space communicator would be (especially considering how often the Andalites have ignored the plight of Earth in the past, so who’s to say contacting them again is even worth it), she’s the one to draw their attention to its abilities to spy on Yeerk communications. Marco is frustrated that he didn’t see this himself. And as a reader, it is surprising, as this is exactly the kind of thing that we expect to see from his character. But it’s a nice reminder that Rachel has brains, too, and Marco isn’t the only one who can evaluate situations effectively.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. But he does contribute when it comes to Eva/Visser One’s experience with torture. The others all say that she will gain nothing from revealing their secrets, but Tobias is quick to correct them that, when under extreme suffering, one will do almost anything if they think there’s a chance to stop the pain. Another lovely reminder of poor Tobias’s sucky life. This is what he gets to be now: the guy with all the insights into torture experiences!

Peace, Love, and Animals: There are few quick moments from Cassie that are all kind of neat for her character. In the beginning, Marco notices Jake shooting a quick glance to Cassie before assigning Ax and Tobias to watch Marco’s dad. Marco realizes that in that quick look, Cassie was able to convey to Jake that she thought Marco was too close to it and shouldn’t be trusted to guard his own father.

Later, she’s also the one to quickly speak up for saving Marco’s mom. She knows that after everything the team went through for his dad, that Marco can’t ask them to take on a suicide mission back into the pool for his mom. So she does it for him, coming up with a good excuse for why it’s necessary. Marco is incredibly thankful for this.

And then, towards the end, when they end up boiling the Yeerk pool, we see her turn away from the window and the destruction, another reminder that, of them all, she struggles the most with moments like this where the destruction doesn’t come from battles, but from other choices.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some definite struggles coming to grips with the fact that humanity might have figured out zero space, and way faster than the Andalites did, relatively speaking to their own technological time lines. He also proves himself capable of giving Marco a run for his money on the bad driving front. Though, to be fair, the Bug fighter seems pretty advanced and Marco should have at least gone through driver’s ed at this point…It did lead to some fairly comical lines from Ax though:

<You should always wear the safety restraints,> Ax scolded, struggling futilely to get four humans and an angry bird off him.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco definitely knew the right morph to effectively traumatize his father quickly: always, always go ant, if your goal is utter horror. Marco’s poor father, to see that, then followed by the bird, and then have your son threaten lobster morph on you…yikes. But, I have to say, of all the ridiculous cover morphs we’ve seen, it’s pretty dumb that the one that ended up using the ant morph was from the book where this morph literally gets about two sentences. Marco doesn’t even make it fully ant! It’s pretty silly.

Couples Watch!: Man, you really have to feel for Marco’s dad in this one. His wife who died years ago, who he mourned, is now back in his life. His new wife, who he legitimately loved, is now essentially dead in her own way. What’s more, his son has now planted the idea that the woman he loved may have never even been real in the first place. I don’t think relationship drama gets worse than this.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only makes a brief appearance with yet another of his super sweet alien morphs that lasts a hot second before immediately getting taken down by the Animorphs. You’d think he’d at least learn to stop per-emptively bragging about his morphs’ badass abilities every time he tries out a new one, given his past failure rate. More importantly, the fact that Visser Three will now be Visser One is the crucial news of this story. After “Visser,” the Animorphs have a much clearer idea of what Visser Three’s vision of the Earth invasion looks like, and it’s a lot less of the subtlety and a lot more of this:

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Towards the very end of the book, Marco makes the decision to plant the idea that Nora was maybe always a Controller and had been put in his dad’s life to spy on his work. It’s a really dark moment, more so for the fact that’s it’s not clear whether this was the right or wrong call, to either Marco or the reader. Marco’s thought is that this idea will give his dad a sense of peace, that he didn’t simply abandon his wife to a life of infestation or that he cheated in some way on Eva, since Nora was a spy all along. But…is that really a comfort? His feelings for Nora were real, and with this idea, he’s now left with the thought that their whole relationship was a sham. And Eva is going to tell him, too, about the fact that that one “blissful year” that he remembers with her before she died, yeah, she was Controlled then too. So now poor Marco’s dad has two wives, both of whom were creating sham relationships with him for some portion of their time together. I kind of think this lie is just easier for Marco than for his dad. It’s a rough little moment, but I can’t also say he was completely wrong to have thought it might help.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: As you’ll see with my scorecard below, given the Animorphs’ past experiences with the Andalites, being able to contact them doesn’t seem like that great of a thing. They’ve been routinely dismissed by the Andaites and have heard through enough grapevines for it to be pretty believable that the Andalite fleet isn’t anywhere nearby and doesn’t even think of Earth as a priority. So, it’s not that it’s a bad plan to contact them, but all of the past stuff does kind of undercut what could have been a really cool moment at the end of the book.

Favorite Quote: There’s a great moment between Marco and his dad right after Marco has told him the truth, where it really gets hit home how swapped their roles now are:

“Dad, of course you’re my father,” I said, fighting an onslaught of emotion. And it would be so nice to have someone make decisions for me again, I added silently. “I love you. I respect you. But I’ve been fighting this war for a long time. I’ve been on more missions, in more fights, and seen more terrible things than you can imagine. This is my fight. My war. Me and my friends, we know what’s going on. You don’t.”

And with that, the son will now be the one making the decisions and fighting the battles. What’s always been is now just in the open. And for a more humorous addition to Marco’s dad’s life lessons:

“Dad, just a suggestion, but when you’re dealing with the Animorphs, never say it can’t get any weirder. It always does.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 15

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks. Not only was this the first time they successfully flushed out one of our main characters into having to fake his own death and go into hiding, but Visser Three somehow at last maneuvered Visser One into death penalty for treason and is about to get a big promotion and his all-out invasion protocol approved. The Animorphs do make contact with the Andalites in the end, but they’ve manged that before to rather disappointing results. So at this point, the Yeerks are making much more progress towards their own agenda while the Animorphs are forced to go into partial hiding and react.

Rating: This book is excellent. It’s truly the beginning of the end and it kind of just hits you out of nowhere. Like I said earlier, the fact that Cassie’s previous book was such a nothing story, really works in the series’ favor at this point, since you never see any of this coming. And then, I imagine for first time readers, as the story is going along, you just kind of keep waiting for the magical reset button that we’ve seen so often in the past to come into play and put everything back in place by the end. There have been some pretty crazy plots and ploys used to do this in the past, so it’s hard to believe as the story keeps going and going that yes, this is really going to end in a completely different place than any of the other books: Marco is in hiding, his dad knows about them, his mother has been saved, Visser Three is going to become Visser One, and the Animorphs reach out to the Andalites. It’s a lot to take in! But it definitely serves as a much-needed jump start to a series that was starting to feel like it was floundering for the last…many books now.

I also can’t leave this without noting the fact that they make a reference to “Independence Day” early in the book and then proceed to essentially rip off the entire third act of that movie with the Bug fighter/auto pilot charade. There’s even a line in this portion that is the Animorphs commenting on just how big the invasion force looks, exactly like Jeff Goldblum’s line about the aliens in that movie. I love that movie and I love these books, so I’m not mad about it. If only Jake’s epic last line had been more of a speech. You know the kind. Made to rousing music? In the misty night? Via a megaphone?

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #44: “The Unexpected”

343182Animorphs #44: “The Unexpected”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs have been split up before. And they’ve had to fight battles without one another. But this time is very different. Not only is Cassie totally alone. She’s managed to find herself in Australia. In the rural Outback. The other Animorphs and Ax don’t even know she’s there.

Cassie doesn’t have any idea where she’s going, or if she can even survive the rugged terrain. But she does know she has to get to a town or village and contact her family and friends. Because she’s just realized that there’s someone else who is also new to the Outback.

Visser Three.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Well, we’ve reached what is almost unanimously known as one of the most useless books in the series. Not the most hated. Not the most controversial. Just the most…useless. Again, I had very few memories of this book, but it’s not because I actually blocked anything out this time. Just not very much happens!

Me after realizing that we’re halfway through the book and Cassie hasn’t even reached the Outback.

Cassie and co. are on a mission at the airport to try and capture a chunk of a broken Bug Fighter that the military has gotten its hands on. Of course, the Yeerks are there too with the same thing in mind. Everything goes south, however, when a gun fight breaks out between the Marines and the incoming Controllers. Jake calls for a retreat, but seagull!Cassie doesn’t want to leave the innocent Marines behind. She tries to get involved (ugh, by pooping on a Controller), but ends up shot and having to partially de-morph to make an escape using a luggage cart. Chased by Yeerks, she ends up hiding beneath a pile of luggage and trying to make herself demorph as she passes out.

An unknown amount of time later, she wakes up fully human, but freezing and still under the luggage. She then realizes that she’s on a plane, and what’s worse, the plane is in flight. While trying to figure out what to do, the plane suddenly stops moving and a green scanner sweeps through. She ends up partially paralyzed and realizes the Yeerks have followed her, knowing that an “Andalite bandit” is stashed somewhere on the plane. She decides to go Rachel’s route and morphs a polar bear. When the Yeerks open the cargo bay door, she attacks. She manages to take out several Hork Bajir and forces them to retreat, blowing up a Bug fighter on the way. However, she knows they’ll be back. She scratches up the inside of the cargo bay, hoping to make it look like she fell out with the Hork Bajir in the fight. When the green light strikes again, she hides and makes her way up to the passenger level.

Unfortunately, the Yeerks have a monitor that tracks movement and they are able to spot something going up. As a human girl, she quickly sits down in an empty seat and pretends to be frozen. This mostly works until the Controllers decide to start tazing the passengers, looking for a flinch. Cassie times her attack of the Hork Bajir doing the tazing in an effort to escape. She manages to get away and dives out one of the emergency exits, morphing osprey on her way down. In a deep canyon, she finds a crevice and hides out as flea. After waiting as long as she can, she emerges and demorphs, only to realize she’s been spotted by a local boy named Yami.

Yami is unphased, saying that his grandfather has taught him about the spirits of the Outback that can change their forms, so a girl who can turn into an osprey must be special. He also informs Cassie where she is: Australia. Yami offers to take her back to his place where she can make a plan from there. On the way, they pass a mob of kangeroos and Cassie sees a mother and joey that have gotten stuck in some fencing. She manages to release it while also acquiring it. Yami sees her ability to calm the wild animal as further proof of her supernatural origins. They head back to Yami’s home where she meets his family and the aforementioned grandfather.

The next day, she wakes up and knows she needs to find a way back home. It turns out that the Bug fighter she took out in the air had crashed nearby and taken out the radio transmitter that Yami and his family use to communicate with the outside world. Without it, she’ll have to a wait a week for the mail delivery people to come by. She forms a plan to morph the kangaroo that night and make her way to the nearest city, which is is about 70 miles away. During the day, Yami and his grandfather gift Cassie a boomerang and show her how to use it. While they are practicing, she sees several small airplanes flying overhead. Yami says they are tourists and they usually fly out in the morning and will fly back over later that night.

As the practice, Yami’s grandfather suddenly collapses. Cassie and Yami bring him back to the house where they discover a badly infected cut on his leg that Yami’s grandfather says came from a strange piece of metal he found out in the wilderness; Cassie recognizes it as part of the downed Bug fighter. The leg worsens throughout the day until finally, near the end of the day, Cassie realizes that they have no choice but to amputate. She morphs Hork Bajir for both the blades and strength to complete the task. Yami looks on with fear, but helps Cassie perform the surgery. Yami’s grandfather quickly starts to look better. But before she can think of a next step, the Blade ship arrives and she hears Visser Three’s voice booming out insisting that the “Andalite” show itself or he will destroy everything in sight.

Cassie morphs the kangaroo and tries to lead the Yeerks away. Hork Bajir and Taxxons give chase. She ends up in a mob of other kangaroos all of which also attack the Yeerks, some dying in the process. She manages to take out a few herself before becoming injured. Yami, his family, and his dog come to the rescue, killing a few Hork Bajir with their boomerangs. However, it won’t be enough. Luckily, the returning tourists are spotted and Cassie hears Visser Three calling for a retreat and speedy clean-up of the area. She manages to demorph just as familiar member of the Chee shows up, saying he caught a ride with the Yeerks and is here to take Cassie home.

Back home, Cassie and the rest meet up at the zoo. Cassie had wanted to go “shopping,” which Rachel was disappointed to learn meant “getting a postcard from the zoo.” The team tease Jake about his frantic search for Cassie while she was missing and he asks to see the postcard she purchased: it is of an osprey an on it she has written two words: “No worries.” It’s a phrase that Yami repeated many times throughout her stay, and she knows that he will recognize it and know the card is from her and that she is safe.

Peace, Love, and Animals: For all of its rather boring plot and lack of contribution to the larger story, I actually liked this book for what it had to offer for Cassie’s character. Again, we have Cassie on her own. (I still really don’t understand why this is a repeated theme for this character. It’s rarely a good thing for ANY of them, but I also think Cassie in particular is less suited for it.) But throughout the story, we see her evaluating her options against what other members of the team would do: Rachel’s penchant for action, Marco’s deliberation, Jake’s caution, etc.

We also get to see some clever thinking on her part when it comes to escaping the Yeerks on the plane. I think there might have been a few better options to be had, but on her own, she did fairly well. She also has to fight one-on-one with several Controllers and, while she does struggle with this (especially the fact that she shoots a Hork Bajir with a Dracon beam that was set on high and instantly killed him), she also doesn’t get too caught up in things.

It’s also always fun seeing her doctoring abilities come out, and she’s given a great platform for that with her amputation of the grandfather’s leg using her Hork Bajir morph. Again, not sure that that was the only option there and that using actual knives like a real doctor wouldn’t have been better. But it was a cool combination of morph mechanics and Cassie’s medical abilities.

Our Fearless Leader: We see Jake abort a mission early in the book, something that doesn’t come around that often. But it does lead to the interesting idea that there are a lot of missions that could have happened between books that just went down as failures and wouldn’t be written about. Like this one, if Cassie hadn’t, you know, ended up in Australia.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There were some good bits of dialogue for Rachel both in the first part of the book when she makes fun of Marco’s driving and in the end, when she bemoans Cassie’s definition of “shopping.” There’s also a really interesting moment about halfway through the book where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices and how, as a whole, they don’t all make sense, but she just had to make up her mind with each individual situation, without knowing what new horrible choice would come from that first one. Ultimately, she notes that she might be more reckless than Rachel, even though Rachel is the one with the reputation for rashness. Rachel’s recklessness presents as bravery to the point of foolishness and a preference for action above all. But Cassie realizes that some of even her more deliberative choices ultimately are more reckless than Rachel’s “go get em” attitude. It’s a really interesting character moment. And it speaks to one of the annoyances I’ve had throughout the series both with regards to the increasingly bad reputation that Rachel has gotten for being reckless and the free pass that Cassie has also been given for making what are ultimately way more dangerous decisions. It’s nice to have the book acknowledge this, as well as Cassie herself.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really had nothing in this book. He jumps on the “tease Jake” bandwagon with Rachel in the end about the fact that Jake was behaving “like a zombie” when Cassie was missing. His description of Jake’s behavior was pretty funny, and it’s always nice to see Tobias’s snarky side come out.

The Comic Relief: Gorilla!Marco ends up careening around driving a luggage truck in the opening mission in this book. It’s a nice nod to the fact that somehow Marco always ends up driving (not just when he’s in gorilla morph either!). And apparently he hasn’t improved at all, which is a bit surprising because you’d think they’d all be coming up to driver’s ed about now in the timeline.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax, too, has very little, other than the fairly typical scene of him trying to eat the popcorn carton when they’re all hanging out at the zoo in the end of the book.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: We’ve seen the Animorphs use partial de-morphs as a way to disguise their identity in the past, and it’s almost always sure to land in this section of my review. There’s no way around the sheer horror factor of what most of these half-morphs look like. But…I also have a deep fear of birds, so the idea of half-human, half-seagull Cassie lurching around on the tarmac…truly, truly horrific.

Couples Watch!: There were a few interesting things in this book. For one, we have the continued evidence that Rachel and Tobias are the more acknowledged, steady couple in the series. In the brief scene at the end of the book, we see them sitting together and teasing Jake and Cassie together, very confident in their own relationship. Jake and Cassie, on the other hand, are still nervous about even sitting next to each other and are still doing awkward things like putting their hands near each other and hoping the other one touches them. Jake even asks Cassie to stick around to “talk” and Rachel and Tobias jump on that saying he just wants to kiss Cassie.

The other notable bit is that while Yami is teaching Cassie to throw the boomerang they have a bit of a “moment,” enough of one even that Cassie feels mild guilt about it when she gets back and the others are teasing Jake about his freak out while she was gone. She worries that she was essentially flirting while he was worrying.

Knowing what we do about the end of the series, both of these things are kind of interesting: the fact that Cassie and Jake are still, after several years at this point, kind of awkward and uncomfortable with their relationship and the fact that Cassie had this small connection with this other boy.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerks really commit to chasing down this one Andalite. I mean, given how often they run into conflicts with the Animorphs and they all end up going their own ways without extremes taken to chase each other down…this all seems a bit much. Especially after Cassie gets off the plane. There’s really zero reason that Visser Three should know to show up at Yami’s house thinking the “Andalite bandit” will be hiding out there. Why would they be? A rogue Andalite could have morphed any animal and be anywhere, most likely heading towards a major city to get back home (like Cassie’s plan is anyways). Really, the last place an Andalite would go would be to hang out with a bunch of humans on a ranch. It’s very strange.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The closest I came was probably the descriptions of the poor kangaroos that got taken out by Hork Bajir and Taxxons. And my extreme concern in that same fight when Yami’s dog got involved, and I couldn’t remember whether the dog survived.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I actually found the explanation for how Cassie ended up on the plane fairly plausible as far as strange things that happen in these books go. I do think she could have managed to get off it a bit easier, mostly be morphing a bug right next to the airlock so that when the door opened, even if they gassed the plane, she would be out in no time, and the Yeerks would have had no way of knowing.

It’s not so much a terrible plan, but the explanation of the Chee randomly showing up and getting her out of there has to be one of the most blatant examples of lazy writing. They literally show up out of nowhere, with no explanation for how they even knew to follow the Yeerks to Australia, and then there is still no explanation for how they really get back. I mean, Cassie’s still a minor with zero documentation off in Australia. It’s all pretty weird and best not think about, in the end.

Favorite Quote:

This was the main chunk of the bit where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices, and I think it’s pretty good. Just too bad that it got stuck in such a nothing book where I think many readers forget she even reflected on some of these things. Same thing goes for her comparison between herself and Rachel with regards to recklessness.

I’m not trying to be some kind of martyr, or say that I’m always a screwup. I’m not. In my world, making hard choices is part of the deal. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I just can’t tell, even when the mission is over and we’ve all come out alive, at least. Leave the Animorphs. Come back. Trust Aftran, the Yeerk. Trust her again. Take responsibility for the never-ending, always unfolding consequences of those decisions. Say, no, I can’t be part of this mission, can’t be part of a mass killing of innocent people no matter what the ultimate goal, I won’t. Get involved anyway, commit acts maybe much worse. Why? To save some lives, not others. A choice. There’s always a choice.

There’s also a good line from the grandfather when Cassie is freaking out that she lead the Yeerks right to them, and it’s a good line for not only Cassie to remember, but all of them, at one point or another.

“They’re here because of me.”

“No.”

Yami’s grandfather touched my arm. I looked down, startled. He drew a sharp breath. His face twisted in pain, but his eyes stayed bright and alert.

“They’re here because they’re evil.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

The Animorphs literally call this one a tie themselves, so I’ll stick with their rating.

Rating: There’s no getting around the fact that this book is incredibly slow. Cassie doesn’t even get to Australia until almost over halfway through the story. And for a book that is marketed completely on her adventures in Australia, that’s pretty disappointing. It’d almost be more realistic for it to be “Cassie’s adventures at an airport and on an airplane.” Beyond that, any book that separates one character away from the others is almost always worse. It’s even more depressing in this one because not only is Cassie not the strongest character on her own, but the brief bits we get of dialogue from the others is great, so the ghost writer clearly had a good handle on the group dynamics (something that is not always a given at this point). And, of course, this book does nothing to advance the ongoing story. Not to mention the hot garbage that is the explanation for how she gets back with some weird “the Chee did it!” handwave-solution.

But! As far as Cassie herself goes, there’s actually a good amount that I really enjoyed. She addresses her own past decisions and how a lot of the times they were contradictory and even more reckless than Rachel’s, and that adds a really nice layer to the character. She has some shining moments of having to choose to fight and accept that, as well as the great scene of her utilizing her badass medical knowledge.

One last thing, however, has to do with Yami and his family. With Cassie sending the postcard in the end, it’s assumed that Yami and his family are safe and well in the end. But…why would they be? Not only is the idea that the Yeerks just left them alive pretty out of place with our knowledge of how Visser Three and the Yeerks operate, but really Yami and his family are a massive liability for Cassie and the others! While they might think she has some strange spirit animal thing going on, a quick infestation of Yami or any of them would quickly bring down the whole house of cards. And, even more so than just kill them, again, why WOULDN’T the Yeerks infest these people? They know that Yami and his family were hiding the “Andalite,” so it seems like a pretty obvious source of information, at the very least. Oh well, chock it up as another “just don’t think too hard about it” moment, I guess.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #43: “The Test”

343437Animorphs #43: “The Test”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax have seen things so bizarre that no sane person would believe their story. No one would believe that aliens have taken over Earth, and are in the process of infesting as many humans as possible. No one could believe the battles and missions and losses these six kids have had to deal with. And it’s not over yet.

Tobias has been captured by the same human-Controller that nearly tortured him to death once before. She claims that she’s now a part of the Yeerk Peace Movement. That she just needs a favor. Tobias isn’t sure what to believe, but he knows that if the Animorphs and Ax don’t find him soon, what he believes won’t matter anymore…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Our favorite Yeerk psychopath/torturer is back! Taylor shows up once again and is ready and able to make Tobias’s already generally miserable existence that much worse.

Oh, Tobias books. Always good for all the feels.

On one of his usual fly-overs above the woods, Tobias stumbles upon a search and rescue attempt for a small boy who’s been lost. Communicating through thought-speak with the father, Tobias successfully leads rescuers to the kid. But he’s quickly taken out by a golden eagle. Luckily, the human rescuers save the “superhero hawk,” and Tobias awakes in a cage in the clinic. He sees on TV that his rescue has become a news story and knows that odd animal behavior like this is sure to attract the Yeerks. And sure enough, soon Hork Bajir barge into the clinic and nab his cage. On their way out, they’re attacked by the Animorphs who are there on a rescue mission. In the madness, Taylor, Tobias’s torturer/nemesis from several books ago, shows up and manages to knock out Tobias with a gas and steal him away. During the madness, however, Tobias manages to acquire Taylor.

He wakes up in a grimy trailer. Taylor proceeds to try to convince him that she is on the outs with the Yeerks, and that she and other Yeerks have decided to form a rebel force against leadership that they see as failing them. They want the “Andalite bandits” to help. She then opens the cage and lets Tobias go free. He immediately heads to Rachel’s house and the two decide to meet with the others.

At Cassie’s barn, after discussing the likelihood that Taylor is cray cray, Jake leaves the decision to Tobias. He decides that they need to hear more. Using a janky computer set-up that Ax has devised, they log in to a webpage that Taylor had given Tobias and leave a message board comment agreeing to meet up. They do so at  Borders bookstore where Tobias comes in his new Taylor morph while the others take up positions around the store. The two Taylors sit down and the real Taylor begins detailing her mission: she wants the “Andalites” to morph Taxxon and tunnel down to the Yeerk pool. Then she will release a natural gas pipeline leak that will explode, killing tons of Yeerks. In exchange for their help, Taylor will get them access to Visser Three. During the meeting, however, the real girl, Taylor, briefly breaks through and tries to warn Tobias off.

At the mall, the group meets up once again to decide whether to go through with Taylor’s plan. While expressing various levels of disgust and ruthlessness, they all decide on the mission, except for Cassie who refuses to participate. She briefly mentions that large number of human hosts will be killed, but focuses mostly on the idea that the Yeerk Peace movement might also be hurt by this action. She compares it to blowing up the mall that they’re all sitting in now. This makes everyone uncomfortable, but the others see the strategic advantage as too high to miss out on.

The next day, Ax and Tobias (in Andalite morph) meet up with Taylor to acquire a Taxxon she has captured. It goes about as well as expected, with Ax having to kill the Taxxon but both still managing to acquire it. They then meet up with the other Animorphs near the natural gas station to begin tunneling. Cassie is there to see where they will be working, but will be leaving, still refusing to participate.

Tobias morphs first and struggles to control the Taxxon morph. After almost killing his friends, he realizes that he will never be able to completely control the Taxxon’s all-consuming hunger, but instead can only direct it towards tunneling, eating the dirt as he goes. As he comes up against the two-hour time limit, he is just able to regain enough control to demorph. Then it is Ax’s turn. Ax, too, manages to gain cautious control of the Taxxon and begins tunneling. However, again, close to the two hour limit, the others realize that he’s lost some degree of control because he is not responding and has not returned to the surface to de-morph. They go after him, only to discover him almost passed out at the end of the tunnel. Turns out that Taxxons, in their crazed hunger, will literally kill themselves through exhausted eating of things that don’t contain nutrients, like dirt. They manage to get him to demorph, however, and Tobias once again takes over tunneling duty.

At last, he breaks into the top of the Yeerk pool. Looking down, he sees the usual chaos of weeping hosts and the horrible pool. But he also notices a large group of humans that look oddly calm, even determined. Before he has a chance to wonder too much about this, Taylor shows up and begins taunting him and trying to convince him in joining her attempt to take over the Yeerk Empire. When he refuses, she jabs him with her paralysis gas again and runs back up the tunnel. He tries to call out to warn the others, but they respond that they’ve already been paralyzed and are helpless to do anything.

Tobias manages to drag himself back up the tunnel. He catches up to her just as she reaches the gas line, but isn’t able to stop her before she blows a hole in it and toxic gas shoots out, knocking out the air and pushing them all back down the tunnel towards the Yeerk pool. The Animorphs all manage to catch on to each other through various holds and bites, and Taxxon!Tobias scrambles to keep hold on the tunnel walls, breaking off many legs in the process. Tobais’s Taxxon body is more able to handle the lack of clean air, and he manages to drag his barely conscious friends back up the tunnel to fresh air. They realize the gas has been turned off and all demorph.

They get to the main gas building and find  Controlled!humans laying on the floor, badly injured. In a back room, they find Cassie crying. She had turned off the gas and was struggling with having to viciously attack the people in the gas building to accomplish it.

The next day, Tobias and Rachel fly to a private beach that they have discovered. Once their, Rachel demorphs and Tobias morphs his human body. Rachel confirms that Jake had told Cassie that she could warn the Yeerk Peace group, and once she had, she discovered that all of the Yeerks in the movement had organized to feed at the pool on the same days. And one of those days was the day of Taylor’s attack. Taylor had been working with Visser Three the entire time and the plan had been to take out both the “Andalite bandits” and the Yeerk Peace movement all in one hit, pinning the disaster on the Yeerk Peace participants to boot. Rachel tries to reassure Tobias that they couldn’t have known, that they operated on the best information they had, and that through their actions they saved the Yeerk Peace group. Tobias wonders if Taylor survived. But, in the end, he and Rachel hold hands and agree that they can’t worry about what is done, but only move forward.

A Hawk’s Life: Per the usual, this Tobias book deep dives into all of the issues. I think this might be a reason why Tobias, Marco, and Jake books are often listed as the most popular by other fans. Each of these three have ongoing challenges that they face throughout the entire series, and it’s a rare book for any of them that doesn’t touch on one of the main themes important to that character. Marco’s, of course, is his mother. Jake’s is his struggles with leadership and his own growing ruthlessness. And Tobias has…a bunch! And, unlike Jake and Marco, every single Tobias book has one of these issues, if not multiple, at its heart.

Not only does he have the challenges of his life as a hawk, and with it, the biggest question of all “who is he?” But he also struggles with what lead to his life as a hawk. And then, after his book before this one, he continues to feel the psychological repercussions of his capture and torture at the hands of Taylor. These last two, cowardice and the PTSD from torture, are a big focus for him in this book.

Throughout the book, Tobias struggles with his ongoing reaction to being tortured by Taylor. He sees his own reaction as one of cowardice and weakness, one that only Taylor knows. Whether she actually thinks of him this way or not, we do see her clearly taking advantage of his insecurities on these points throughout the book. In response, Tobias also insists on being the one to interact with Taylor the most. All of these thoughts come to a head when he comes up to the Yeerk pool and is looking out over it with Taylor whispering her evil words into his ear. At the same time, he sees the spot where he hid out way back in book one and became stuck as a hawk. He questions whether this, too, was a form of cowardice. That he could have done more to avoid this fate, but some part of him was too scared to go back to the challenges of the life he had before.

There’s a lot of great exploration of all of these topics, and less than what one could hope for as far as resolutions go. There are a couple throw-away lines towards the end where Tobias resolves once again not to fret about the past, but we’ve all heard that before. However, even without reaching any grand conclusions, I really enjoyed the deeper look into Tobias’s psyche and the fact that the events from his torture session are still playing large in his mind, even before Taylor shows up.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s got some typical “big leader moments,” what with knowing that Tobias ultimately needs to be the one to decide whether to go forward with working with Taylor, to accepting the fact that Cassie disagrees with their plan to the point of refusing to participate, but decides that the group will go on without her. There’s also a pretty dark moment, pretty important in the grand scheme of things, that if Tom is a victim of this attack, that is a risk worth taking for the larger advantage.

For all of that, this book sits very oddly with the last Jake book being the one that handled the topic of terrorism so thoroughly. Throughout his entire last book, Jake struggled with the question of terrorism and its role in warfare. He also was routinely horrified by it and saw it as one of the biggest markers of how wrong things had gone in that alternate reality. But here, in what is clearly the biggest act of terrorism the Animorphs would have ever participated in (hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent humans and Hork Bajir, and others, would die in this attack), he doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on the matter or references to his past struggles. Perhaps if his terrorism book had come earlier in the series, it would be easier to buy that he had hardened himself since then to making decisions like this. But…it was literally two books ago. It reads as really strange.

Xena, Warrior Princess: We see Rachel operating as Tobias’s primary support system throughout the book. She’s the one who constantly turns to him to see how he is dealing with the whole Taylor business, and she’s the one to talk him around in the end.

But we also seem some interesting shifts for herself throughout the book. It’s no surprise that she’s one of the first ones to be on-board for the mission when they are discussing next steps in the mall. Action is always preferred to inaction for Rachel, and she (with Marco and often Jake) is more likely to fall on the ruthless side of things as far as necessary sacrifices in war. But we also see her have a pretty major breakdown about three-fourths of the way through the book, questioning whether they are doing the right thing. It’s a really nice moment that serves as a reminder that a well-drawn portrayal of Rachel’s character can, and should, include more than just her ruthless (often shown as “mindless”) streak.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s some pretty good stuff for Cassie’s character in this book. One thing I did find very strange, however, was the focus of her objections when they all met to discuss Taylor’s plans in the mall. From a reader perspective, it seems pretty clear that her focus on the Yeerks Peace movement was a not very subtle way for the author to hint that that was going to come up as a thing later in the book. This group isn’t referenced too often, so it makes some sense to bring them up early on. But…as far as characterization goes, it ends up playing very oddly for Cassie herself. She gets out maybe one line about the innocent humans who will die in this attack before switching the entire rest of her argument to the  Yeerks Peace movement. And as a natural thought process or argument, it reads very oddly and makes Cassie seem to have strange, if even condemnable, priorities towards the “good” Yeerks over innocent human victims. Beyond making it seem like her own values are out of line, this argument is always going to be a harder sell to the rest of the Animorphs, who, while impressed by Cassie’s ability to form a connection with a Yeerk, have no personal attachments of their own. As a character who we know is a keen manipulator, a Cassie free from needing to do authorial work with foreshadowing would have known that pressing the innocent human line would have been a better route to convincing the others.

There’s also the moment in the end where Cassie saves them all by taking matters into her own hands. This is the kind of story that would have been great to read from Cassie’s perspective! She would have had some great insights into the humanity of choices like this with regards to the larger mission, but then would have to challenge her own values with the choice to attack human Controllers to save the Yeerk pool and her friends. Really, the more I write about it, the more I can just envision this as a Cassie book and wish we had it, especially given the general weakness of most of her books.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. Even the number of jokes he has is pretty tamped down. This kind of makes sense since Marco is definitely one of the characters with a more peripheral relationship with Tobias.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the other Animorph to get to experience the joy that is morphing Taxxon. He manages to discover that the Taxxons have a hibernation state that allows him to gain more control over the morph, but then, in the end, he, too, succumbs to the morph and almost dies/passes the time limit when he gets stuck at the end of the tunnel. There’s also an interesting little bit where he cuts off some of Andalite!Tobias’s fur in an effort to make Tobias look less like an identical copy of Ax when they go to meet Taylor. He explains that cutting fur is a form a discipline that serves as a reminder of wrong-doing until the fur grows back out and the offense is forgotten. Just another interesting little tid-bit of Andalite society!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Obviously all of the Taxxon stuff. Not only morphing the disgusting Taxxon body, but the entire experience. Looking at it, though, I couldn’t help but start to wonder how Taxxons even exist, biologically speaking. The hunger thing seems to strong that it would override every other natural instinct. As we saw with Ax, Taxxons will literally kill themselves through futile eating of non-nutrient rich things, like dirt. We’ve seen them cannibalize themselves at the slightest injury as well. How are they not extinct??

Couples Watch!: We get a handful of sweet, little moments for Tobias and Rachel throughout the story. For one, the first thing he does when Taylor releases him in the beginning of the book is to fly to Rachel’s. Together, they decide what to do from there. Thoughts of Rachel are also the only thing that breaks through the hunger-haze when he first morphs Taxxons. He gets caught up in the hunger and imaging eating his friends, but when he gets to Rachel, it stops him up short and gives him just enough of a break to regain control. And then, obviously, at the end we have the two of them on their private beach, holding hands and talking themselves through what could have been a huge disaster of a mission.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Taylor is the real villain of this book, even if the plan behind it all is laid at Visser Three’s feet. Taylor is a very interesting villain in her own right, as she was given quite a bit of page time and backstory in her first book. Here, we get further glimpses into her madness. However, many of these glimpses ultimately ended up just being frustrating teases. We get the brief break-through from the real Taylor at the bookstore, where she warns Tobias away (why this isn’t given more weight when they’re all considering what to do would also fit under the “Terrible Plan” segment). And Tobias himself wonders several times about the breakdown between Yeerk and girl. Before, Taylor was a willing host, having chosen this reality to restore her beauty. But clearly something has gone wrong since, and she’s fighting against her Yeerk. This is really interesting! And it goes…nowhere. We never get any answers to this and it’s the kind of frustrating add-on that I wish had just been cut out. It doesn’t add anything to the story as it is, but instead just leaves annoying questions in its wake, making it feel like there was much more story to be had here than what we are ultimately given.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As we know, Tobias books are often big on the tears. This one’s discussion of cowardice and Tobias’s fears that he’s a coward at heart is pretty rough. Not only does he feel that he somehow “failed” while be tortured, exposing his “true nature” to his torturer, Taylor, but he also worries that he’s always been a coward. And that this cowardice was part of the reason that he ended up trapped as a hawk; he was too scared to approach life as a boy any longer. Beyond the obvious horrors of his human life (like living with his terrible aunt and uncle and the constant bullying), he even worries that part of him was scared of the joy, too, like being with Rachel. In some of the previous books, we’ve seen him deal with the fact that his hawk form has allowed him to keep careful control on that relationship, both to Rachel’s frustration and to his own shame. The moments when he’s hanging out above the Yeerk Pool looking directly at the spot where he hid so long ago are pretty heart-wrenching.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a good number of awful plans in this book, both on the part of the Animorphs and the Yeerks. For one, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, it’s hard to buy that there weren’t more objections to the general terrible nature of the plan and the high human collateral it would entail.

Beyond that, they are all very willing to go along with a plan given to them by Taylor, someone they have a terrible history with. Not only does Taylor’s host break through at one point and literally warn them away, but they have no evidence that her plan is part of a larger revolt. They never meet any co-conspirators or see any proof that she’s not just operating on her own. What’s more, part of the carrot that is given for their cooperation is some vague promise that she will get them Visser Three. But..how? The whole explanation for her mission is that she’s on the outs. How exactly is she going to get them access to someone like Visser Three? And the Animorphs never even question this!

And then from the Yeerks’ perspective, the entire plan is very high risk, questionable reward. We know that Visser Three is happy enough to off Yeerks that displease him, but loosing the entire Yeerk Pool seems a bit much, even for him. Sure, he’s wiped out the Yeerk Peace movement, but he has to report back to the Council of Thirteen that a guerrilla group managed to blow up the entire Yeerk Pool under his watch…and bizarrely took themselves out with it? Not only does it not make sense, but it doesn’t paint in him a very good picture, and as we already know that his methods have been coming under question, it’s hard to see how this would benefit him. Beyond that, through Taylor’s successful contact with the Animorphs, there were much easier ways to simply lead that group into a trap. The successful capture of the “Andalite bandits” would do a whole heck of a lot more for him than taking out some Yeerk Peace movement members while losing the entire pool. And would have been super easy to pull off, considering how “all in” the Animorphs were with Taylor’s plan. I mean, at one point they were all lying paralyzed on the floor! How easy would it have been for Visser Three to swoop in and simply gather them all up?

Favorite Quote:

This book had a lot of good ruminations on a variety of topics, but I think some of the better parts had to do with fear and evil when Tobias was analyzing what makes up the heart of the Taxxon psyche and evil in general:

Yes, a fear. . . grossly exaggerated … beyond anything humans experience .. . a desperate fear of not having enough .. . a terror of starvation .. . a horror that your essential needs will go unfulfilled .. . a horror demented and contorted by the Taxxon mind until it became a sick, murderous evil.
Evil, even the worst evil, has banal origins every human can understand. Weakness. Fear. Insecurity.

Ax hooks up a janky computer set-up in the woods to contact Taylor initially, and the event ends with this utterly quotable line:

<The computer has, as you say, crashed,> Ax announced coolly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change! Both the Yeerks and the Animorphs had terrible instincts and plans in this book. I could easily justify taking a point away from each of them, but as that makes not overall difference, we’ll just leave things as they are.

Rating:  For all that it falls apart if you really start looking at things closely (like both the Animorphs’ and the Yeerks’ reasoning for all of these events, and the biological impossibility of the Taxxons), I really enjoyed this book. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, Tobias books are always good for a deeper look into a variety of pretty tough topics. And, unlike Cassie books, usually avoid coming off as preachy or self-righteous. For that matter, as I mentioned in the Cassie section above, this book would have succeeded tackling many of these topics AS a Cassie book. But I particularly enjoyed the analysis of fear and cowardice, and Tobias tying all of these various factors together in his worries that he is a coward: his being caught as a hawk, his handling of being tortured by Taylor the first time, how he has handled the events of this entire book. Just a lot of good stuff!

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #42: “The Journey”

363389Animorphs #42: “The Journey”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Helmacrons need more power to escape the earth’s atmosphere, so they have returned to demand the morphing cube. When Rachel tries to destroy their ship, the tiny egomaniacs bail — right into Marco’s left nostril. And the other Animorphs have to get them out before the little aliens do some real damage.

Narrator: Rachel & Marco

Plot: We all know the story: a frizzle-haired teacher, a class of students, and a magical school bus that goes anywhere and makes even the most ridiculous things seem fun and cool. Sure, many of their adventures were legitimately cool on their own; who wouldn’t enjoy traveling to all of the planets! But some of them…definitely could have gone another way. And Animorphs is here to prove how!

I mean, I could get worked up. But like the Atlantis book, it’s just so wacky that why even bother?

The story starts off in the normal way: the team returning from yet another battle. But as they demorph in an alley, they are temporarily blinded by the flash of a camera. Some kid has taken a picture of them mid-morph! They chase after him, but he disappears into an apartment complex. The team sets up a state-out and agrees to meet up at Cassie’s barn the next day to discuss next steps.

And from there, it all goes haywire with the sudden reappearance of the Helmacrons. All together in Cassie’s barn, the tiny Helmacron ship reappears and, predictably, is again after the blue box that Cassie has hidden there. Rachel and Marco both lunge to grab the ship before it can get to the box, and in the process, Marco hits his head and falls to the ground. From there, Tobias gets to witness the truly terrible image of a group of Helmacrons marching straight up Marco’s nose.

Now the team is in a real pickle. The Helmacrons have their tiny lasers on them, and there’s a real concern over the amount of damage they could do to Marco if they should start firing inside of his body. So naturally, the only thing to be done is to go in after them! Jake strictly instructs Marco to lay low and not to morph, not knowing how morphing could affect them while inside Marco’s body. They use the Helmacrons’ ship to shrink themselves down to size, and Marco uses a bit of straw to deposit them in his nose.

Insert lovely scenes about snot and walking through snot and burying oneself in snot to avoid a sneeze. Lovely stuff. They eventually come upon the Helmacrons but quickly notice something is wrong: the Animorphs are much, much smaller than even the Helmacrons. They realize that they had been set up and fallen into the trap. Luckily, the Helmacrons are engaged in a bit of a civil war between the genders and aren’t making too much progress with whatever their plan is either. After a few mishaps, the Animorphs and the Helmacrons all end up falling down Marco’s throat and end up in his stomach.

Meanwhile, Marco is getting bored of waiting. He can’t speak to the team, and for some reason Ax is just not updating him on what’s going on. Restless, he decides to go check out the kid’s apartment and try and get a hold of the camera and film. Breaking in doesn’t go as planned and he ends up being bitten by the kid’s pit bull.

In Marco’s stomach, the team struggles to survive being eaten away by the acid, an all too familiar scenario for poor Rachel and Tobias. Cassie morphs a whale at one point and the team huddles on top of her to try and gather their bearings. From there, they witness several Helmacrons die in the acid themselves, but the others manage to slice a whole in Marco’s stomach and make their way out into his blood stream. The team figures that they must be capable of breathing “under water” and determine that the best way to follow would be in shark morph. They morph sharks and all struggle at first with the madness that their close proximity with blood inspires in the sharks’ minds. They follow the Helmacrons out into the arteries. Along the way, Cassie shares “body facts” about what they’re seeing.

Back in Marco’s perspective, things are not going well. He has begun to feel strange, reckless and anxious. He decides to go back to the kid’s apartment once more and try again to get the camera. Once there, he decides that he needs to morph a cockroach. He proceeds to morph.

Inside Marco, the others realize that Marco is morphing and frantically wonder what is going on that would force him to take such a reckless action. They all manage to survive the morph, and immediately thought speak to Marco asking him why he felt the need to risk their lives morphing. Marco responds in a very petulant manner and Rachel begins to wonder what is going on. She knows that it’s not a great situation for Marco, but that he’s never stupid, and morphing with them in his body was stupid.

They finally catch up with the Helmacrons, but they won’t be reasoned with and start firing their guns. Marco goes still. The others are convinced that he has been killed by the internal damage. They manage to get a hold of the laser guns from the Helmacrons and force them to give in. They cut a hole in cockroach!Marco and make their way out. Outside his body, Cassie begins to theorize that it seems strange that Marco would have died as a cockroach, since they are practically unkillable. The team takes turns trying to wake him up before the two hour deadlines expires. At the last minute, he comes to. He morphs a gull, the team climbs on, still holding the Helmacrons hostage, and Marco grabs the camera in his beak on the way out.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Like the Atlantis book was for Jake, and the first Helmacrons book was for Cassie, these books that veer all the way into crazyland tend to be rather dud-like as far as any real character growth goes. But, on the other hand, the last several Rachel books have been more damaging to her character than anything, so maybe I should count this as a lucky miss that there’s practically nothing worth discussing for her here. Sure, there are a couple of moments where we see her dive head first into the action, but even those instances are pretty restrained and not too notable. Towards the end, there are a couple of moments that reflect the deeper understanding of Marco’s character that she has gained from being an Animorph with him. Before, I imagine, he was just her cousin Jake’s annoying friend. Now, she knows him well enough to notice that his defensive and weirdly aggressive responses to why he morphed when Jake had expressly told him not to were out of character for him. She notes that while he can be annoying, he is anything but stupid, and morphing in this instance was stupid. It not only risked the other Animorphs’ lives, but Marco’s own.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a few comical moments when he tries to mimic the Helmacrons’ grandiose way of speaking in an attempt to convince them to leave Marco and give up their quest for the blue box. He also shows how comfortable he has become giving members of the team orders, noting in the end that he still needs to talk to Marco about why exactly Marco disobeyed a direct order. This is definitely the type of comment that we’d not expect to hear from early-series Jake who was still struggling to accept his role as a leader, especially when it comes to laying down laws on his best friend.

A Hawk’s Life: Not much from Tobias in this book, which is always a bummer on its own, but is worse in Rachel books where we stand a better chance of getting more from him.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie plays the role of “Ms. Frizzle” in this book and is pretty much giving them a tour of Marco’s insides throughout the story. At one point, she is so caught up in this role that she is essentially evaluating the state of Marco’s immune system instead of paying attention to anything else that is going on. It’s pretty bizarre, frankly. But with a book like this, which is essentially setting out to accomplish exactly the same thing that the Magic School Bus episode was, to teach kids about the body’s inner workings, we would need a character like this along the way, and Cassie makes the most sense. She’s also the one to realize that Marco is likely not dead in the end, noting how difficult it is to truly kill a cockroach.

The Comic Relief: This is a strange book in that it’s another one where we get weird insert of POV chapters from another character’s point of view. Rachel is one of my favorite characters and, not only do I think she gets short-changed in a lot of books, other than Jake, she has potentially the most interesting arc throughout the series to follow. So with that in mind, it’s a bit unfortunate to see one of her books divided between her and another character. But, if I was going to have to pick that character, Marco’s always a good choice. Of course, he’s also weirdly written for most of this as he is suffering from rabies-induced mania for much of it. Even without Rachel noting Marco’s strange behavior, fans of the series, especially this late in the game, are sure to raise an eyebrow at much of the out-of-character decision making we see from Marco here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Also not much from Ax. On and off, he serves as a communication point to Marco as one of the few members of group who can use thought-speak. But…yeah, other than that.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Really, most of this book. Unlike the cartoon-y take we get from Magic School Bus, this book tears that cutesy band-aid off right away with overly disgusting descriptions of the Animorphs having to bury themselves in snot to avoid getting sneezed out. It’s pretty disgusting and vaults this book up next to the “Andalite toilet” book as far as catering to middle grade body humor goes. I did not enjoy a return to this level of “entertainment.”

Couples Watch!: Ugh, practically nothing! There was literally one line where Tobias privately thought-spoke to Rachel when they were in Marco’s stomach telling her to morph quickly when she was stuck in the stomach acid. Which can also be attributed to the fact that the two of them already had a close encounter with potentially being digested back in Megamorphs #2. So yeah, as far as romance goes, a pretty big let down here. It’s all the more sad to see knowing how close we are getting to the end.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book! The Animorphs note a few times that they can’t be sure that the Helmacrons aren’t working with the Yeerks, so this is meant to add another level of urgency to their mission, though I’m never quite sure their reasoning makes sense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry at the return of childish body-humor as a form of entertainment. Just…no.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Kind of the whole thing? I don’t understand what the Helmacrons’ endgame was. How was getting the Animorphs to follow them into Marco really going to accomplish anything? I’m not convinced that all of the Animorphs going in after them was wise, rather than just a few of them. And why oh why the group then chooses to keep Marco completely out of the loop the entire time is beyond strange. Ax should have been updating him the entire time and then when they all morph sharks, they definitely should have been letting him know what was going on. You could make the case that Marco wouldn’t have felt compelled to go after the camera in the first place had he been more in the loop with what the others were up to. Beyond that, I’m pretty skeptical of the whole rabies subplot. How exactly did someone’s pet pitbull end up with rabies? It’s pretty rare for that disease to be found in household pets since most are vaccinated and then rarely would come into contact with the wild animals that would need to give it to them in the first place. And there’s no mention of the fact that, hey, some kid and his family are now LIVING WITH A RABID ANIMAL! And Rachel thinks it’s more important to let Marco question his own sanity for another night than, I don’t know, warn this poor family about this life-threatening situation.

Favorite Quote:

TRUTH:

“You know,” Jake said thoughtfully. “I think this is the most disgusting mission we’ve ever done.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change!

Rating: All in all, a pretty “meh” book. It didn’t enrage me, but I also kind of buzzed through it, not caring at all what was going on. I didn’t enjoy the return of body humor and I was sad to see another book where Rachel doesn’t really have much character progression. For all that we hear about her deteriorating mindset from other characters in their books, it’s a real shame that we don’t see more of it from Rachel herself and how she is coping with these changes. The potential here is gold and it’s so, so wasted. Plus, the whole story was stock full of ridiculous scenarios that don’t make much sense. From the very beginning, it’s clear that this is just a “concept” book that derived from a wacky idea. There’s no good reason for the Helmacrons to be back, or for them to take the actions they do, or for them to give up in the end really and agree to leave. If I think about it too much, I could probably get frustrated with the laziness, but as it is, I’m happy enough just letting this one slide back into cool indifference, lost to memory eventually.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-read #41: “The Familiar”

363352Animorphs #41: “The Familiar”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake wakes up one morning to find he is suddenly twenty-five years old, the Yeerks rule the world, all the other Animorphs are either dead or Yeerk-infested, and he alone is left to fight.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Well…that was…a thing? Another book I had completely blocked from my memory, and another book where I completely understand why. It’s not that I hated the characterization (like a few of the dreaded Rachel books that I had also partially blocked), but, instead…

Similarly to Megamorphs 4, the story opens with a brutal fight scene. In many ways, it’s even worse than the one we saw there. Rachel goes into a beserk rage, not able to recognize her own injuries and the futility of the situation. Marco, trying to help Rachel, tells Jake to leave them behind. Which Jake does. Afterwards, when they make it all out, Cassie has a complete melt-down, questioning why they are even doing what they are doing any more. And, instead of comforting her like he typically would, Jake just walks away.

From there, the book spirals into an unexplained and unexplainable dream sequence/dystopian future/something? For the first time, I honestly don’t know how to sum up what happens because the story literally jumps from one nightmare sequence to another, with Jake often passing out in-between, and almost zero connection between one moment of horror and another. Throughout, implausibilities and inconsistencies are littered, making readers feel like some reveal is coming, and then the story just ends. So, instead of my typical beat-by-beat plot discussion, we’re resorting to bullet points, cuz frankly I don’t know how else to handle this BS.

  • Jake wakes up in a future where the Yeerks have taken over. He’s 25 years old and everyone around him thinks he’s a Controller.
  • On his way to “work,” he escapes to the ground level of New York City which is largely deserted but for roaming, almost-feral Taxxons and a new alien species called the Orffs which operate as police. He finds himself in the sewers and runs into what is essentially a homeless camp of disabled humans, Andalites, Gedds and others.
  • Back on the ground level, a building is blown up and topples. He runs into an adult Cassie who is working with her Yeerk to resist the Yeerk Empire. She claims that Jake betrayed the Animorphs by being careless which lead to them all being Controlled and Rachel dying. She enlists him to spy on a big project the Yeerks are setting in motion to turn the moon into a giant Kandrona ray.
  • At his work, Jake has a flash where everyone around him becomes zombi-fied versions of Controllers he’s killed in battle. Rat!David also shows up, scurrying around.
  • His Controlled!Dad shows up, and Jake morphs tiger. Everyone is shocked that a human can morph. He gets knocked out.
  • He wakes up to be confronted by Controlled!Marco. Cassie said Marco became Visser Two, but in their conversation, Marco says he’s Visser Three and then smiles mysteriously when Jake points out the inconsistency. Marco reveals that he has captured Cassie before he releases Jake, saying they’ll track his movements now that they know he’s connected to the Yeerk Resistance.
  • At the cafeteria (?), Jake runs into a crippled Rachel; she has lost both legs, an arm, an eye, and her vocal chords have been damaged. Jake wonders why Cassie said she was dead.
  • He gets chased by Orffs again and somehow falls through a trapdoor in the street and finds himself in a Resistance shelter where freed humans and Andalites are raising children. They say the floor doesn’t open for just anyone and that Cassie must want him to learn something. He talks to a few of the children, before making his way back to the surface through a tree.
  • On the surface, he runs into an adult Andalite that he at first thinks is Elfangor. He soon discovers it is Tobias in his Ax morph. Jake is confused because before this he had spotted an elderly red-tailed hawk flying in and out of areas and had assumed that was Tobias. They discuss the ethics of war, particularly terrorism’s role in guerrilla warfare. Tobias sends Jake to prevent the moon/Kandrona mission, dismissing Jake’s concerns about rescuing Cassie, saying one life is a sacrifice worth making in the bigger scheme of things.
  • At the Chrysler building, Jake ends up in a situation where he has to choose between saving Cassie or aborting the moon mission. He makes his choice, but we don’t know what it is.
  • He wakes up in his room to a voice, specifically mentioned to NOT be the Ellimist or Crayak, that says that he made an interesting choice and the humans will require more study. Shaken, Jake calls Cassie on the phone and asks if she is alright, saying he should have asked her the night before after the battle.

Our Fearless Leader: The plot is hot garbage, but the writer does stick true to characterization throughout. And in light of past complaints where the opposite has been true, I will give this book the smallest of props for that. Really, a large part of the problem arises with the placement of this story in the series. We had JUST come off a book that opened with a horrific battle, then focused on Jake’s feelings of hopelessness and failure, and then delved into some type of alternate reality that helped keep him on the right course. So, because of that, unfortunately, much of this felt familiar.

It was interesting that much of the internal struggle for Jake here had to do with the changes he saw in Cassie, her hardening towards warfare, and the Yeerk Resistance fighters’ use of terrorism as a combat tactic. The latter, in particular, is the type of topic we’ve perhaps briefly discussed in Cassie books, but it is given new life here what with the actual terrorism tactics being used (blowing up buildings that contain civilians) as opposed to the guerrilla warfare style of the Animorphs. That being said, some of Jake’s outrage is a bit hard to handle since the Animorphs do verge on these tactics themselves. I can think of many incidents, but the elephant/rhino beach invasion on the summit back in the David trilogy would definitely meet the definition of terrorism. However, it’s still interesting watching a character like Jake, rather than Cassie for once, grapple with these things.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Probably the second-most recurring struggle for Jake throughout this book is his growing discomfort with his own use of Rachel. In the opening battle, he chooses to leave her and Marco behind, partly knowing that Rachel will hold Yeerks off in her battle rage. And in the alternate reality, he at first thinks that his own carelessness gets her killed and then sees that he got her maimed. Obviously, much of this is on Rachel’s character itself: she would go down fighting rather than be infested, more so than any of the others. But Jake repeatedly thinks about how he “uses” Rachel and how he has finally/will someday break her by treating her like a weapon and not a person. Dun dun DUNNN.

A Hawk’s Life: So for half the book we think Tobias is some type of spectral, old hawk that flies in and out of scenes. And then we find him as a grown-up version of Ax. Of all of them, this route for Tobias makes the most sense. We’ve seen his leadership capabilities in the past, and his choice to get himself stuck in an Andalite body over his own human one also makes sense. As an Andalite, he has natural weapons and can better participate in the ongoing fight, and we know that this has been a driving force behind his choice to remain as a hawk. He’s also the one to get into the nuts and bolts of the terrorism conversation with Jake, and, again, it is easy to imagine a Tobias who would become hardened to the point that we see here.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has the second-biggest role in this story and the most marked change of them all (can’t really count Marco since we don’t actually get to see real Marco for more than a second). Her hardened attitude seems to scare Jake more than almost anything he’s sees in this version of the future. I have mixed feelings on this. I like how it really solidifies how important Cassie’s pacifism is to Jake’s ability to balance the choices he makes in the real timeline. He depends on her to have this outlook and to pull him back from terrible things. And it’s definitely believable that Cassie would manage to talk her Yeerk around to joining up in the Resistance and establishing a partnership of sorts. So for the first half of the book, I was completely on board. But when we’re introduced to the underground safe haven where the children are being raised…that kind of messes with things. That’s the kind of hopeful, peaceful situation that would both draw Cassie into working there instead of on the streets, but also provides the type of ongoing hope that we know is important to her to keep her general outlook. With its existence, it was harder to believe in this super hardened version of Cassie.

The Comic Relief: Marco is barely in this. We get half a word from the real him about halfway through the book, and that’s about it. His fate is obviously one of the most horrible, as, miraculously, the other Animorphs are all mostly still fighting somehow. We know that the fate of the Controlled being depends on the Yeerk they end up with (as we saw with poor Tobias in the last Megamorphs books), but you also get the sense here that Controlled!Marco has risen so high in the ranks due to it being Marco and him being the smartest of the group. As I said, that doesn’t actually track, but oh well. In any state of being, Marco will be supremely, sometimes horribly, effective. It’s also worth noting that in the opening scene, Marco is the one to both stay behind to try and help Rachel out, but also the one to yell at Jake to leave them. More points to the special relationship between Rachel and Marco (also, practically speaking, his gorilla morph is the only one that can really “help” a grizzly), but also a nice scene highlighting Marco’s “clear, bright line” approach to the war. He sees the same situation that Jake does and he agrees with his unspoken assessment that he and Rachel are best left behind for the good of the group.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Is Ax even in this book? Not only is he the only one we don’t see in the future (according to Cassie he is off in space after helping take down the Andalite home world), but I don’t remember anything special from him in the initial battle either. I’m sure there was some passing references, but obviously nothing memorable.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The zombi-fied remains of Jake’s past kills were pretty bad. It’s one of the annoying, random scenes that just inserts itself into the middle of the story for no reason, but if I try and ignore that (it’s very, VERY hard to ignore all of these random plot scenes and issues), the scene itself is brutal. It’s essentially a personification of all the horror that Jake has dealt out. Not only are there Controllers sporting obvious wounds from a tiger, but rat!David even makes a brief appearance, ready and able to remind Jake that actual killing may not have been the worst thing he’s done so far.

Couples Watch!: Jake’s relationship with Cassie is pretty much the driving force of the last half of the book. He’s obviously horrified by her hardened state and his own supposed role in the entire situation, but things really get started after Cassie gets captured and he has to choose between trying to save her or stopping the moon mission. What makes this harder for him is that everyone he talks to has a clear answer: moon mission first. Tobias, even Cassie herself, all say that one person’s life isn’t worth the results of this mission going forward. We don’t know what Jake chooses at the end, though I think it’s pretty strongly leaning towards him saving Cassie. That would also be the more interesting choice, considering the events of the last book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book. Though I will take this opportunity to rant about one of the many weird inconsistencies in this book: the fact that the Animorphs were all taken as Controllers (or most of them) and yet, other than Marco, they were given to nobody Yeerks and then somehow everyone forgot that they could morph. It’s so bizarre and unlikely that it just pissed me off whenever I was reminded of the fact. And, of course, the set up for the book, revealed at the end, that it’s all some mysterious experiment, gets the author off the hook for having to justify any of this nonsense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Marco is given a brief second of freedom from his Yeerk and is clearly so unused to it that he barely remembers how to talk on his own. Like I said earlier, his and Ax’s fates are by far the worst. We can’t really count Jake in any of this, and the rest all managed to keep fighting in one way or anther. Even Rachel’s horrible disfigurement seems better, and we all know that she’d choose that over being Controlled any day.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I don’t even know, the plan of this entire book and whomever came up with it?

Favorite Quote: For all of its stupidity, when the book actually slows down enough to give Jake real moments to interact with those around him, we got some good stuff, like his conversation with Tobias. And this brief interlude with a kid living in the underground safe haven:

I  wondered  how I  should  answer,  how I  could explain  to  him,  without  destroying  his  spirit.

“War doesn’t  always  let you  save the  people  you know,” I said.  “You might end up being assigned to  a  mission  that  saves  people  far  away  from here.   People  you  don’t   know.   Other  people’s friends.”

He shook his head.”I’ll  save my friends first.  Then  I’ll  save other people’s  friends.”

And then there was this:

I’d  decided a while  back to give  up analyzing what  was  happening  to  me  and  why.  I’d  figured that  sanity  depended  on  accepting  the  reality  I saw,  this  dream  or  nightmare or vision.  But that didn’t mean there weren’t times when all I wanted were answers — definite, concrete answers.

This almost felt like a slap in the face, because not only was Jake forced to have this approach, but it felt like this is where the author was pretty much telling readers to not expect anything else from this entire book. Just take what you have and be happy. We’re not going to explain anything, so give up hope waiting for that and deal with it. I’m sorry, but no. There have been plenty of other nonsense story lines in this series, and I’ve went along with them all because at least there we were given even the smallest tendrils of an explanation. As implausible as those explanations were, at least the author made an effort to rationalize it all and give it meaning. Here, there was none of that. The fact that it wasn’t even the Ellimist or Crayak in the end, but some other cosmic force that is never mentioned again was just insult on top of injury.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

I’m giving a point to the Yeerks again out of anger with this book. And for the fact that during the majority of this book they had, indeed, won.

Rating: Man, I really didn’t like this book. The characters were strong and I did like some of the larger issues they tackled (the fact that this was set in NY city, had a tower come down, discussed terrorism repeatedly, and was published about 6 months before 9/11….yikes). But as I briefly got into in the section above, I can’t forgive the sheer laziness of the story as a whole. There wasn’t even an attempt to explain why or how any of this was happening. Beyond that, we were given small moments, like Marco’s slip-up calling himself Visser Three rather than Two, that IMPLY something bigger is happening that Jake and readers should be figuring out, or at the very least, waiting for the reveal for. But nope! Nothing means anything! And then, the stupid voice at the end. Frankly, I would have been more on board had Jake just woken up and realized the whole thing was a dream. But to add in another all-powerful cosmic entity, and just drop it in like it’s nothing, explain nothing, and have nothing ever come from it again? No. That’s just crapping all over your readership because you wanted to do something wacky and didn’t care enough to come up with a way for it to work.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: Megamorphs #4 “Back to Before”

363358Megamorphs #4: “Back to Before”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I GeAt this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake’s finally weakened. After a grisly battle, the Drode offers the Animorphs’ leader an escape from the terrifying pressure. He’ll reverse the decision to start the Animorphs. Now, there’s no morphing, no missions, and no knowledge of the Yeerks. That is, until very strange things begin to happen and Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, Marco and Ax are forced to confront their new reality.

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: After a particularly horrible battle, Jake is back in his room, dreading the inevitable nightmares that are sure to come: his friends dying, all because of his own decisions. At this weak point, Crayak’s servant the Drode appears and gives Jake an out: say the words and this can all go away, Jake and the other Animorphs can go back to blissful ignorance, back before they met Elfangor in the abandoned construction lot. From there, a weird alternate reality takes over.

Summary of my feelings during the entire book.

After meeting up at the mall one evening, Cassie and Rachel spot Jake, Marco and this guy named Tobias, (they think?) heading out. We witness the same exchange that we got from Jake’s perspective way back in book #1, but this time from Cassie’s POV. They agree to head home together, but instead of going through the construction site, they take the long way around. In the sky, they see a flash of what looks like a meteorite falling. Cassie gets an odd feeling, but they all reach home safely.

Over the next few days, we check in with the rest of the crew. Tobias is living with his uncle and has quickly fallen out of hanging around with Jake and Marco, getting the sense that while nice enough to him, they’re not really looking for new friends. This leaves Tobias at the mercy of even more bullies, that is until he’s invited by another kid to a meeting of The Sharing. He sees Jake and Tom there, but doesn’t talk to them.

Cassie is having weird dreams, voices in her head and images of the ocean. She goes into the barn now and then and is having weird memories of Marco lounging on hay bales (but Marco’s never been there) and a large bird of prey up in the rafters.

Ax is under the sea, waiting for rescue. It’s been weeks, however, and no one has come. We see him captures and acquire the hammerhead shark morph that he had when the Animorphs originally met up with him back in book #4. After a period of time, he finally decides to give up waiting just as a group of Controllers make their way towards the Dome ship. He escapes as a shark, taking out a bunch of Taxxons on his way, and makes his way to the surface.

Jake is receiving increasing pressure from Tom to join The Sharing. He has nothing against it, but is more and more beginning to resent the pressure from Tom to join.

Marco and Rachel go on a school trip together where Marco flirts outrageously with her. He is happy to find that there is more to her than her looks as she wittily matches him and puts him in his place with his ridiculous come-ons. Just as things are getting interesting, Marco spots his “dead” mom and takes off after her, trying to chase her down.

Rachel has felt all her life that something is missing, and when Marco takes off after some woman who can’t possibly be his dead mother, she doesn’t think twice, leaping into action and following after. The two chase Marco’s mom around town, finally backing her into a corner in an alley, only to find that she’s called reinforcements and now it’s they who are trapped. What’s more, the reinforcements don’t shoot regular guns, but some type of strange laser beam. Rachel and Marco manage to make their escape up a fire ladder in the end. They also start quasi-dating off page.

Tobias, now being protected from the bullies by members of The Sharing, finally decides to join as a full member. He meets Jake in the hall at school and mentions this. Jake seems suspicious of the whole thing, mentioning that any group that asks individuals to give up themselves in order to be part of some whole might be a bit weird. Tobias, though, at the mercy of bullies and practically no family, decides to go through with it. At The Sharing, he and a few others go into a room to become full members. To his surprise, Vice Principal Chapman and a strange man named Mr. Visser are there. Chapman gives a pretty speech about how Tobias will now be part of something bigger than he is. Mr. Visser scoffs at the necessity of the speech, but Chapman says it usually helps. Even with the speech, Tobias starts freaking out when they lock him down to a chair. From there, he’s infested with a Yeerk. But not just any Yeerk, a Yeerk who secretly works for Visser One and there to tell Visser Three that the Council of Thirteen wishes Visser Three to proceed with Visser One’s more secretive approach to the invasion on Earth.

Ax has found himself a place to stay: the mental hospital. But after a while there, he realizes that he must do more and the only way to tell if the Yeerks are on Earth is to present them with bait they can’t resist, an Andalite. He makes his way to a TV station and projects a short video of himself.

At home, Jake and Tom both see the video. Tom freaks out and tries to sneak out of the house, but Jake sees that he has a gun with him and, suspicious, stows away in the back of the car. Tom makes his way to the TV studio. There he meets up with Chapman, Mr. Visser, and, strangely, Tobias. A small fight breaks out, and in the chaos, Tom shoots at Jake with a ray gun (though he can’t see who it is to know it’s Jake). Jake briefly sees his own hand start to change into the paw of a tiger. He freaks out and rushes back to meet up with Rachel, Cassie, and Marco in the barn.

There, Cassie confesses to the strange visions she’s been having. Before Jake can describe the alien on the video, Cassie is able to describe him herself, based on these strange “visions.” They all agree that some sort of conspiracy is going on, likely involving The Sharing since they know Tom and Tobias were involved. Cassie watches the discussion and notes that everyone is the way they “should” be: Jake is the leader, making the decision when necessary; Rachel is ready to act, now; Marco is sitting back, cautious and analyzing the situation from afar. But something is still missing.

Back with Tobias, we see the slow spiral of his thoughts as he realizes the truly terrible situation he has gotten himself into. There’s no going back, and this is his life now. He also realizes that the Yeerk in his head is a bit scared, noting that Visser Three is being too accommodating of a Yeerk who just delivered bad news. At a meeting, Visser Three confronts Controlled!Tobias and accuses the Yeerk of working for Visser One. After threatening to starve him to death, the Yeerk confesses and Controlled!Tobias is shot in the head.

The others have decided to track Tom, their only known lead. But we see how difficult their task is without morphing abilities: even following him becomes almost impossible because they can’t drive. Jake and Marco try to sneak through Tom’s things, but don’t see anything. On the TV, however, they see another broadcast from Ax, this time on all of the stations. He explains about the Yeerks, how they Control people and that Earth is under attack. Marco quickly guesses that this is what has happened to Tom and his mother. Tom confronts them with a laser gun and tries to herd them out into a waiting car, likely to be infested now themselves. Rachel shows up with a bat and takes Tom out. From there, chaos breaks out.

A Bug fighter shows up in plain sight and begins chasing them. They manage to make it a few blocks before the fighter blows up some cars. The explosion beats up Rachel and Jake, but it kills Marco. Shell-shocked, they make their way to the mall and meet up with Cassie. Ax is there as well, having holed up in Circuit City to broadcast his message. On his way out, he runs into three teenage humans who are now being chased by a bunch of Yeerks through the mall. One of them knows his name. Cassie convinces Ax that she doesn’t know what’s going on, but something’s not right and they are supposed to be friends and allies. Ax says they need to make their way to the roof to escape.

On the way there, several fights break out and Rachel comes into her own with a blaze of battle prowess. But once on the roof, she is killed by a Hork Bajir. Ax, Jake, and Cassie run towards the Blade ship that has landed on the roof. As they run, Cassie, too, is shot and killed by a laser. Jake and Ax make their way on to the Blade ship, but they run into Visser Three who is about to kill them when Cassie appears again out of nowhere and kills him. A disembodied voice complains that she was dead and that this is getting out of hand.

Ax, Cassie, and Jake fly the ship into space and are just about to take out the Yeerk Pool Ship, likely resulting in their own death as well, when it all stops. A being that calls itself the Drode and an old, grandfatherly-like creatures calling itself the Ellimist show up. The other dead Animorphs also show up. The Drode complains that the Ellimist cheated, that Cassie is an anomaly that messed with the alternate reality. He accuses the Ellimist of “stacking the deck” by selecting Cassie, a time/space anomaly, Marco, the son of Visser One’s host, Tobias, Elfangor’s son, and Ax, Elfangor’s borther, to be part of his team. The Ellimist says that his decisions came into play before the timeline change, so it was a fair deal. It’s not his fault that Cassie’s mere presence will always ruin it, grounding the timeline into the one that is meant to be. Besides, the Drode was the one to call things off in the end, just as Jake, Ax, and Cassie were about to blow up the Yeerk Pool Ship.

Through all of this, the others regain their memories. Jake is horrified that he gave in and that this was the result. The Ellimist says that things will reset to the night Jake made this decision and that none of them would remember but for Cassie who would have vague images here and there. Cassie decides that whatever she remembers she will keep to herself. She doesn’t want Jake to know he ever caved to Crayak or Tobias to know he chose to be a Controller. Rachel comments that she will be more than happy to forget dating Marco.

Time resets. Jake is in his room, dreading his nightmares. The Drode appears and temps him, just as Jake is about to answer, the Drode sighs in annoyance, says never mind, and disappears.

Our Fearless Leader: The brief scene at the beginning of this book is brutally effective, especially given how short it is. We don’t know the details of the mission, but multiple members of the Animorphs almost die. They also have to walk out on a dying human Controller that was taken out in the action. There’s nothing special about this fight, which is what makes it all the more believable that it would be the one to break Jake. It isn’t a matter of the fight itself being worse, but the accumulation.

We get some good stuff from Jake throughout the book, but some of the bigger moments are his discussion with Tobias about The Sharing and his natural fall into leadership, even in this alternate reality. The former gets at Jake’s inherent distrust of organizations that call for the loss of the individual, and it’s a brief discussion, but very interesting for what it says about him. The second is a good example of just how inevitable it was that Jake would be the one to lead this group. He’s a natural leader, able to make tough decisions quickly when they need to be made, regardless of changed circumstances. It’s also definitely for the best that Cassie is the only one who will even partially remember this whole thing. Jake has enough weight to carry and the knowledge that he ever made this choice would surely be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, too, falls naturally into her regular role. She pines for action from the very beginning and doesn’t question motives or sanity or anything when Marco takes off after his “mother.” She acts, and she acts quickly. She’s the one that really gets them out of the alley situation, vaulting Marco up to pull down the escape ladder.

There’s also the neat scene where she comes to Jake and Marco’s rescue when they’re being carted off by Tom, and she takes him out with a bat. We get this line from Jake, and it’s the kind of scene that you can picture showing up in a movie:

I stared at my cousin. Rachel was breathing hard. But her outfit, hair, and makeup had remained perfect.

We also see what has to be a contender for one of her most bad-ass moments in the entire series during the fights that take place in the mall. At one point, the group is fighting a bunch of Hork Bajir with the few ray guns they’ve manged to get their hands on. Things aren’t looking good at one point when Rachel manages to use the decapitated head of one Hork Bajir to stab another Hork Bajir in the chest, killing him.

A Hawk’s Life: Omg, Tobias. His entire section is just heart-wrenching. What makes it all the worse is how very believable it is. Through the entire series, it’s easy to wonder what would make a person agree to be a Controller, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where that would be a choice someone would make. But here, we see not just some random person do it, but a beloved hero we’ve followed through tons of books. Tobias’s life is terrible. His aunt and uncle are the worst kind of indifferent. One set of bullies was put off by Jake, but another group is always waiting to beat up on him next. Even his rescuers, Jake and Marco, don’t really do much to help Tobias. Sure, Jake stood up for him, but Tobias can sense their lack of interest in being friends, and he inevitably drifts away. The Sharing is perfectly positioned to prey on kids like him.

And when he’s Controlled, the situation is just worse. He sees his life before and acknowledges that it was terrible, and that while yes, there was nothing he could do at the moment to change it, all he had to do was endure. But even with these thoughts, it’s not made to seem like Tobias made a stupid, easy-to-avoid decision . His life was hard; even knowing that endurance will provide an escape at some point, the reality of what life is like for kids like this is still really tough. And then he gets shot in the head because the Yeerk inside him is caught out as a spy. Oof.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is a great book for Cassie. Not only are her chapters fun to read (especially the first one when we experience the scene before the construction night from her POV), but her insights into the team are put to great use. Through her eyes, we see how these individuals have key characteristics that remain true, regardless of how things played out. Her visions of the future are also great, being just subtle enough to create disturbing moments for her (like her recurring vision of a hawk in the barn) and clear enough for readers to get excited about the familiarities. She never just “suddenly remembers” anything in the lazy way of writing that so easily could have happened. Instead, her small insights and visions are always just enough at any given moment to slowly push things. Her memory of Ax’s name is the biggest one. Without that name, there’s a good chance things would have gone very differently, with the team never coming together and all being killed before they could reach the Blade ship and fly it into space, creating enough of a threat to force the Drode to stop things.

And then, of course, there are passive things that Cassie caused, like Jake’s weird hand morphing incident and the much more extreme example of her essentially coming back to life just in time to kill Visser Three. Most importantly, she realizes immediately that any memory of this experience that she retains is one that she must keep to herself; it would be too damaging to the group to know, especially Tobias and Jake.

The Comic Relief: For all that Marco quickly calls out the insanity when they’re all in the barn discussing the possibility of some weird conspiracy with The Sharing, he’s also the one to really defend the idea too, nicely highlighting the strengths of Marco’s character: he can say what everyone is thinking, but do it in a way that also highlights the realities of the situation. He has several moments where he shows his smarts, especially when it comes to spying on Tom. While Rachel wants action (any action!), Marco knows that they have to be cautious. He’s the one who warns Jake to look for booby traps that Tom might have set to warn him if anyone snoops around his room. Because of this, Jake is able to see the hair placed in a door to do just that.

It’s also important that Marco spotted his mom in the beginning of this book. We know from what we saw in the beginning of this series that, while smart, Marco is a very pragmatic character and would likely be unmoved to get involved in this whole situation had he not had a good motivation. And now, like then, that motivation comes in the form of his mother. It’s interesting to think, then, that if the only thing that changed was missing that construction site meeting, then there had to have been some Animorphs-related mission in the normal reality that prevented Marco and Rachel from being at that theater and seeing Marco’s mother then, instead of on the ship in book #5.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: It’s great to get some scenes from Ax’s time in the Dome ship in the ocean before the Animorphs would have rescued him. We even get to see how he goes about acquiring the shark, which is a great little tidbit of a scene to throw to fans of the series.

It’s also interesting to see how (and what) he learns about humanity without the Animorphs to help him out. For one, it takes him a bit to even establish which living being he should be when trying to fit in on Earth. In another nice Easter egg, we see that he considered cows at first because of their physical similarities to Andalites before dismissing them as too stupid. He does settle on humans eventually and it’s also no surprise that he would then wind up in a mental hospital. More nice tidbits with references to his eating habits, having managed to once again eat cigarette butts. But this time he fixates on Oreos instead of Cinnabuns.

His plan with the TV studio is also interesting, especially his final broadcast when he transmits the entire plot to the world. It’s hard to know whether this was really a good plan, as it forces the Yeerks’ hands into all-out warfare that humanity was clearly not ready for. But Ax is operating alone, and it’s easy to see him deciding to do something like this when he’s alone on a planet and playing any type of long-game would be incredibly difficult, both in actuality and emotionally.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Tobias being infested, hands down. We’ve seen this before with Jake, but there it was kind of happening in the background and readers, like Jake, weren’t really sure what was happening. Here, we know the entire time where things are leading with Tobias’s plan to become a full member of The Sharing. And then reading about him being literally strapped down to a chair and a Yeerk climbing in his head…yikes, it’s bad.

Couples Watch!: I mean, obviously I’ve read this entire series before, so I knew this book existed way back when I started promoting the secondary Marco/Rachel ship. But c’mon, the very fact that it exists proves that that theory was a good one even from the very beginning. It’s not a hard leap to watch Marco and Rachel’s banter morph into something that could actually work. Marco makes Rachel laugh. Rachel is able to match Marco’s wit. They both leap into action together to chase Marco’s mom and are even able to quickly read each other’s minds as far as next steps with their approach to the chase and their final escape. Obviously, I still love Tobias/Rachel (and Rachel has a great moment in the end where she’s quick to reassure Tobias about his choice to become a Controller, that of course that would never happen), but the book does do a good job of presenting a legitimate alternative.

It’s also worth noting that Cassie pretty much asks Jake out (asks him to come study at least), which is more than what she’s managed to really do in main series. Non-Animorph Jake and Cassie are definitely more brave about their relationship than they end up being in reality.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: We get an interesting look behind the curtain into the world of Visser Three early in the invasion. Through Controlled!Tobias’s eyes, we see that the maneuvering between Visser One and Three had been going on long before the events of book #5. Given the small change in history, there’s no reason to think Visser Three hadn’t made this request to the Council in the normal time line as well, and that Visser One had tried to trick him out of it using a spy. We also see Visser Three sneer at Chapman’s attempts to convince Tobias that this choice is something good; Visser Three clearly sees it as a waste of time.

But, of course, the true enemy in this book is again Crayak, experienced through his minion, the Drode. The Drode has some pretty amusing lines and ways of speaking, but the scene in the very beginning when he temps Jake, really highlights how truly awful Crayak is:

“Just  one word, Jake,”  the  Drode whispered. “No …  no, two, I think.  One  must  not sacrifice good  manners.  Two words and  it  never was.  Two words and  you  know nothing,  have  no power,  no responsibility.”

“What words?”

“One is Crayak. The other is please.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, like, the entire book? We’ve seen Animorphs die before, but there is something particularly heartbreaking about watching it happen here. In the other versions, the Animorphs have all been fighting a very dangerous war for quite a while. In their own ways, they’ve all grappled with the reality that they or their friends may die at any time. And they each continue to make the choice to get up and fight again, knowing that the risk is worth it in their attempt to save humanity.

Here, they’re just kids (even younger than the Animorphs we’re used to, as around two years has probably gone by at this point). Regular kids, with no powers, no greater knowledge of this war or greater responsibility to handle it, than anyone else. Tobias gets shot in the head for simply having the wrong Yeerk Control him. Marco gets taken out by a Bug fighter the first time any of them truly understand the technology they’re up against. Rachel holds her own in a fight for a bit, but the reality is that no teenage girl can last against Hork Bajir warriors. And the others have to just watch their friends die, in no way prepared for it or accepting that this was a risk when they got up that morning. It’s shell-shocking and traumatic.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: As I said in Ax’s section, there could be some questioning of whether or not Ax’s approach was truly a wise decision. With the Andalites nowhere near, goading the Yeerks into an all-out war is a pretty risky decision. But he’s an alien kid, alone on a strange planet, we’ll cut him some slack. And, as far as it goes, with no powers and very little information, it’s pretty impressive that the remnants of the team manage to maneuver themselves into a situation where they’re essentially about to win, even if they die in the process. So much so, that they force the Drode’s hand in calling the whole thing quits.

Favorite Quote:

An obligatory section of Marco and Rachel flirting/quipping:

“Still, we should go out.  Do a movie.  Eat some burgers.  I could  make you laugh.”
“Actually,  I think the mere memory of that suggestion will  supply me with  plenty of  laughter.”

And, a longer section, but a good one given how the events of this entire book start because of Jake grappling with the challenges of being the leader and what that means:

 “Jake? What do we do?” [Rachel]

“Yeah.  What  do  we  do,  Big  Jake?”  Marco asked, half-mocking.

“What  do  you  mean,  what  do  we  do?”  Jake shot back.  “Why are you asking me?”

Marco shrugged.  “You’re the leader, man.”

“What  are  you  talking  about?  The  leader  of what? And why am I the leader?”

“Because you are,” I [Cassie] said. The words were out of  my  mouth  before  I  could think  about them.  I felt  as if…  as  if  I  was  a  judge  and  had  just passed sentence on Jake.

Marco  jerked  his  thumb  at  me.  “What  the crazy chick said:  Because you are.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

No change! Obviously none of this comes to pass, so the results don’t have any larger impact on the war. The Ellimist can count it as a win, though.

Rating: Sadness, this is the last Megamorphs book of the series. The Megamorphs books are a really mixed bag of experiences. The first one, I felt, was a big old swing and a miss. The concept was fun, as it’s the first book where we had multiple perspectives, but the action wasn’t really enough to support the style. It had some of the most memorable lines in the series (“Do you just hate trash cans?! Is that what it is?”), but as a whole, it’s not a great introduction into these off-shoot books.

I have a soft spot for Megamorphs #2 and #3. Both are completely hinging on the weird concepts of their stories (dinosaurs! time travel!) and it seems like readers’ appreciation of each will come down to how much fun they can have with those, albeit silly, themes. I was there for the campiness of the dinosaurs and entertained enough by the time travel (and the Tobias/Rachel kiss!) that I could turn my brain off enough to not think too hard about how it would really work.

But after all of this, the best was saved for last. This is the only one of the four that not only fully takes advantage of its split narrations (probably works so well because several members of the team, like Ax and Tobias, are completely disconnected and doing their own things for the majority of the story. And unlike amnesia!Rachel in Megamorphs #1, their actions are actually important to the story), but also has a solid concept that actually has things to say. We get a few great scenes that we missed in the early part of the series (Cassie’s perspective of their first meeting, Ax’s acquiring the shark), and the way the entire thing unfolds is as believable as it is terrifying. While, again, because of the nature of Megamorphs books, that they operate outside of the regular series, everything gets returned to normal and there is no lasting effect on the main plot, this book also seems to have enough new things to show and say that it seems like it should be required reading for the entire series.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #40: “The Other”

363353Animorphs #40: “The Other”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax and the Animorphs find new hope when they learn that he is not the only non-infected Andalite on Earth.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I had some vague memories of this book, of the fact that it was another “more Andalites on Earth” book VERY shortly after we had just gotten done with the last “more Andalites on Earth” book. But since I really liked the last one, I had high hopes for this one. And while it doesn’t paint certain Animorphs coughAxcough in the best light, it’s a pretty good book as far as general characterization for our team and for Marco in particular.

Me towards Ax throughout this entire book.

Marco is chilling at home on one of his rare free evenings when he sees a strange video clip being highlighted on the news and immediately recognizes the blurry form as an Adalite. Sure that Ax has been caught on film and that a good percentage of Controllers also saw the clip and will be trying to find him, Marco immediately morphs osprey and flies off to find Ax and Tobias in their meadow. Once there, Ax is able to view the clip and notes that this is an entirely different Andalite, since it is missing the last half of its tail. Tobias is also able to guess at the location of the scene and he, Ax, and Marco quickly take off to check it out. Once there, Marco demorphs. Halfway through, however, a local possum starts morphing as well and they find themselves confronted with a massive, adult Andalite, notable NOT the one in the film. After a brief confrontation where the adult Andalite threatens them, smacks around Tobias, and insists they leave, they split off. But, of course, they decide to follow the new Andalite. After seeing him morph human, they are able to track him to a house in the suburbs. They decide that now is the time to call in the rest of the team.

Back with the group, Ax reports that he has heard of both the Andalites who are stranded on Earth. The large one is named Gafinilan and the injured one is named Mertil. Both have strong reputations, though Ax makes sure to get in a few digs about how Mertil is now essentially useless due to his injury. The group decides that for now it is best for just Ax and Marco to approach, not giving away their true numbers. At the house, osprey!Marco decides to try and get a closer look, but when he flies in towards the house he is zapped by a force field. Gafinilan gets on a speaker system and tells him to surrender and come in or he will shoot them. Marco and Ax demorph and approach.

After some more barbed words, Marco and Ax are invited in. On the way in, Marco notices a slight tremble in Gafinilan’s large body. Inside, he leads them to a hidden room where through mad gardening skills he has re-created an Andalite meadow. He and Ax partake in eating an Andalite herb while Marco surreptitiously acquire a  bee that is buzzing around, figuring he may need the morph later. After establishing a reluctant amount of trust, Marco and Ax agree to bring their Prince to meet with Gafinilan.

The next day, the group meets up at the mall to discuss their plan of action. It’s agreed that while Gainilan appears to be a bit of a loose canon, Jake should go ahead and meet with him. The others head out, but Rachel lingers behind with Marco. She has correctly guessed that Marco has his own plans and isn’t about to let Jake wander in without further investigation. The two team up for a spy job.

At Gafinilan’s house, Rachel sets up to provide back up support and Marco morphs bee to make his way in. He almost gets eaten by another bug on his way in, but eagle!Rachel manages to rescue him. The second trip in goes better and bee!Marco makes his way into the house. He doesn’t find Mertil. Anywhere.

After Jake scolds Marco and Rachel, the team try and figure out what game Gafinilan is playing. Ax suddenly realizes the importance of the herb he ate while visiting. It is a pain killer, and after witnessing Gafinilan’s shaking, Ax is able to guess that he has a horrible Andalite disease called Soola’s Disease. It create horrendous pain and is fatal. They figure out that Gafinilan is likely trying to meet Jake thinking that he is an adult Andalite whom Gafinilan could acquire and thus escape his disease (even though, according to Ax, this is considered a very shameful thing to do).

The next day, Jake goes in to meet with Gafinilan. After becoming frustrated when Jake refuses to “demorph” to his Andalite form, Gafinilan pulls a shredder on him and tries to force him to demorph. The other Animorphs barge in in their battle morphs. Gafinilan realizes that they all are human, except for Ax. Gafinilan finally comes clean with what is going on. He does not want to acquire Jake, agreeing with Ax that this is a shameful way out of his illness. Instead, the Yeerks have captured Mertil and are willing to exchange him for a healthy Andalite (the Yeerks don’t want Mertil since he is morph incapable and don’t want Gafinilan because of his illness). Ax is incredulous that Gafinilan would be willing to exchange one of his own people for a mere vecol, an Andalite who can’t morph. Gafinilan says that he would do anything for his friend, vecol or no.

They begin to form a plan to rescue Mertil. The Yeerks move him daily and he is well-guarded. Ax again protests that a vecol is not worth them risking their lives over. Marco finally snaps and calls Ax out on his horrible attitude. Jake says it doesn’t matter what Ax things and they will move forward with the rescue plan.

Marco, speaking from his own ruthless nature, recognizes the same trait in Gafinilan. That he would do terrible things (like turn them over) all to reach the goal of saving his friend. This leaves the Animorphs in a perilous position, trusting Gafinilan to not give them up in the middle of the mission. They move forward with the plan, however, and locate Mertil in an old train yard.

The Animorphs and Gafinilan go in for the rescue, but what started out as a surprise attack quickly devolves into the team be largely outnumbered by Yeerks. A massive fight breaks out. The team is quickly divided up, all fighting seemingly losing battles. The Yeerks attempt to drive off with Mertil in a Uhaul, but gorilla!Marco and elephant!Rachel manage to catch up with them. Gafinilan shows up too and helps rescue Mertil.

Ax again sinks to his normal low for this book with more disparaging comments about Mertil. Tobias finally snaps and calls Ax out on his inability to look past “normal.” Ax finally seems to cave and reluctantly greets Mertil saying that he will always remember the hero he was (great progress, really great).

After they escape, Gafinilan asks the Animorphs to give the two Andalites their space. Gafinilan is dying and would like to be left alone with Mertil during this time. A few days later, Marco makes his way to visit Mertil in the greenhouse. He lets Mertil know that once Gafinilan passes, he would be wiling to visit Mertil, not wanting him to just be alone. After a long silence, Mertil thanks Marco.

The Comic Relief: After the Marco’s last book which was a massive letdown, it was a relief to open this one and find myself back with the character I know and love. We again have a smart, strategic thinker who is impatient with others’ bullshit and willing to confront his own darkness.

Throughout the book, Marco repeatedly calls Ax out for his really negative attitude towards Mertil and those with disabilities. As the story progresses, these put-down become more and more harsh; but in this case, one is completely on Marco’s side of this situation. At one point towards the end, Marco chews Ax out pretty thoroughly and Rachel notes that this might be a bit hypocritical of Marco, who regularly makes some pretty inappropriate jokes. He rightly notes that there is a big difference, that that is gallows humor and that when it comes to his actions, he’s not like that at all. It’s a nice highlight of a key feature for Marco. Yes, he makes a lot of jokes, some that definitely tow the line. He’s also very cynical and suspicious. But, importantly, he owns these aspects of himself and, even more importantly, when it comes to his actions, he’s one of the most loyal members of the group. We also see, at the end of this book, that he can be very considerate, coming to visit Mertil and offering companionship. Just making sure not to tell the others that he has a heart.

We also get a return to Marco’s self-evaluation as far as his ruthlessness and direct-line method of getting from point A to point  B. He sympathizes with Gafinilan, who was willing to turn over another Andalite to save a friend. To Marco, this type of cold-hearted decision making makes sense. Gafinilan’s priority is his friend, and that rules all. It’s a very unique point of view to Marco, and it’s nice to see it used to differentiate how Marco can see, and understand, Gafinilan’s choice as compared to the others.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has some really good lines when he first meets Gafinilan. At this point, Jake’s met his fair share of arrogant, adult Andalite leaders and isn’t having any of it. It’s always fun to see him in his element as leader of the group, fully embracing his role and even making sure that others (usually other Andalites) know that he will be the one calling the shots from here on out.

Xena, Warrior Princess: I really liked how much Rachel/Marco team up action there was in this book. Though I’ll save some of my thoughts on that for the “Couples” section since there isn’t any actual romantic couple stuff to cover for this book. But we see Rachel team up with Marco not only for the initial spy mission, but also in the end when they both are the ones to catch up with and rescue Mertil from the UHaul.

A Hawk’s Life: There are a lot of weird hints in this book about Tobias being a bit off. I can’t remember this building up towards anything in other books (at least not in a way that feels like it was intentional here), so I have to imagine it was just to lead up to the last discussion about Ax and his unpleasant attitudes when Tobias finally cracks and comes down on him. He has a nice little speech about “normal” being a word that this group, in particular, probably shouldn’t throw around. He mentions all the weirdness in his own life as good examples. Stuck as a bird. Best friend is an alien. Girlfriend is a human. Etc. But as good as his speech is, he’s also not saying anything that the others haven’t said to some extent before in this book. They all come down on Ax at one point or another. But we have to imagine that when Tobias finally speaks up, it’s more the fact that he’s Ax’s best friend than what he actually says that finally breaks through to Ax.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. She makes one really strange observation towards the middle of the book that makes you question whether she’s actually paying attention to what’s going on, though. After Marco returns from the spy mission and they’re debating whether they can trust Gafinilan, she says that he must be a good guy because of the care he’s taken of Mertil. But…we’ve just established that no one really knows where Mertil even is! Why is she so sure that Gafinilan is taking such good care of him? It’s really strange. Marco even partially notes that this is a ridiculous line of reasoning, so it can’t be excused as just a weird writing mishap. The author actually just wrote Cassie as being this out of it. I mean, we all know Cassie’s not my favorite character, but this would be really dumb, even for her. But she’s also the one to note in the end that Marco’s right, that his actions do prove more than his out-there jokes, as far as being on the right side of the disability argument.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve disliked Ax this much. And really, the other times it at least made more sense, because it was usually early in the series and he wasn’t quite on-board with his role in the team. In other stories, we’ve seen plenty of examples of the nastiness at the heart of the Andalite culture. But this is one of the few times where we’ve seen it really come out in Ax himself. And not just once, but again, and again, AND AGAIN. It never really gets better, and in fact just gets worse and worse. He tries to claim that he never said he was human, but the Animorphs (and readers, I have to think) aren’t going for it. Especially when you have another Andalite in the book who is proving that you can get past this type of backwards thinking, regardless of how instilled it is in Andalite culture. But nope! Ax is all-in, saying again and again that Mertil is completely valueless, not worth saving, and even says as much to Mertil’s face after they rescue him. Even in the end, his small step in the right direction is so tiny that it barely counts. Especially with the insult that is wedged into it as well, that all that is worth honoring/remembering about Mertil is how he was before. At this point, between the attitude towards the disabled and the idea that it is somehow “cowardly” for an Andalite like Gafinilan to try to save himself, I think we just have to admit that the Andalites as a whole are just kind of bad people. They can be on the right side of this war, but being better than a Yeerk is a low bar, and I’m not convinced they’re doing a whole lot to elevate themselves above it.

Rachel said it best as far as Ax goes in this book. Not only Ax actually making progress on his own thinking, but the sheer number of times we have to go over his bad attitude.

<Jeez, can’t we just get over this issue, please?> Rachel said.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t really much as far as body horror, other than our usual descriptions of gross morphing. Marco rightly is concerned about morphing a bee, theorizing that it is also a hive-mind insect like the ants and might be equally horrible. Luckily, he has a better time of it here than he did then.

Couples Watch!: So, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to indulge my side-ship of Marco/Rachel. As I’ve noted so many times in the past, these two are really the members of the group who have the most in common as far as their philosophies and attitudes towards the war. We still usually see them on the same side of most arguments and they still have good banter. So, it’s nice to see here that Rachel is the only member of the group to cotton on to Marco’s plan to further investigate Gafinilan’s house before letting Jake go in. They have a nice little buddy adventure scoping it out, and it really proves how in-step they both are with the other.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is absent from this book. I do wonder at the reasoning behind some of his choices though. I mean, from a strategic standpoint, Gafinilan and Mertil would still be strong assets on their own as Controllers, if only for their knowledge of Andalite strategy and plans. It also seems strange that Visser Three would ask him to only turn over one other Andalite or, really, even attempt this kind of trade at all. It seems more in line for him that he’d try to just set a general trap to capture all of the bandits who he’s assume are connected to these two.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much really, other than my general frustration at the number of times we have to hear about Ax’s horrible ideas.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They have some good plans in this book. Their approach to Jake’s first meet-and-greet with Gafinilan is probably one of the better ones. They are all prepared in various forms of back up (Marco going in with Jake as a bug, the others waiting in the wing in their battle morphs), and Jake never flinches when Gafinilan goes off track and pulls the shredder on him. Clearly, they were expecting this and it shows with the tidy way they clean up the situation.

Favorite Quote:

One of Marco’s more lethal put-downs of Ax:

Ax interrupted,

“Okay, Ax-man,” I said, my voice a little less than steady. “I’ve been cutting you slack on this handicapped thing because you’re part of the team. But when you talk like that, like this guy is some sort of dirty, worthless thing, I have to say you’re just not one of us.”

And a nice, funny bit of dialogue when they’re going in to the train yard to rescue Meril at the end:

<Gee, Jake, have the odds ever been this bad?> I asked brightly.

<Sure,> Jake answered. <But this time we’ve got the element of surprise.>

“Andalite!”

<Oh, crap.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

No change! Technically this is a win for the Animorphs, but the stage remains largely unchanged by the end of it, since Mertil and Gafinilan pretty much take themselves out of the equation on both sides.

Rating: I really liked this book as a Marco book. I’m not sure about it as anything else. As I said, it was a relief to get back to a book from his narrative standpoint that wasn’t ridiculous. But man, other things about this book drove me up the wall. For one thing, Ax makes himself very, VERY unlikable in this book. And the book just keeps hitting.that.point.home. And in the end, it doesn’t even feel like he’s made progress. Beyond that, it seems to further reinforce the fact that Andalites are probably just a terrible group of beings, given what we’ve seen about their general culture. And lastly, it’s only been one book since the LAST story we’ve had dealing with new Andalites on Earth. The timing makes it feel very strange and its proximity to the last book kind of cuts the legs out of the interest of this one. After going for long in the series without anything from the Andalites, it’s a bit much to have two stories like this so close together. But, again, I liked it as a Marco book, so I came away pleased.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #39: “The Hidden”

363357Animorphs #39: “The Hidden”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks plan to use the Helmacron ship they have repaired to capture the Andalites and track down Elfangor’s blue cube–the cube that gives Cassie, and the other animorphs the ability to morph.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: I had zero memory of this book when I picked it up again. I think if you had asked me whether there was an Animorphs cover with Cassie morphing a buffalo, I wouldn’t have been entirely sure you were even serious. That’s how fully I’d forgotten this book.

Bored The Office GIF
Except when I’m busy getting mad about the mechanics of the blue box and morphing being thrown out the window…

Erek shows up at Cassie’s barn with bad news: the Yeerks have discovered how to use the Helmacrons’ morphing tracker and are even now on their way towards the blue box that emits a low level morphing energy. Cassie quickly nabs the cube and hops a ride to The Gardens with her mother. There, the others in seagull morph show up and they try to decide what to do, since any morphing will draw the attention of the Yeerks. Before they can form a plan, helicopters begin circling the area and Cassie makes a break for it, hiding in a van that is exiting the park. Inside she confronts a cape buffalo. She acquires it to keep it calm, but chaos suddenly erupts when the van is intercepted by the Yeerks, including Chapman and Visser Three. She morphs the buffalo and barges out of the van. The real buffalo attacks the Controllers and head butts Chapman. Cassie is able to escape into the nearby woods, with the real buffalo trailing behind.

Back as a girl in the woods, she witnesses something horrific: the buffalo must have touched the blue box and acquired Chapman when he headbutted him. He wildly morphs and demorphs partially between his true buffalo body and the human Chapman form. By morphing the buffalo again herself, Cassie is able to get the buffalo to mimic her actions and return to its true form as well. The others arrive and are caught up to speed on the horror of the situation. What’s worse, the buffalo has now witnessed Cassie morphing, so if the Yeerks capture or infest it, the Animorphs’ secret will be out.

The helicopters are still circling, so they morph wolves and take off once again, leaving the buffalo behind. They hide in a cave and continue to discuss what to do not only about the tracker, but about the buffalo. They all know that the buffalo can’t be left alive, though Cassie is hesitant to kill it, now that it has human DNA in its system.  As for the tracker, the challenge will be getting to it when it’s up in a helicopter. So they decide to go with the tried and true method of dropping something heavy on the bad guys over water. But before they can move on this plan, they hear the buffalo in distress. Knowing they can’t let the Yeerks capture it, they head off.

They find the buffalo surrounded by Controllers with Visser Three himself yelling at the “Andalite” to reveal himself and tell the Visser where the cube is. The buffalo manages to acquire the Visser and begins morphing him. The group uses this as a distraction to escape (sorry, but I just can’t help but interrupt myself…didn’t they JUST say they were there to rescue the buffalo? And then immediately ditch said buffalo to escape the situation they willingly put themselves in in the first place? Ugh.) As they run off, they see the Andalite!buffalo and Visser Three go at it with their tail blades. The Andalite!buffalo gets in a lucky shot and knocks out Visser Three and then comes running after them.

The group decides that the majority of them will continue on to the ocean, but that Cassie will stay behind with the buffalo to distract the following Yeerks. She manages to get the buffalo to again demorph into its natural state before the Yeerks show up once again. She takes off, buffalo following, and jumps off a minor cliff to escape. They both crash to the bottom and are horribly injured. Cassie demorphs and gets the buffalo to also morph human to heal its own injuries. She then catches up with the group again.

The others wonder at how the buffalo managed to survive the fall and Cassie tells a white lie that the buffalo simply mimicked her morphing, leaving out that she was actively trying to save it. In human form, the buffalo begins mimicking their speaking patterns. Cassie insists that it is learning, but the others push back saying that it is only mimicking and that she is making too much out of this. As they are talking, Cassie brushes an ant off of the cube that she is holding. She finally gets the buffalo to morph back to buffalo and then they have to leave it behind once again when they hear the helicopters approaching.

As the others continue forward, Cassie begins to demorph again to put the plan in action. But before she can get far, she sees something truly nightmare-inducing: an ant morphing into a version of Cassie herself. She realizes that the ant that had crawled on the box and her hand earlier must have acquired morphing abilities and her own DNA. The Cassie!ant goes crazy half way through morph and attacks her with gigantic pincers. The buffalo shows up and attacks the Cassie!ant, but the ant begins demorphing. Cassie rushes over and stomps everything in sight. She then quickly begins morphing the osprey, finally ready to put their plan into action. As she gets ready to leave, the Yeerks show up and kill the buffalo with a Dracon beam.

Osprey!Cassie flies out to sea where the Yeerks are now shooting down at the rest of the Animorphs in dolphin morph. Gaining altitude, Cassie positions herself directly above the helicopter and begins to demorph. But it goes wrong and she loses her wings too quickly and begins to fall too fast. She makes it back to human and is partially through her whale morph when she realizes that she won’t be big enough when she hits the helicopter and will likely be cut to pieces by the blades. What’s worse, the helicopter pilot looks up and spots her, veering out of her line of descent. Luckily for everyone, a rogue seagull gets sucked into the engine and the helicopter blows up, destroying the Helmacron sensor within it. Cassie is badly burnt, but wakes up again in the ocean in her human form and surrounded by her friends. They call it a success and head home.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is one of the better Cassie books as far as characterization of Cassie herself goes. The book is a hot mess in every other way, but her sympathy and struggle with how to resolve the buffalo situation is a very sympathetic cause. Any animal lover would understand just how difficult this situation would be. Though, that being said, her nonsense about the human DNA part of it is just that: nonsense. And what makes that worse is not only does this line of thought just seem ridiculous and undermines Cassie’s character as a rational, thoughtful being, but it was completely unnecessary. As an animal lover myself, the idea of having to kill an innocent animal, especially one that has bounded with you and trusts you, is just agonizing. We don’t need any silly other justifications to explain Cassie’s hesitancy.

The one question I do have about her handling of this situation is the balance between her repeatedly saying that she understand the buffalo can’t be allowed to live but then her willingness to essentially draw out its torment. We’ve seen some really good examples in the past of Cassie knowing that sometimes the harder choice is the right one, specifically when she was trying to save the Hork Bajir the Yeerks had experimented on back in the Atlantis book and knows that in the end it is best to let him die then to keep trying to fix the unfixable. That was an excellent scene that highlighted that mercy some times comes in strange forms. But here, the poor buffalo is repeatedly being abandoned by the Animorphs, drawn into battles with the Yeerks to protect the Animorphs, lead of a cliff to plummet to a painful end, and then finally killed by the Yeerks. It’s a tough situation, but it would have been another good opportunity to highlight this particular strength of Cassie’s, had she realized that this ongoing torment was not actually better.

Our Fearless Leader: At one point in the story, Cassie is upset with Jake for “not trusting her to do what is right.” But….really? I mean, for better or worse, Cassie has a long history of not necessarily doing the “right” thing objectively, even if she feels it is right for herself and her moral code. From a team leader perspective, I can absolutely understand Jake not trusting Cassie to do the “right” thing. Girl let herself be infested by a Yeerk! She asked Jake to outright murder a  Controller on her behalf! Just a few books ago, she was all set to go on a mission purely based on revenge! She lost the right to feel miffed about casual distrust like this quite a while ago. And really, at this point, after being in Jake’s head, we know that some level of casual distrust goes out to all of the Animorphs at various times, it’s just one of the struggles of being a leader. Jake knows the weaknesses of them all, and thus can’t always trust them to do the right thing in specific scenarios that play to those weaknesses.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Along with Marco, Rachel is quite clear from the very beginning that the buffalo will have to go. She also firmly tells Cassie to stop making more out of the human DNA thing than it deserves, which, thank you!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias has practically nothing. I mean, you could probably count his lines of dialogue on one hand.

The Comic Relief: As expected, Marco is not very sentimental about the fact that the buffalo can’t be left alive. He and Rachel both team up on this position right away, and there’s really no arguing with their reasoning. The case could maybe be made for getting the buffalo to acquire some similar animal, morph that animal, and then get itself stuck in that form and then have Cassie “adopt” it at her farm. Seems like something that Cassie or even Tobias would think of, but we can say that they were all too frazzled from the constant running to really think of this solution.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a running joke with Marco where he’s trying to still understand humor. He even joins in the fun with what he thinks are good jokes only to be met with silence and thus concluding that humor is over-rated. So there’s some good dialogue bits with that, but not much else for him in this book.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the entire concept of this book is pretty horrifying, but I will reserve the honor of this section for the Cassie!ant. It just had to be ants, didn’t it? It’s not like the poor Animorphs haven’t suffered enough trauma at the hands (pincers?) of ants already, but now one has to go and partially morph Cassie and then almost bite her arm off with its ginormous pincers. Then Cassie gets to watch the buffalo start tramping something that looks just like her to death. Though, I will note that apparently human DNA is only morally impactful in mammals, since she had zero concerns about stomping all over that ant once it was small again, human DNA or no human DNA.

Couples Watch!:  Not much really. After Cassie’s fall from the sky, Jake remarks privately to her how glad he is that she is ok and since she’s in human form, she has to respond out loud, cluing in everyone as to what’s going on. Marco teases them some, but she says she doesn’t care since everyone knows how much Jake and Cassie “like” each other. This might just be my age speaking, but it gets more and more uncomfortable as the series progresses to hear about these relationships in terms of “liking” each other, especially when the “love” word  has been thrown around. It just doesn’t ring true to the level of maturing and closeness that has built after fighting a war like this for as long as they have. I get that its done for the age-level of the audience, but I still find it weird. I honestly don’t think teens would have been weirded out if the writers had just gotten over it and said “love” already.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: So, Visser Three loses a tailblade fight to a buffalo….there’s just no getting around that fact. A mammal, in a completely foreign body, with a very low-level of intelligence, somehow managed to knock him out cold pretty quickly. I’m not sure who this is worse for, Visser Three and his ego, or all of the others (including Ax!) who have failed to take Visser Three down themselves in a fight! It’s not a good look for any of them that’s for sure. Also, I’ll add, this is yet another supremely unbelievable element of the book, so even talking about this in any verging-on-serious manner is pretty pointless. But the fact remains: it’s now canon that a buffalo is a better tailblade fighter than Ax.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Ok, as dumb as the whole buffalo morphing plot was, I have to admit that there was a good amount of tearing up in this book for me. I’m a sucker for animals and I particularly have a hard time with descriptions of animals suffering and not understanding why. So all of the scenes of the Animorphs running off and the poor buffalo trying to follow behind just really got to me. And then it goes and saves them several times and just casually gets blown up, right after Cassie is saying goodbye and doesn’t know what else to do but tell it that it has been good, one of the few words it seems to understand.

<l have to go now,> I said, knowing it couldn’t understand me. <Thank you for saving my life.>

The buffalo’s ears twitched. And then I knew what to say.

<You are good,> I said softly. Its ears came forward and it made a soft, almost friendly sound.

So stupidity aside, they definitely got me invested in this buffalo storyline in the end and there may, MAY, have been some tears.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Oh man, this entire book, again was full of terrible plans. But two big ones come to mind. 1.) They keep insisting that the buffalo can’t be allowed to be captured by the Yeerks, even going so far as to run back towards danger to “rescue” it at one point. And then they repeatedly abandon it and leave it behind to potentially be captured. And their “rescue” attempt was the worst example of it. They literally run back to it, find themselves surrounded, and then immediately use the buffalo itself as a distraction to bail, leaving it behind once again. What was the point of even going back if this was the plan?? And like I said, that was just the worst example. They leave the buffalo behind at least 4-5 times, any of which could have resulted in its capture by the Yeerks. 2.) The “anvil” plan with whale!Cassie. I mean, this was implausible enough the first time it showed up in Megamorphs #1 and in no way deserved a second showing. Not only am I getting sick and tired of this “wash and repeat” attitude towards past plot devices, but this one in particular was rather hard to swallow the first time and is even dumber here. At least it didn’t work, which is shouldn’t have for all the reason we saw here, mainly that it’s pretty easy for a helicopter pilot to become aware of a whale plummeting towards them and move out of the way. Luckily, a convenient sea gull was just where the author wanted it.

Favorite Quote:

<He should trust me to do the right thing,> I said. <He does, or he would’ve made somebody else carry the cube. That’s why he put me back here. While you do the right thing, I do the necessary thing. Get it?> [said Rachel]

(Inset long rant about the difference between doing the the right vs. necessary thing. It’s a nice distinction that Rachel is drawing here, but I’m pretty sure Jake’s version of it was not trusting Cassie to do the right OR necessary thing.)

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

I’m going to give a point to the Yeerks just because they were the only ones with the semblance of a clever plan here with the idea to use the Helmacron ship this way. The Animorphs only survived this out of sheer luck, with the Yeerks taking care of the buffalo and a random seagull sacrificing its life for the cause.

Rating: I liked this book as far as Cassie’s characterization goes. I hated this book for its bizarre ret-conning of the blue box. And I couldn’t care less about this book for the fact that I honestly couldn’t even remember the order of events during the middle third since all it was was running around randomly stopping/splitting up/getting attacked by Yeerks and repeat.

But man, that blue box thing. That’s pretty out of line as far as completely disregarding past precedent for a pretty important artifact. Not only does the box thing itself make zero sense (it’s not like David suddenly had morphing abilities after just touching the box), but the fact that animals would then be able to acquire DNA and morph?? In every book, EVERY BOOK, we hear the Animorphs talk about having to concentrate to both acquire DNA initially and then to morph. There is no way the buffalo, let alone the ant, would be able to do anything like this. It’s so stupid and there’s no getting around the fact that the majority of this book is hanging on this idiotic concept.

Then add in the fact that we have yet another repeated story that involves essentially just re-writing a previous book. The entire Megamorphs #1 book was about some Yeerk controlled thing tracking morphing and then ends with whale!Cassie crashing it into the sea. And here, YET AGAIN, we have the Yeerks tracking morphing and whale!Cassie trying to crash it into the sea. Like I said in the Marco book that did this, at least mix and match. At least TRY to pretend you’re doing something original. Or…maybe don’t, if what you consider original is ret-conning the blue box and pretending that ants/buffalo are capable of the intelligence required to morph.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #38: “The Arrival”

363404Animorphs #38: “The Arrival”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax’s people have arrived on Earth, and they want Ax back on board with them. Ax is torn. Should he join his fellow Andalites? Can he desert the Animorphs?

Narrator: Ax

Plot: Oh thank god, a return to sanity as far as these books go. Not only is our narrator blessedly in character, but we once again have a team that is capable of rational thought and pulling off complicated (and, importantly, NECESSARY) plans.

tumblr_m7hx4t5n461qew1kc
Ok, maybe this is an overreaction. But after that last book?!? I’m not so sure…

The story starts off with the Animorphs already in the midst of a mission: rescuing Mr. King from where he’s being held by the Yeerks. In their battle morphs, they succeed in breaking in to where he is being held and fending off the few Controllers there. But before they can leave, things get bad. This is a trap and Hork Bajir warriors begin pouring out of all the doors into the room and even falling in through the ceiling. Of course, Visser Three is there as well. Very beaten up, the Animorphs struggle to escape. It doesn’t look good until suddenly a small troop of Andalites show up and start kicking butt. Ax ends up fighting alongside a young female warrior who he immediately admires. As they escape, she tells Ax that her name is Estrid and that they will find him.

Back in the barn, they all meet up to discuss what’s happened. Ax is thrilled to see his people again, but the others are skeptical, given that their last experience with the Andalites resulted in Ax’s abandonment to a traitor Andalite on Leera. Ax reassures them that he knows who is Prince is.

The next day, Tobias and Ax decide to go to the mall to get some tasty food. Once there, they realize a commotion is going on in the food court: some woman has gone crazy and is eating all of the jelly beans. They quickly realize that this is one of the new Andalites in morph. They nab her and manage to get her out of the mall and arrange a time to meet with her leader.

Jake and Ax make their way to the designated meeting place. Once there, they are introduced to the other Andalites: the commander of the mission, Gonrod, an assassin named Aloth, and a high-up intelligence officer named Arbat who also reveals that he is the brother of Alloran, the Andalite host body of Visser Three. Gonrod blusters about leadership, but Jake doesn’t flinch, stating that he is in charge on Earth and he and his team don’t take order from them. Ax agrees and remains with Jake. Enraged, Gonrod orders the others to fire on Ax but before they can get off a shot, they realize that cobra!Marco and snake!Cassie are poised to strike and poison each of them. Everyone calms down a bit, and they reveal that the larger Andalite forces are not coming, that they are away in another sector dealing with problems there. This small group has only come to assassinate Visser Three, as his remaining in control of an Andalite body is a shame the Andalites can no longer tolerate.

Back in the barn, the team discuss what they have learned. They are all disheartened and demoralized to learn that the Andalites aren’t coming. One by one they begin falling apart under this new reality. Marco takes one of his cynical jokes too far and Rachel gets in a fight with him. Tobias announces that he is out of the fight and flies off. Rachel says that she’s going to take out as many as she can before she dies and leaves as well. Cassie agrees that if there is no hope of winning without Andalite reinforcements, there’s no excuse for killing innocent Hork Bajir hosts. Marco throws his hands in the air and decides to spend his remaining time on the beach. Alone, Jake releases Ax from his vow to follow him as it looks like the Animorphs are through. After they are all gone, Ax calls out to Estrid and points out that Earth rabbits don’t typically follow larger animals into barns full of yelling humans, but that it’s ok, he’s decided to join the Andalites.

On the Andalite ship, Ax begins to notice strange things about these Andalites. Estrid doesn’t seem to follow orders from the leader. And, in many ways, it seems as if Arbat is calling the shots more than Gonrod. They ask Ax where Visser Three is most likely to be found and Ax points them to the Sharing, then the Community Center, and as a last resort, the Yeerk pool. While the first are more obvious choices, Arbat presses about how to get to the Yeerk pool, but Gonrod insists that the Sharing meeting will suffice.

Later Ax and Estrid go on a “date” to the Gardens where they morph humans and eat more candy and practice the odd human custom of kissing. As birds, they begin to fly back but Ax says he wants to see his friends once more. As they pass a McDonalds they see grizzly!Rachel destroying the parking lot. They see owl!Cassie fly off and follow her back to the barn. There, they watch as Cassie tries to convince Jake and Marco to do something about Rachel. But Marco is supremely uninterested in getting involved and Jake is too busy hiding from Tom who has been picking on him. Sadly, Ax says he has seen enough and they leave. Estrid crows that Andalites would never behave so poorly in defeat. As they fly back, Estrid points out that she’s seen a certain fierce looking bird near them before. Ax waves it away saying that there are many such birds.

Back at the ship, Ax takes the first shift to stand guard. He tries to access the computer files, but is denied access. Aloth catches him at it, but Ax talks his way out of it. Aloth then reveals that he and Gonrod were each in prison before this mission. Aloth for illegal organ sales from dead soldiers and Gonrod for cowardice on the battlefield. They were each chosen for their unique skills as an assassin and a skilled pilot, respectively.

The next day, they attack the Sharing meeting. Visser Three is there in human morph. They manage to get in quickly, but Arbat, who insisted that he would be the one to take the shot on his “brother” (another weird question for Ax who thought Aloth was there as the assassin), misses an easy shot. Ax and Gonrod also take shots and miss, but by this time Hork Bajir are pouring into the building. As they flee, Aloth is hit and injured. Ax tries to help carry him out, knowing he could survive, but Arbat shoots and kills him. They run out and find Gonrod already at the helm of the ship; he had fled.

Arbat hastens through any mourning and insists that now their only option is the Yeerk pool. Gonrod resists, and Arbat takes over leadership and locks Gonrod away. They all decide to rest before their next mission. Ax sneaks out and returns with Mr. King. Again, they break into the computer, but are successful due to Mr. King’s better tech abilities. There they discover the truth: in the records, Aloth, Gonrod, and Arbat are already listed as having died on their ship in some other sector and Estrid isn’t listed at all. This is a suicide mission.

Ax sneaks off to find Estrid and confront her. He discovers her in a new part of the ship and sees her conducting some type of science experiment. He grabs the vial she is holding and she panics. He forces her to tell him the truth or he will drop it. She reveals that she is not an aristh, but a science student who was recruited by Arbat. She has developed a virus that is deadly to Yeerks. However, it also mutates and can become deadly to humans as well. Ax realizes that Gonrod and Aloth were dupes and that Arbat was in charge the whole time. He doesn’t care about taking out Visser Three but instead wants to release this virus in the Yeerk pool. Arbat arrives and confirms this all.

Arbat admits that he was looking for a science student, any science student, to pull of this mission and Estrid can’t live to confirm what’s been done here. Only high level intelligence will ever know of this mission. He pushes a button, and Ax and Estrid become trapped in a laser cage. Arbat leaves with the virus to complete the mission, and Estrid despairs, regretting that she allowed Arbat to convince her that the humans were a sacrifice worth making because they are weak and easy to give up. She reveals that Arbat was also in the barn that day when the Animorphs broke up.

Ax replies that they knew that just as Marco walks in. Around the room, the rest of the Animorphs demorph from bugs. Estrid accuses him of lying to his people, but Ax replies that the Animorphs are his people.

They make their way to the Community Center and down into the Yeerk pool. Their they all morph/demorph to human and spread out trying to find human!Arbat. Ax realizes that Arbat has little experience with a human morph, so he is able to spot him just as he reaches the pool due to the fact that he turns his head often, not used to not having an extra set of eyes. Arbat spots them and fires a Dracon beam at them, creating chaos. The others all morph battle morphs and Estrid and Ax return to their regular forms.

The battle quickly goes badly with many Hork Bajir converging around them. Estrid begins to panic and starts to think that maybe just using the virus is better. But they continue to fight, with Ax making his way towards Arbat. He realizes that he is not going to make it, but Estrid manages to fire a Dracon beam and destroy Arbat’s hand and the vial. But the Animorphs are still losing and Ax prepares to die in battle. At the last minute, Gonrod shows up in his ship, having blown a hole down through the roof of the McDonalds (Tobias had seen things going south for his friends and retrieved Gonrod and the ship). They all run for the ship and Arbat calls for them to take him with them. They do not, and he becomes the Taxxons’ dinner.

The next day, Estrid and Gonrod prepare to leave. Estrid tries to convince Ax to join them, but he refuses, and they leave. Ax and the Animorphs go to get burgers, but only Cassie realizes how hard this has been for Ax and holds his hand as they walk.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is the kind of book that is again almost so full of action that we miss out on some of the character building beats. I mean, we get a lot of “fake” character building that is exploring how Ax is feeling about all of the fake scenes that he and the Animorphs are putting on. But we don’t get to see the real scene where he agrees that the Andalites aren’t to be trusted initially and that this whole plan is worth trying. Here and there we get a few insights into how he is coping with the continued steep descent of the morality of his people, but I have to imagine it hits harder than we see here.

I do like the fallout with his crush with Estrid. That entire storyline felt very real the entire time, from his initial crush, to their date where he wishes they could just fly away (he doesn’t say it here, but part of this has to be because he’s putting on a whole show that inherently speaks to the fact that he can’t trust his own people. No wonder he’d want to escape before getting any real confirmations either way), to his reaction when he finds out that she was playing at least a partially willing role in the planned genocide on Earth. He tells her in the end that she is beautiful but that he doesn’t think he likes her very much. I’m sure she makes up for it some with her shot on Arbat, but probably not fully.

We also get a few references early on to the fact that Ax still feels terrible for abandoning his friends on the escapade in Leera. So it’s also nice seeing him here so fully loyal to his human friends and Jake as his Prince.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s showdown with Gonrod in the very beginning is a really great scene. It’s awesome seeing him in these types of scenes where he has fully embraced his leadership role and is facing down someone else.

“Now we stop playing games. You’re not the Andalite fleet. And I’m not going to snap a salute and say ‘yes, sir!’ We deal as equals. Which, to be honest, is generous of us under the circumstances.” 

The clearest giveaway that something is up is when we see Jake “hiding” from Tom in Cassie’s barn because Tom is picking on him. Every part of it is ridiculous for those who know Jake. He’s not only hiding in the barn, but is actually crouched down in a horse stall as if Tom is going to appear at any moment on Cassie’s farm to bully him. Right.

Xena, Warrior Princess: In the fake scene, Rachel’s response is pretty accurate to what we’d expect. She’s clearly stressed and a stressed Rachel is an angry Rachel so when Marco pushes it too far, she goes after him. It also makes sense that her approach would then be to go out fighting. Probably the most honorable of them all if this was a real scene, as the rest of them seem to be “out” in the sense that they’re going to just wait around for the end. But her destroying the McDonalds in the second scene was also kind of a give-away as it doesn’t seem like that’d be what she’d choose to do, go after one little Controller at a fast food place, when she could go out in a blaze of glory at the Yeerk pool trying to get to Visser Three or something.

A Hawk’s Life: In the fake scene, Tobias is the first to quit and really gives no reason for it, he’s just out of there. Probably the first sign that something’s off as Tobias has always been the most gung-ho about sticking with the fight and is the only one who is continually sacrificing himself (remaining a bird) to do it because it matters that much to him. He also follows around Estrid and Ax, getting spotted by Estrid at one point. And then in the end, he’s the one to fetch Gonrod and get him to bring in the ship to rescue the rest of them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: As it was all a fake scene, we can’t really take anything that any of them said here at face value. But at one point, Cassie is going on and on about how immoral it is for the Andalites to be there to take revenge on Visser Three because “revenge is wrong.” But wait, wasn’t it literally just two books ago that Cassie’s whole motivation for going after the Yeerks was in revenge for what they did to the Hork Bajir and Marco had to actually call her out on it? We’re just going to have to assume that this was part of the act, but a small part of me also wouldn’t have been surprised if this was her actual outlook, again conveniently adjusted for how others should behave vs. herself. But that scene at the end where she holds Ax’s hand is quite sweet, showing the one consistent strength of hers: to understand when others are feeling pain and to try to comfort them.

The Comic Relief: Marco has some good lines in this book, especially in the barn scene when he’s highlighting just how hopeless the whole scenario is if the Andalites aren’t coming. Makes me want to see the real scene where they discuss the fallout of this new situation. But Marco’s reaction is also out of character for where he is at this point in the series. Sure, the early version of Marco would have been all for beach days while you wait for the end of the world. But this version of Marco has been coming up against some of the hardest scenarios in the entire series with the interactions with his mom/Visser One. I think at this point that he’d likely follow a similar track to Rachel in going out swinging rather than waiting. Of course, his “going out” would likely be better planned than hers and have a greater chance of success, too. I could even see the two of them ganging up for something like this, though.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There really weren’t many in this book. At one point Ax describes morphing human and how the flesh “flowed down to cover the bones” which is a pretty icky way of thinking of it. He also talks a bit about the non-pain of morphing and how knowing that it should hurt is its own kind of pain anyways.

Couples Watch!:  Awww, Ax goes on a date. I had completely forgotten this bit of the series and had been fully prepared to never really have much to include for Ax in these sections. But he goes on a full-on date here, more than we’ve seen from the other two couples really. There’s an event/location with the Gardens. There’s food with the candy. And there’s kissing. Of course, Ax and Estrid are just “practicing” a “strange human custom.” But alas, it all goes south fairly quickly and Ax ends up disliking Estrid quite a bit for a while there due to her role in things. He does come around a bit in the end, but I think his tears at the end were more for the loss of his people once again than Estrid specifically.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only makes a few brief appearances in this book, though Ax does note that he seems to be learning that bigger is not always better. When the Andalites attack at the Sharing meeting and begin shooting at him, he wisely chooses to morph something small and hard to hit.

In many ways, the Andalites themselves are the villains of this story. At what point do you have to start fully questioning their whole “moral leaders of the universe” claim? The Animorphs’ initial skepticism of them is completely and utterly justified, and I’m sure it turned out even worse than they had suspected. At this point, other than Elfangor and Ax, the Animorphs’ knowledge/experience of the Andalites has been finding out about the genocide of the Hork Bajir, being betrayed by a high up Andalite traitor on Leera, and then here, watching the Andalites seemingly go all-in on genocide 2.0, this time taking out the humans. As readers we’re taught that the Andalites are the good guys, but at this point…The story never really gets back around to the Animorphs’ true feelings about the Andalite fleet not arriving, but, I mean, after all of this, it doesn’t necessarily seem like them showing up is much better than them not. If anything, the Yeerks are a known and understood enemy with clear motives and goals.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: You have to feel bad for Ax. Not only did his first crush turn out to be a willing participant in plans to commit genocide, but as a whole, the Andalites are really not putting a good face forward. Not only does this make it hard to face his friends, but the story never really gets into the existential crisis that must be going on to realize how low your people have really sunk. And really, they’ve already killed off one species and planned on a second. Who knows what other atrocities they’ve done? Kind of seems like a regular thing for them. All of this makes that last scene where they’re walking to get food and Cassie is hold Ax’s hand while he cries a pretty dark experience.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Hurrah for a return to the smart Animorphs who can spot a con early and pull off complicated plans of deception! I mean, after the David incident, they’re kind of old hands at this whole “put on a scene for the spies in the barn” thing. The one bit I do question is the necessity of the second little scene they put on, where Rachel is destroying things, Marco is supremely lazy, and Jake is bizarrely hiding from his brother. It’s the kind of things that just reads funny. For readers, we know something is up by several parts of this, but mostly the whole “Jake hiding from Tom because he’s being picked on.” Clearly, that’s not a thing. But, from a logical stand point, I’m not sure what the value was in putting on this performance. It seemed like none of the Andalites were questioning the original “break up” at all and Ax could have reported that that was the case. As it was, we later learn that Estrid had needed further convincing by Arbat that killing off the humans along with the Yeerks was ok. And he was able to do this by convincing her of how weak, pathetic, and easy to give up humans are. If anything, this extra little scene just reinforced this perspective and perhaps pushed Estrid even further over the edge on this thinking. The Animorphs couldn’t have know this, of course, but still, like I said, the Andalites seemed to already buy the first scene, so this was never necessary anyways.

Favorite Quote:

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think this quote shows some good insights into the problems of the last book too:

“Until we figure these guys out, let’s just hang loose,” Prince Jake said.

“Yeah. Like maybe not change our minds about who is in charge and who isn’t,” Rachel said bluntly.

I felt myself flush. In the Leera incident I had changed my allegiance from Prince Jake to the Andalite officer who betrayed us. I was still ashamed of this.

Rachel was one of the ones who came down the hardest on Ax when he abandoned them on Leera, and it is clear here that she is still the one to hold the most of a grudge on this subject, because she sees Jake as their leader. Her loyalty to Jake as leader has been clear for a long time, and both here and then she was the one to be most insulted by someone giving up on that. None of that makes sense with the Rachel we saw in the last book who was chomping at the bit to overthrow Jake and be the “hero” and “king” herself. Ugh. Sorry, I’m still bitter.

And one of Marco’s many good lines:

“In a world where slugs can take over entire civilizations, anything is possible,” Marco reminded me.

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

I’m not going to change the score on this one. Yes, the Animorphs prevent a catastrophe, but the enemy in this case was really the Andalites, not the Yeerks.

Rating: I really, really liked this book. Other than a few picky issues about their second little performance, the Animorphs had a lot of really clever plans in this book. All of the characters sounded like themselves, and the scene in the barn where they “broke up” read very true for how that could really have played out. Ax, as always, is a great narrator with his quips about his confusion about humanity, and there was a really solid through-line exploring the Andalites as a people and some of the problems that exist within their culture.

I didn’t really get to it anywhere else, but there was a really neat scene in the Yeerk pool when the Animorphs were getting their butts kicked where the humans in the cages formed a body shield to protect them from the Hork Bajir who could have just shot at them. We don’t really think about it much, but the humans who are being Controlled are fully aware during past attacks by the Animorphs. They, too, recognize this team and for them, we have to imagine that they’re seen as heroes whom they are rooting for silently in their own heads even as their Yeerk Controllers force them to fight against them. So it’s a nice moment for them to actually have the freedom to throw their support behind these heroes, putting their own lives on the line to protect them. It’s pretty cool.

Overall, like I said before, this book was a big relief after the disaster that was the last one. And it was a fun read on its own, regardless of what came before it.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #37: “The Weakness”

125336Animorphs #37: “The Weakness”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 200

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: While Jake is away at an out-of-town wedding, Tobias discovers the place where Visser Three feeds. There is a unanimous decision to acquire cheetah morphs and run him down. But which Animorph will lead the mission in Jake’s absence?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Ugh, I don’t want to. I don’t want to! This is probably the first time I’ve been truly uninspired to write up one of these recaps. The closest other instance was probably…also a Rachel book back with the split personality thing. And given her characterization in this book, I guess it’s hardly surprising that I’d find this one to be torture. It’s as if the ghost writer only read the megalomaniac!Rachel chapters from that one book and then went straight into writing this one. It’s truly, truly awful. So, with those bright thoughts, here we go!

Pour yourself a nice big glass cuz semi-drunkness is the only explanation for how this even got written in the first place.

Jake is out of town and the Animorphs have discovered the location of Visser Three’s new feeding ground. Knowing that he regularly changes this location, they decide they need to strike now and strike fast. They also decide to go with a new morph, the fastest mammal on the earth, the cheetah. Conveniently, the Gardens just got a pair. They acquire the morph (don’t ask how! details like this don’t matter!) and head off to the meadow. There, with no plan whatsoever, they morph cheetahs and take off after the Visser. Of course, things don’t go as they planned and the HUGELY OBVIOUS downside of their morphs, the very limited endurance of the cheetah, quickly becomes a problem as they fail to capture the Visser and begin getting taken down by some new super speedy creature. When it finally stops, they discover a new species that looks vaguely similar to Andalites and which has fallen to the control of the Yeerks. This particular one is infested by a Yeerk who identifies himself as Councilor Thirteen, an up-and-comer who is on Earth to monitor Visser Three’s progress with the Andalite bandits and who aspires to a position on the Council itself.

After the Animorphs manage to drag themselves away, they gather back in the barn to discuss what to do with this new information. They all decide that this opportunity is too good to resist (is it?? is it really??) and that they should do something to further discredit Visser Three. But without Jake as a leader, the group worries that they will not be able to effectively make decisions as they go along. They need to elect someone temporarily. Rachel is super gung-ho for the job. For reasons. Mostly having to do with mentally calling herself an unconquerable hero and other bizarre ego-maniacal terms. Marco puts up a brief resistance, but it never goes to a vote as he figures Cassie and Tobias would both vote Rachel and Ax, as always, has taken himself out of the equation.

Rachel comes up with the “brilliant” plan (one of many the group has in this book!) that the best way to discredit Visser Three is to out-right attack and terrorize known Controllers in their places of work, causing general mayhem and destruction and convincing the Inspector that there are more Andalite bandits than they had suspected. They move forward with this plan, starting with a TV studio that they completely trash while terrifying a group of tourists who happen to be stopping by, one of whom is an elderly man who collapses from the shock. They locate the Controller, Rachel delivers their “threat,” and they all bounce. The team continues this tactic all around town, destroying businesses and “threatening” the one Controller who works there. Rachel revels in all of the action and is generally riding high throughout it all (I mean, like, actually “high.” She seriously read as if she was one on some type if stimulant or in the middle of a manic episode).

And here they would have Hork-Bajir shock troops. A very different proposition from scaring off civilians and roughing up human-Controllers. I wasn’t sure exactly what we’d do once we got there. But I knew I’d figure out something. I was Rachel! Hero warrior and interim king!

(Seriously, this is just one of the many quotes I highlighted where Rachel reads as truly insane. This could have easily fit in the mean!Rachel chapters in the starfish book without any adjustment needed. And here, we’re supposed to buy that this is just normal Rachel…)

As they go, the remaining members of the team begin to feel more and more unsure about this plan, especially worrying about the elderly gentleman who collapsed at the TV studio. But Rachel disregards their concerns, and they save the biggest priority hit for last: the community center that The Sharing built and where Tobias was captured and tortured several books ago. Rachel has another brilliant idea for this attack specifically: they should all forego their comfortable, secure battle morphs and instead all morph their relatively under-used polar bear morphs. More power, more better! (Sure, Rachel never actually said that, but seriously, it wouldn’t be out of place with the rest of the nonsense she was spewing in this book.) The group pushes to investigate before barging in, but Rachel will have none of it.

The group powers in in their polar bear morphs. Unsurprisingly, the community center is much more equipped than the other human-operated places they had hit before. Not only is Visser Three himself there, but there are a bunch of Hork Bajir and the terrifyingly fast Councilor Thirteen himself. Visser Three inexplicably morphs some disgusting alien creature and then just as inexplicably demorphs said creature. The polar bear morphs quickly begin to fade, not able to cope with the extra heat in the building. They struggle to retreat, with Rachel staying behind to cover their backs. They finally make it out, but realize that Cassie is not with them, she’s been captured by the Yeerks. Around this time, they also overhear some local news that the older man at the TV studio died of a heart attack, and while he had suffered from this ailment for a long time and could have went “at any time,” the group, and specifically Rachel, still feel responsible.

Back in safety, the group gathers together and begins to fall apart. Marco is enraged. Tobias is silently judgemental. And Rachel breaks down crying, feeling like an utter failure (cuz duh, girl, you were). Marco is particularly harsh on her, accusing her of using her tears to garner sympathy and saying that she fought him for leadership and look where it go them. Defeated, she gives up, saying she will no longer be the leader, and that she alone will go into the Yeerk pool to somehow save Cassie. Marco follows her and says that while his analytical skills could have been used back at the community center, right now the group needed her, the reckless one who would suggest a crazy enough plot that might actually work in a situation as dire as this one. Rachel has another plan.

In their human form (!!!), the group climbs a fence at an airbase and steals a jet. With Ax at the wheel, they take off, barely making it when Ax decides to swerve a bit to miss a deer that just happened to stray into their path. Once in the air, the truly crazy part of the plan comes into action. The team has decided that the best path into the Yeerk pool is simply straight down through the roof of a building that the Yeerks have constructed directly above the pool. One by one, members of the Animorphs bail as birds (why were Tobias and Marco even on this part of the mission if they just had to get on and off??) until only Rachel is left to direct the plane in its crash. She hits the building, but is only partially morphed to bald eagle as the plane crashes through. Somehow, she completes her morph and escapes the plane just as the wreckage crashes into the Yeerk pool.

Mayhem ensues as the Yeerks rush to lock up all of the host bodies. In the midst of it all, eagle!Rachel spots polarbear!Cassie being held captive and brazenly attacks the Hork Bajir holding her. Together, they manage to break free, but before they can escape, Visser Three and the Inspector show up. Instead of quickly taking the two of them out, Visser Three poses a challenge to the Inspector, daring him to take out these two Andalite bandits right now, proving that he can do what Visser Three cannot. The Inspector attacks, and his speed quickly gives him the advantage over the two. As they fight, Tobias and harrier!Ax carrying cobra!Marco swoop down from the hole in the ceiling. Visser Three continues to taunt the Inspector, telling him that now is his opportunity to take out not two, but an entire group of Andalite warriors, that he will gladly give all credit to the Inspector and immediately resign as Visser if he pulls it off. Harrier!Ax drops cobra!Marco and begins demorphing to his Andalite form. From there, he engages the Inspector one-on-one. As they fight (Ax only barely managing to hold off the Inspector), cobra!Marco slithers up and strikes. As birds, one carrying Marco, the group flies away. Visser Three gloats over the dying Inspector and allows the group to leave.

On her own, Rachel visits the grandson of the man who died at the TV studio. She claims to have been in the studio when he died, and apologizes to the kid. He’s confused, but she quickly leaves. She runs into Jake on the way out and he explains that he talked to Cassie and Marco who filled him in. He reassures her that as long as the number of Animorphs alive is the same, she did OK. He also says the rest of the group said she did alright (what??). Rachel asks how Jake deals with it, being leader. She briefly glimpses his own terror at the task, but he quickly puts up his mask and claims that he just doesn’t think about it. Rachel tells him to never leave again.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Oh, god, it’s so terrible. For all my whining about the lack of character development for Jake in the last book…I take it back! I TAKE IT BACK!! That was sooo much better than the complete abuse that has been done to Rachel’s character in this book. I was truly serious when I said that this book reads as if the author had read zero, ZERO, of Rachel’s previous books other than the mean!Rachel chapters from the starfish book. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. She repeatedly refers to herself as the hero and the king, seemingly in all seriousness. Her behavior is off-the-wall crazy and she is power-hungry from the get-go. Gone is any of the careful consideration that was put into developing Rachel’s fears of what she is becoming. Oh no, instead she is sure that she is the absolute baddest most awesome hero ever. Again, she is seemingly sane and serious when she is thinking these things.

Her fight for leadership is also completely bizarre. Throughout the series we’ve seen some good interactions between Rachel and Jake specifically, and in none of them did it seem that Rachel coveted his role as leader. So it’s absolutely asinine to see her fighting so strongly for the role here. Further, her “plans” are absolutely ridiculous, to the point that it’s crazy to believe that any of the others would follow her on them. While Rachel is brave and reckless, this has most often manifested itself as based on her own fears of appearing cowardly or not upholding her role on the team. She knows that she is seen as the brave one, thus she has to be the brave one, and often we see the enormous burden that this puts on her. But nope! Here that recklessness and bravery just manifest as literal insanity and, frankly, stupidity.

She gets mildly better towards the end with the action down in the Yeerk pool, making decisions from the viewpoint that if someone was going to die or be left behind, it would be her. But even there, amidst even the better moments, she still refers to herself as the king. Ugh.

The scenes where she apologizes to the grandson and talks with Jake are also so truncated that they provide next to nothing. We don’t see any reflection, especially with the brief two paragraphs that we get with the grandson, and even her conversation with Jake never gets past the surface level. There is absolutely no pay off or explanation for the complete butchery that has happened to her character up to this point.

At one point we get this line from Marco, and honestly, he can’t be more right:

“Are you on medication?” Marco put his hands to his head. “No, I really want to know. Seriously. ‘Cause I think your dosage needs to be adjusted.”

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is gone for most of this book. When he does return, the conversation with Rachel is probably one of the stronger (??) parts of the book, but as I said above, even that was a big let-down. The Animorphs had just destroyed tons of businesses filled with regular people going about their lives and then topped it off by crashing a plane into a building. There is no way that A.) the others would have ever said that anything about this was “OK” and B.) that Jake wouldn’t flip out. I don’t care if he is trying to comfort Rachel about them all being alive in the end; this thing was such a complete shit show that if you actually stop and think about the repercussions, it has to be one of the biggest disasters the Animorphs have caused so far (other than the David incident, and arguably worse than that, considering the effects on innocents left by this). There’s no way Jake would just be patting her on the back about it all.

A Hawk’s Life: Most of Tobias’s role in this book is silently judging Rachel. Seriously, he uses the silent treatment on her repeatedly throughout the story and it was honestly one of the few times I actually felt bad for what Rachel was going through. In the past, we’ve seen the good influence that Tobias has had on Rachel and their ability to lean on each other to get through the tougher aspects of both of their ongoing struggles in the series. Here, it is acknowledged that Tobias and Rachel are together, but we see none of that support or care from him. Instead, like I said, there’s just a lot of silence and emotional abandonment. Sure, this version of Rachel also isn’t the one that we’ve seen before either, so I guess it makes sense that their relationship wouldn’t translate. But Tobias is kind of just a jerk here, too.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, on the other hand, is her usual supportive self of Rachel. While she again gets captured and ends up  in the Yeerk pool (this is a bit of a trend with her, and I think it might say something about the character that she’s the easiest to leave out of big chunks of the story when the author is looking to have a character captured), she quickly teams up with eagle!Rachel and seemingly the two could have made their escape on their own had Visser Three and the Inspector not conveniently shown up. She also had one of the more fun lines from the book right after eagle!Rachel shows up in the Yeerk Pool:

<Surprised to see me?> I asked.

<Sky falling in, flames everywhere, Yeerks running for cover? Who else would it be but you?>

The Comic Relief: March is harsh. Truly mean at times. Yeah, this version of Rachel completely deserves it, but it’s still tough to read. In a long, LONG, list of questions that arose from this book, why Marco wasn’t immediately considered the leader is one of the first ones that popped up in my mind. For one, we’ve seen him successfully lead the group at least twice before. This alone would make him the obvious candidate. Beyond that, the entire group has, at one time or another in their own narrated books, pointed to Marco as the most strategic of the group. Plus, the idea that Cassie and Tobias would automatically vote for Rachel is beyond stupid. We’ve hardly ever seen any previous votes be affected by relationships like this, so to think that that would have been the case here is pretty silly. Marco does have a nice speech to Rachel towards the end about needing her reckless bravery to pull off a rescue of Cassie, but given that that plan itself was so truly terrible, one has to partly blame Marco as well for not being his usual brainy self and helping out here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I don’t know if it’s just because I’m grumpy at this book, but I’m also starting to feel like the whole “Ax removes himself from the decision making process” trope is getting super old. By this point in the series, Ax has been on Earth for close to two years or something. The period of time when he was not around is so brief that it hardly bares mentioning. Regardless of how he himself feels about his role in the group, I have to imagine the others would push  back against this type of behavior. They’re all in this together, and that includes Ax. That is especially true of these challenging, voting situations. None of the rest have the privilege of just taking themselves out of the process, and it’s increasingly strange that it’s considered normal for Ax to do this.

Beyond that, there’s a very brief discussion about the resemblance of the Inspector’s host body to the anatomy of Andalites. There might have been something interesting to this, but nope! It’s completely dropped, and I honestly have no idea why the author even bothered to include it at all.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Visser Three’s morph in the community center is described as being really disgusting, just a stinky blob essentially. Again, among the many questionable things in this book is this morphing sequence all together. The morph itself really seems to be nothing more than folds of stinking fat. Sure, he’s pretty inpenetrable when polarbear!Rachel attacks, but he’s also not very mobile and we’ve seen a bunch of more successful morphs in the past that would have worked much better here. The stink of the alien does prove hard for the polar bear morphs to handle, but given the level of ignorance we’ve seen from Visser Three in the past as far as Earth creatures go, there’s zero chance he would have known that this would be the effect on these morphs. And then, like I said in the recap, after he throws Rachel at the wall one time, he just as strangely chooses to demorph.

Couples Watch!: Other than Cassie being referred to as Jake’s girlfriend, there’s really not much. Tobias and Rachel’s relationship is terrible here, mostly due to the poor characterization of Rachel herself. The Tobias we know would never even WANT to be in a relationship with this headcase, so it’s not surprising that the author struggled to write any believable moments between these two.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Probably the best part of the book is the Yeerk politics, especially the moments we get in the Yeerk Pool as Visser Three gleefully watches the Inspector fail to kill/capture the Andalite bandits. Not only is his dialogue pretty funny, but it’s a gratifying look into how much respect Visser Three has unwillingly built for the Animorphs. The Inspector’s host body seems pretty unbeatable with his speed, but even against only two of the Animorphs, Visser Three is supremely confident that he will fail. It’s also always fun to see the Yeerks shoot themselves in the foot with their own politics. The Animorphs would have been done for way back in book #5 if the Yeerks’ power struggles weren’t out of control. And here, the Animorphs escape multiple times because Visser Three and the Inspector are more caught up in show-boating than anything else.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry over the remains of what used to be the incredible character work put into Rachel.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are so many! I mean, the entire book is made up of terrible plans! Let me list a few of them:

1.) Attacking business where a maximum of ONE known Controller works. Up to this point, the Animorphs have always operated very carefully in areas filled with regular people. But nope! That doesn’t matter now! Here, they destroy tons of businesses and terrorize countless people, all to deliver a very meaningless “threat” to one Controller at each location.

2.) Using the same morphs in all of these attacks. Seemingly the whole point of this was to have a show of force to impress the Inspector with what Visser Three is up against. They seem to think that this will make the Yeerks think that there are more Andalite bandits than previously assumed. But…how?? It’s common knowledge now that the Andalite bandits always attack in a group of six and all in the same morphs each time. And here, the same six, in the same morphs, attack place after place in sequential order, never at the same time as a larger group would do. Clearly it’s just the same group over and over again. It’s beyond stupid.

3.) They break onto an airbase IN THEIR HUMAN FORMS and steal a plane and then crash said plane into the Yeerk pool. Why?? Why are they human when they do this? Nice, identifiable-by-camera, humans. Not only would the Yeerks be able to easily trace this whole incident back to them using the tons of cameras that would be all over an airbases, but human law enforcement itself would be able to identify them and sure as heck send them to prison for this disaster.

4.) Ax swerves the plane for a freaking deer. That’s right people! Cassie’s life, and the entire future of their resistance and the planet, are on the line, but Ax can’t run over a deer. For one, I’m pretty sure most airbases have systems in place to prevent wildlife from casually ambling onto an airstrip. But beyond this, Ax of all people would be the last one to swerve for a deer. He’s probably one of the least emotionally-driven of them all and has even less connection to Earth animals than the others. It’s just ridiculous all around and a blatant attempt to  build two seconds of increased suspense that is completely unnecessary given the already action-packed scenario.

5.) THEY CRASH A PLANE INTO A BUILDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A CITY. Ok, sure, this book was written before 9/11, but even the least imaginative person out there would see the huge issues with this plan. There is no way that this wouldn’t kill innocents. But hey, that doesn’t matter. At least they missed the deer.

Favorite Quote:

Like I said, Visser Three gloating over the Inspector was probably the best part of this entire mess:

<Inspector!> he cried. <Look! The Andalite bandits are getting away! You must go after them!>

<I … I cannot… move …> the inspector responded weakly, haltingly.

<Yes, and very, very soon you will not be able to breathe,> Visser Three said matter-of-factly. <I will be sure to pass along your farewells to the Council.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

I’m giving another point to the Yeerks out of sheer fury at the stupidity of this book. The Animorphs sure do a good job for them, destroying human businesses and killing innocent people (the old man for sure, and the others who had to have died from that plane stunt).

Rating: I would give this book negative points if I could. It’s so awful it’s almost beyond words. Rachel’s characterization makes absolutely zero sense; it honestly feels like the ghost writer didn’t read any of the previous books for her. Their actions throughout the story are shockingly bad and stupid. And the book just glazes right over important scenes as if it’s no big deal.(How the heck did they acquire those cheetah morphs, for one thing? But nah, let’s not include that.) I really hated this book. Not much more to say.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!