Serena’s Review: “The Girl the Sea Gave Back”

42867937Book: “The Girl the Sea Gave Back” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

Review: Here’s another example of a cover that has a model but is still super cool to look at. Notably, she’s wearing clothes appropriate to her character and it depicts a scene that seems to connect with the title and description pretty well. Always love to see that! But, cover aside, I really decided to check this book out based on my enjoyment of the author’s previous book, “Sky in the Deep.” As I mentioned in the Highlights post, it’s always exciting to find standalone fantasy novels. And when you have an author who chooses to write multiple standalones, but in the same world, it’s like getting your cake and eating it, too.

Tova’s remembered life began alone, cold on the sea. It’s only through fate, it seems, that her small craft washes up on shore and she is taken in by a people who are both mystified and wary of her mysterious origins and the power she possesses. As a young woman, she is drawn into a brewing conflict, both internal and external, as the Svell people debate the merits of war. With two of the major tribes having joined together, the Svell see this as their time to rise. But Tova sees darkness ahead. Will they listen to their own mystic, or is she, and the young warrior Halvard from the opposing tribe, doomed to be caught up in another round of warfare?

Sadly, this book wasn’t as much of a hit for me as the first one. I think there are a few factors, but first I want to talk about the things I did like. I was again pleased to return to this world that Young has created. The Viking-like mythology is still intriguing, as is the way of life and cultures that are described for the various clans. The writing itself is still solid and I think she did a good job balancing out introducing new characters and themes, while also giving readers a few peaks at what is going on with beloved characters and arcs from the first book.

All of that said, however, I just wasn’t able to connect with this story the way I was able to with the first. Part of this might come down to the dueling narrators. Having two narrators means that the author needs to balance two characters’ worth of story, emotional motivation, and overall arc with only half the page time that one alone would have. There are obviously benefits in getting to see various characters’ differing perspectives, but it’s still quite challenging. Here, I think both main characters suffered for the lack of full devotion to either.

Halvard, to some extent, was better served in the fact that I at least was familiar with him from the first book and had a bit more emotional investment right off the bat. Tova, however, the titular “girl the sea gave back” always felt a bit bland. Her backstory is intriguing, and her life growing up as a powerful mystic but one who is still seen as an outsider in the clan that has adopted her is compelling. But for some reason, I struggled to fully invest in her story. In the end, both main characters lack the spark that gave life to the main character from the first book.

The plot was also incredibly predictable. To some extent, the same could be said of “Sky in the Deep,” but I think there was enough of a personal arc of her discovery of her brother in the midst of her enemy’s camp and the slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance to keep the plot failings afloat. But, as discussed, with flat characters, the plot failings become much more apparent. Must of the story revolves around a discussion of fate and destiny. These themes can be compelling if taken apart and contrasted against free will and choice. But here they are simply wielded as clumsy explanations for why unlikely events occurred, hand-waving away coincidences one way and another.

“Destiny” also killed the romance of this story. For one, there was simply a lot less of one than there was in the first, which I personally found disappointing. But for two, what romance we were given was one meet-cute away from instalove, right down to the almost deadly brawl that somehow ends with a “connection.” With all of that destiny and intertwinedness to go around, the reader is never given a reason to root for these two, as we’ve been told from the start that it is simply meant to be. The characters don’t need to build up feelings for each other, they just know they’re there, even across time and space almost.

Overall, this was a very flat story for me. I struggled to find anything to connect to and by the end reading it felt more like a chore to get through. How disappointing, based on the strength of the first story and the fact that the author clearly has skills. In many ways, it almost feels like this would be the author’s first book, and that one the one she pulls out later in all of its more-polished glory. I’m not writing the author off completely, as I know she has good stories in her. This one just wasn’t one of them.

Rating 6: Fans of the first book should beware that this is in many ways “Sky in the Deep” lite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl the Sea Gave Back” is, weirdly, on this Goodreads list: “Summery vibes.”

Find “The Girl the Sea Gave Back” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Tiger Queen”

42281646._sy475_Book: “Tiger Queen” by Annie Sullivan

Publishing Info: Blink, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.

Review: I requested this book based purely on my curiosity to see how an author would transform the short story “The Lady or the Tiger” into a YA fantasy novel. The rest of the book description sounded fairly familiar, but I was hopeful that the unique source material would propel it beyond your typical fare. Alas, no.

In Kateri’s world, water is life. Her city and her people suffer for its lack and have fought for years to continue to thrive in a city that is barely getting by. Conditions are only made worse by a group of rebels who defy the water limits and steal the city’s supply for themselves. But Kateri’s father has developed a clever deterrent: if a thief is caught, they much choose between two doors, one of which allows them to return to their home and the other that releases a deadly tiger onto its prey. As Kateri continues to fight for her place in the royal line of succession, she begins finding more and more secrets behind other doors. And soon enough she finds herself questioning everything she’s come to know.

Honestly, take out the bit about the tiger/lady door thing and I feel like I’ve just typed out the same description that I have for so many books before. Substitute “tiger” for “dragon” and you pretty much have the plot of “The Last Namsara.” And that’s just the first one that comes to mind. I’m pretty sure anyone whose read a decent amount of YA fiction could read that book description and give me the entire outline of this book. And you’d be right.

It’s really hard to rate and review books like these. Is this book any worse than the million and one that came before it with the same plot and the same main character? Was I in a less forgiving mood when I read this one as compared to them? I’m not sure. But I will say that this book made me mad. It took what could have been a clever concept and instead of exploring the unique opportunities available there, it twisted it to fit the exact same “write by numbers” mold that we’ve seen forever now in YA fantasy fiction.

I knew I was in for trouble in the first chapter when I read about Kateri’s experience watching a caught thief go through the process of choosing a door. At first she’s sympathetic to the thief who is so young, to show that she’s caring. But then, for no reason, she must show that she’s ruthless and rage against his option for freedom. He should die now for what he’s done! It flip flops as easily as I’ve just written it. There is no explanation or developed rational behind this. It’s clearly there just to get to two basic character traits, at the expense of the character’s overall development as a believable person. The author clearly just wants to get through this whole “character building” bit as fast as possible. This mode of character “development” holds true throughout the rest of the book. Beyond that, Kateri was only the “warrior woman” she’s touted to be on the most superficial level. Other than her fighting skills, her entire plot line is in reaction to the men around her: her father, the men she fights, the man she loves.

In that same chapter we’re introduced to the king, her father, who is OF COURSE not hiding any secrets and OF COURSE is telling her the full truth about this whole water/thief thing. And there’s the nefarious dude she might have to marry and the rumored young, hot leader of the rebels and…man, I’m so bored even typing this out. It’s all exactly as you’d expect.

Frankly, I have very little to say about this book. I’m having a hard time even filling out this review to the word count that I usually hit. There’s just so little new here to even critique. Anyone who is passingly familiar with YA fantasy can see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. All of the characters dutifully follow the scripts laid out for them in books like this, with nary a unique trait to be found. It was incredibly disappointing. Maybe someone who hasn’t read a bunch of YA fantasy would enjoy this, or those who are not worn out by this basic storyline yet. But anyone looking for something fresh or new should beware.

Rating 5: The book itself is like opening the door and getting the tiger instead of the lady.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Tiger Queen” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Books Based on Myths, Legends, Fairytales and Folklore.”

Find “Tiger Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Harp of Kings”

43316755._sy475_Book: “The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Ace, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . 

Review: It’s always exciting to receive new books to read. But I have to say, this was the most excited I’ve ever been to receive an advanced copy of a book. Juliet Marillier has been a favorite author of mine for about 15 years and I’ve read every single one of her books and own 90% of them (really, that’s just a reminder that I need to get on top of things and complete collection!). Plus, it’s the first book in a series which always brings with it an extra dose of excitement. Per the usual, I was not let down and was once more caught up in Mariller’s world where fairytales take on new life.

As the children of Blackthorn and Grim, Liobhan and her brother have a multitude of skills. But primarily they each are skilled musicians. Now training to hopefully be recruited as famed Swan Island warriors, they didn’t suspect that this particular skill set would be called upon so early among a band of fighters who often prize secrecy, fighting abilities, and overall efficiency above all else. But now in hiding as court bards, they each begin to discover that no mission is as straight forward as it seems, and their parents’ habit of finding themselves ensnared in magical mysteries seems to be a family trait.

As I said, it’s always exciting to start a new series by a favorite author. Over the years, I know that I can count on Marillier always delivering on a few key points: strong, intriguing main characters, a perfect blend of the fantastical and the historic, and a gorgeous writing that will make you feel as if you, too, are walking through lush woods filled with bird song and mysterious shadows. Here, all of those things were again on point.

As with her “Blackthorn & Grim” trilogy, this book is divided between multiple POVs. We have Liobhan, the headstrong, capable warrior who has more than a hint of her mother’s fiery disposition. Her brother, Brocc, who is the more talented musician between the two and sees a story in all that is around him. And Dau, a fellow trainee, who is determined to be accepted as a Swan Island warrior no matter what, knowing he can never return home.

I enjoyed all three narrators, though I definitely found myself more drawn to Liobhan and Dau. To some extent that is to be expected as each has significantly more chapters and page time than Brocc. And it is definitely Liobhan around whom most of the story and action hinge. I loved seeing elements of Blackthorn’s character in her. And her strong connection to her brother and tenuous, burgeoning friendship with Dau were both excellent. Dau, himself, was also intriguing as his story slowly unfolds and we begin to understand more about his past and what drives him now.

For me, Brocc was the weakest of the three. The way the story unfolds, his chapters are crucial to understanding all of the mystery involved. But I also wonder if there was another way to go about it as the way it stands now, especially towards the end where he essentially disappears from the story for a good chunk and when we return we learn that some rather significant events occurred that we the readers didn’t even get to see. It makes his chapters feel a bit superfluous, as if they’re there to serve the needs of the story, but don’t fully justify Brocc’s needing his own POV based on the character himself. It’s a strange thing to find in a Marillier book. But it was more of a minor mental question mark than a problem for my reading.

Marillier’s real strengths with characters often comes in the ways she writes the relationships between them, the friendships, the family bonds, and the romances. This one definitely focuses on the first two. Brocc and Liobhan’s bond as siblings was lovely and I very much enjoyed the growing friendship that formed between Liobhan and Dau, two characters that started the story very much at odds. I think there’s some strong potential for a developing romance here, and I’m excited to see where it goes. However, there was another romance in the story, and that one I had a bit more trouble with. It was fine, all things considered. But it also felt rushed and much of the connection that is formed happens off page and the reader is only informed of it after the fact. Again, odd to find in a Marillier book. I’m curious to know whether this was a one-off thing or whether we will see more of this relationship in the future.

I very much enjoyed the mystery itself. I was able to put many of the pieces together myself, but the way they played out was still quite enjoyable to read. The “villain” of the piece was quite good and there were some choices made towards the end in this regard that really did surprise me. I also enjoyed all of the Easter eggs to be found in this story. All of this talk about MCU and DCEU, etc. etc., it’s like Marillier has been slowly creating her own “Marillier-universe” and for longtime readers, there’s a lot of good stuff to be gleaned in this one. But it can also just as easily be read by first-timers as well with very little being missed.

I’m so excited for this series (have I mentioned that yet?) and think that this is a solid opener to further adventures. There were a few odd points with Brocc’s reduced number of chapters as compared to the other two and a romance that felt a bit rushed and weirdly off page. Perhaps the natural growing pains of settling in to a new story with new character. But other than these few quibbles, I was still captivated by this story. I enjoyed the mystery at the heart of the story and while much of it is resolved, there are still plenty of question marks left open for further exploration. And Liobhan and Dau, in particular, are both set up to be excellent protagonists. Fans of Marillier’s work should definitely check this out and fantasy fans in general will likely enjoy this book, particularly if you’re drawn to fairytales and the like.

We’re also currently hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book! Don’t forget to enter here!

Rating 8: Marillier delivers once again with a book where readers will feel like they, too, are lost among the trees and ready to find magic around every corner.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Harp of Kings” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books with Musical Instruments in the Title.”

Find “The Harp of Kings” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Turning Darkness Into Light”


41555968Book: “Turning Darkness Into Light” by Marie Brennan

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Review: The “Lady Trent” series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while. But as I’ve heard good things about the audiobook, I’ve been stubbornly waiting to catch it when its available at the library in this format. So far, no success. But not to be put off by little things like reading the first series first, I still decided to go ahead and request an early copy of the new standalone novel set a generation after the first series. And, while there were probably a lot of references and aspects to the story that would have meant more had I read things in order, I still ended up loving this book!

Audrey has quite a distinguished family name to uphold. And she believes that she may finally found her opportunity to stake her own place in history when a collector comes across a rare set of tablets that could possess the secret history and great fabled story of the Draconian people. Translating a tale like this would not only put quite the feather in the cap of the historian who completed it, but the story itself could have greater ramifications on the future of the Draconian people. What this future may be is of great interest to several parties, all who have their own designs on the tablets and what they may say. Soon enough, Audrey finds herself at the heart of several conspiracies and must work to find the way out of this maze of history, language, and story.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this story. Obviously, I feel like I probably missed a lot of the backstory and world building that preceded this standalone in the main series, but even without that prior knowledge, I felt like the world and history were approachable. And what a clever, unique world it is! The Draconian people were incredibly intriguing and I’m sure what I got here was only a small taste of what you see of them in the first book. It’s not often that you come across what feels like an entirely new fantasy being, and the Draconians definitely are that, being a strange mixture of humanoid and dragon.

I really liked the exploration of the concept of history and story that is at the heart of this book. They are both one and the same and very different, each only partially understandable by a “modern” reader or historian approaching something that is thousands of years old. But not only do we the challenges of understanding histories and stories that are far removed from the times and people they describe, but we see how powerful they can still be to a modern people The Draconians are still looking for a place in this world, having just come out of hiding after being away undiscovered for centuries. There is a lot of discussion over how having a defining story is at the heart of being recognized as an individual and respected people. And what values are shown at the heart of that story are paramount for a how a people define themselves and how others regard them as well. It can aid or hurt, depending on interpretation and how it connects with established (or only theorized) history.

I also really liked Audrey as a character. You can see her struggling under the weight of expectation, coming from such a famous family. But she’s brave, independent, and willing to take on the challenges before her to make her own way. She’s also young, impulsive, and sometimes lets her bravery carry her into situations she had better have avoided. I also really enjoyed how the traces of a romance are weaved into this. It’s not at all what I’m used to finding, and, technically, it’s probably better to approach this story with no expectation of romance, given what it is, in the end.

The story is also presented in a unique, multi-media fashion. It plays out through a series of diary entries, letters, and news reports. It’s a tough medium to work with in the most ordinary of stories, but it’s even more impressive in a fantasy world where there is a lot of world building that would be common to the writers of these letters and thus would read as strange for them to be spelling out in these types of media formats. But while there are one or two weird, info-dumpy passages, for the most part, I think it was really successful.

I really have very few complaints about this book. Any confusion of world building is probably on me for reading it in the wrong order. And while the multi-media format had a few sticky bits, overall I think it worked really well. I was definitely left wishing there were more books telling Audrey’s story going for. But at the very least, I now know that I should get a move on with reading the original series! Fans of that original are sure to like this. And for the brave (or those who are lazy with their TBR pile like me), this is still a fun read, even with out that background knowledge.

Rating 9: A creative, new book that highlights just how intertwined and important history and storytelling are.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Turning Darkness Into Light” is a new title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be “Stand Alone Dragon Books.”

Find “Turning Darkness Into Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Beasts of the Frozen Sun”

42118210Book: “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” by Jill Criswell

Publishing Info: Blackstone, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland–one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun–Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun.

Review: Our fairly recent re-read of “Sky in the Deep” for bookclub reminded me just how much I enjoyed Vikings stories. Pair that with “The Wolf in the Whale,” another story that I read this year that partially featured Vikings and had a good romance at its heart, and I was ready and raring to go for more of the same. This made it an easy decision to request a copy of “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” for review. But while it did have elements of what I was looking for, it also seemed to be a bit too off the mark at times for me to fully enjoy.

Lira and Reyker had met years before, though one remembers it as a half-believed nightmare, and the other as a strange encounter with a wild young girl who inspired him to break his own codes of warfare. When they meet again, it is under very different, and yet oddly similar circumstances. Now an adult, Lira holds an incredible power to see the truth of person’s being through a mere touch. It is an ability that has garnered her respect, but also makes her a valuable tool for her tribe, offering her limited option for her future. Reyker has continued on the path set before him so long ago, as a member of  Viking marauding crew that has taken down countless villages. Now, Lira’s tribe is the next and the two are thrown together once again, natural enemies, but with a connection that neither can deny.

As I said in my introduction, this book didn’t quite connect for me. But there were a few pros that I want to start out by highlighting. For one, the writing itself was strong. There was one blurb I read before starting it that mentioned a comparison to Juliet Marillier’s work. Given that this story description sounds just like something that author would write herself and the fact that she’s one of my favorite authors, I had high hopes on that front. And there, at least, it didn’t disappoint. The writing it lyrical, smooth, and feels as if it is a fairytale in the making. At the same time, the action, dialogue, and character moments all read as natural and alluring. There were several turns of phrase that popped off the page for me. While I’m not sure I would quite put it at the level of Marillier’s work, I can definitely see where the comparison came from.

The other stand-out was Lira herself. I really liked her voice and the way her character moved throughout the storyline presented her. She rose to the challenges presented to her, but never lost sight of herself or her unique gifts. Early in the book there is a big emphasis placed on Lira’s limited life choices, due to her unique powers, and I enjoyed the way that Lira approached the responsibility of her gift as well as the confines it put on the paths before her. While I do wish that a bit more was done with her gift itself, Lira, as a character, was another point of favor for this story.

Where the book let me down, however, was with the plot itself and the romance. The plot felt meandering and full of too many ideas all at once. A few chapters would focus on one thing. Then a new event would pop up and suddenly take over. It felt almost like a bunch of mini stories all crammed together, losing sight of any connecting tissue that would pull them all together. There was also a lot of repetitive planning, action, escapes, but then failures. The story literally couldn’t escape its own restrictions and it felt like it, like our characters, was simply floundering around in captivity.

I also didn’t love the romance. And this is where the comparison to Marillier hurt the book for me. If there’s anything that Marillier excels at, other than beautiful prose, it’s amazing romances. So I went into this perhaps with my expectations too high. But, on top of that, Reyker and Lira are both strong characters on their own. And the build up to their romance is intriguing, especially given that they don’t share a common language. But then they kiss, and it’s all downhill from there as they immediately fall into all-consuming love for each other. I wish this could have been drawn out a bit more or progressed in a more natural way. Perhaps I would have been less disappointed with it had Lira and Reyker on their own been less compelling. But as it was, they were both strong characters who deserved an equally strong romance.

I think this book had a lot of promise, and the writing and strong characters get it a long way down the road to success. But the plot seemed to circle back on its self a bit too much and the romance was underwhelming. This is the first in a series, however, so these things could be improved in the sequel. Fans of historical fantasy would probably enjoy this; just keep your expectations in check better than I did.

Rating 6: A solid attempt, but it read as a bit too bland for what I was wanting and missed some opportunities a long the way to take advantage of the strengths it had going for it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beasts of the Frozen Sun” is included on the Goodreads lists “Viking Era” and “Tristan & Isolde Retellings.”

Find “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” at your library using WorldCat!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #54: “The Beginning”

125344._SX318_Animorphs #54: “The Beginning”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: This is it! Yeerk ships are pouring in from all ends of the galaxy. An all-out war for the planet has finally begun. The winner will control Earth. The loser will perish. The President of the United States is a Controller, and the Animorphs have been forced to rally their own military force of 5,000. Will this be enough to defeat the seemingly endless onslaught of Yeerks? Rachel has always prepared for the final battle. But is she too eager? It’s her moment…and this time there will be no compromise!

Narrator: All

Plot: I again don’t have a quippy intro for this book. I will say that while I remember the major events at the beginning and end, I had very little memory of the details in between. Pretty sure it’s because as a kid I was completely traumatized by both of those events and blocked out the rest of the book.

So. Many. Tears.

Rachel is on the Blade ship. She knows what she has to do, and she’s afraid. But there was a reason she was picked for this mission and so she continues. She demorphs and remorphs grizzly, raining terror down on the Blade ship crew. But with all of the Yeerks having morphing abilities, she is critically injured, just shy of her mission. Tobias, watching through the view screen from the Pool ship, navigates a now-blinded Rachel to cobra!Tom who she finally kills. She demorphs to her vulnerable human self. Looking back at her friends on the other ship, she tells Tobias she loves him and is killed with one blow by a polar bear!Yeerk. The Blade ships speeds away, lost to space.

Back on the main ship, the Animorphs are all in various states of shock. Toby arrives to let them know that the remaining Yeerks want to surrender. Cassie and Marco manage to prod Jake back into action who meets with the Yeerks’ temporary leader who says they will surrender if given the ability to morph into another form permanently. Jake agrees, though Ax reminds him that the Andalites may feel differently and now that they’ve lost their blue box with the Blade ship, they don’t have many options.

Jake orders Ax to open a communication portal to the Andalite fleet and one to the public channel on the Andalite home world. He also forces Visser One to leave Alloran and be trapped in a carrying case. The Andalite commander is gruff as expected, distrustful that the whole thing isn’t a Yeerk trick. But with the Andalite world viewing them, they have to agree to meet peaceably. Once on the Pool ship, the Andalite War Prince informs Jake that they absolutely will not abide by the deals Jake has struck with the surrendered Yeerks and Taxxons. With nothing left to bargain, they are in a bind, until Ax steps up and calls a challenge. He needs the support of a Prince to do this, however, but Alloran throws his weight behind him.

The other Animorphs learn that a challenge allows a soldier to confront a leadership decision that they feel is against the common interests of the Andalite people as a whole. The consequences are dire if the judging is ruled against them. But it is also noted that the Andalites are wary and conservative when it comes to these things, so a challenge is only likely to go forward fully if the Andalite leadership think they have a strong case to win. Turns out they don’t think this, and the Animorphs are given 4 morphing cubes to fulfill the peace agreements with the Yeerks and Taxxons.

They then land in D.C. and the truth comes out to everyone. Speeches are made, and at some point Tobias flies off. A few days later, the Andalites bring in the body of a human girl they found floating in space. It’s Rachel. There is a massive funeral held for her and a monument built. Tobias shows up and flies away with the ashes.

One year later. Tobias has not been seen since Rachel’s funeral. Ax has been made a Prince and is the diplomat between Earth and the Andalites. Marco has found fame as the one Animorph who is capable of talking about the war experience in a way the public appreciates (Jake is too weighed down by it all still and Cassie moralizes too much about the ethics of fighting defensively). Cassie is helping work with the free Hork Bajir as they are set up in Yellowstone. She also helped the Taxxons all morphs large snakes and be relocated to the rain forest. Jake is struggling with depression and PTSD. Marco, who has been spying on him in his spare time, thinks that he hasn’t morphed since the war ended but has been heading to Rachel’s monument and spending a lot of time just sitting there, staring off. They theorize that he might be hoping Tobias will show up.

It all comes to a head at the trial for Visser One. Jake is called onto the stand and crumbles after the defense attorney calls him a war criminal and mass murderer himself for what he did to the Yeerks in the pool he flushed into space. When a break is called, the other three Animorphs capture Jake and dump him into the freezing ocean, forcing him to morph dolphin. He finally releases a bit and plays in the water. Back on shore, the other three confront him. Cassie tells him that they are all complicit and have had to come up with ways to manage it, and that the victim is not the same as the perpetrator. Marco says it doesn’t matter how vicious Jake’s thoughts were when flushing the Yeerks, he was still operating as a victim defending his home. Jake is unsure about any of this, but begins to work through it somewhat. The trial ends and Visser One is sentenced to hundreds of years in prison.

Two years after this. Cassie has moved into a subcabinet role with the federal government and continues to work with the free Hork Bajir. She has also begun dating someone, knowing that her relationship with Jake is over. Marco is thriving in his fame, though also showing signs of boredom (morphing lobster to retrieve keys from the bottom of his pool). And Jake has written a book (Marco and Cassie did earlier as well) which he sees as a way of bringing in the stories of the “lost Animorphs,” Rachel and Tobias, more. He’s also secretly training a select group of military personnel from a bunch of different governments to deal with the increasing terrorism that has come from aliens showing up on earth (all sorts of conspiracies, ranging from religious fanaticism to species-ism, etc.) Ax has been patrolling the galaxy as the Prince of his own ship. He comes across a strange, abandoned space craft and leads a crew aboard.

Jake is approached secretly by a group from the Andalite high command. They report that an Andalite has returned from Ax’s ship. The ship had been destroyed and Ax is missing. When he boarded the strange vessel, they found animal DNA and polar bear hairs. Jake immediately connects this with the Yeerk who killed Rachel on the Blade ship. The Blade ship itself then appeared in the wreckage and destroyed the Andalite vessel and shot away. The sole Andalite survivor claims that he heard a fragment of thought speak from Ax and all he said was “Jake.” But Ax has gone missing in a part of space that is home to a hostile race of aliens with whom the Andalites have agreed to not interact; they leave the Andalites alone if the Andalites leave them alone. Enter in humans and a stolen Yeerk craft.

Jake first approaches Cassie. But he’s come to tell her that she’s off the hook. She’s serving an important role, helping the free Hork Bajir, and she’s created a new life for herself. Instead, he knows that she must know where Tobias is and wants directions. He then finds Tobias in a meadow. He’s been camped out for years, living a solitary life as a hawk and mourning Rachel. Tobias’s first instinct is to blow off Jake, but when he hears that Ax is missing, he signs on. Marco is the last to be approached. He points out what’s really going on for Jake: that this is the life line that Jake was waiting for. And that Jake has been internalizing and doubting his every decision that was made during the war with the Yeerks and that this is dangerous. He points out that the only reason they won, 6 kids against an alien empire, is because Jake didn’t flinch and made the reckless, brave, and ruthless decisions. If he tries to fight a “perfect” fight or correct past wrongs, that’s what will get them all killed this go around. Jake doesn’t seem to have an answer for this, but Marco signs on anyways.

Jake enlists two of his students to round out their numbers and they steal the Yeerk ship (it has been oddly modified for humans and stashed with supplies; the Andalites’ work though they will never claim it). They name the ship “Rachel” and head off into space. It’s a long journey, and they’re out there for 6 months before they finally are approached by the Blade ship itself.

The polar bear!Controller opens the communication portal to them. They claim to be Yeerk refugees who have been looking for the Blade ship for the past 3 years. The leader seems to be falling for it, but says he has to check with with The One who is running things now. His image goes blurry and he seems to be suddenly spiced together with a bunch of other beings, including one that looks like Ax. A new voice emerges and he says he knows who they are and that Jake should reveal himself. He says that he has “absorbed” Ax and that they are next. Their ship clearly out-powers the Rachel, so Jake looks at Marco and asks if he’s ready for a reckless decision. He then orders them to ram the Blade ship. THE END.

Our Fearless Leader: While this is technically a book featuring all of the characters as narrators, at its core, this is a Jake book. Which is really only right and necessary, all things considered. He has had the biggest arc throughout the series, and he’s the one to come out of this all with the greatest burden. And we really see all stages of things for Jake as this book plays out.

The initial moments after Rachel’s death, you can tell that things are a bit surreal for Jake. Marco and Cassie have to pull him back into things and we see Jake’s amazing leadership on display once again when he deals with the Andalites (though Marco also has to keep pushing him through it to some extent, as the exhaustion of finally winning is also setting in).

And then afterwards…Through the other characters we see how far Jake falls. It’s an excellent portrayal of depression and PTSD, especially given how little page time is devoted to it. He withdrawn, doesn’t morph, doesn’t keep in touch with his friends. And then during the trial for Visser One, he is almost overpowered with flashbacks after being called a war criminal and mass murder himself. Even after he morphs dolphin and talks to his friends, it’s clear that the burden hasn’t been lifted. He’s again more capable of shouldering it, but it’s still there and he’s still just able to keep moving.

During the next two years, we see him settle in somewhat with the new role teaching others to morph. He also notes that writing his autobiography is helpful as he feels able to give a better voice to Rachel and Tobias, the two Animorphs that public knows little about. But the most striking thing is the notable difference that even the reader can perceive between the Jake we see throughout most of the book, and the Jake who seems to re-emerge after he’s given the mission to find Ax. Cassie and Marco both note that it’s a lifeline for Jake, to be called back to war. For all the talk about Rachel’s inability to live without it, it’s pretty clear that it was a family trait (Cassie even remarks that he has a smirk just like Rachel’s). And then it’s incredibly gratifying to see him back in his element on the Rachel making the typical, foolishly brave, quintessential Animorphs game call to ram the Blade ship.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Man, these first Rachel chapters are just as rough as I remember. Let’s face it, I think I probably cried even more this go around than as a kid. Sorry, not sorry. The parts about how she knows that this was the role she was born to play, and yet even so, she’s scared. And then when blinded how she asks Tobias for help, and he at first confuses it for help out of the situation. But then realizes that she just wants help to finish, to kill Tom before she goes out. And her last moments looking back at her friends, telling Tobias that she loves him.

The replay of the scene with the Ellimist is just as striking a second go-around. Like I said when I re-read “The Ellimist Chronicles,” I’m not sure whether kid-me put two-and-two together that it was Rachel, but on this re-read I clearly knew it was her. So the first read of that scene, it’s powerful knowing that it’s Rachel. But this one is all the stronger as it plays out immediately after this ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice. I’m can’t help it, I have to quote it again. This has to be one of the best quotes in the entire series:

“Answer this, Ellimist: Did I .. . did I make a difference? My life, and my .. . my death . . . was I worth it? Did my life really matter?”

“Yes,” he said. “You were brave. You were strong. You were good. You mattered.”

“Yeah. Okay, then. Okay, then.”

A Hawk’s Life: Probably one of my biggest critiques of this book is the lack of Tobias chapters. I think we get only one at the very end when Jake comes looking for him. This is a shame on so many fronts. The first being that Tobias arguably has the most solid collection of books in the series out of all of the characters, so there’s clearly something particularly compelling about him and his narrative. And then second, we never get to see his immediate reaction and feelings to Rachel’s death. We know he demorphs to be human when she sees him the last time and so that he can cry. We know he takes her ashes. And we know that to some extent he’s kept up with Cassie enough for her to know how to direct Jake to him. But by the time we actually hear from him, it’s been three years. It’s good stuff, but I feel like even one more chapter, perhaps set during the “one year after” section would have rounded it out a bit better.

Also, in the re-read, I caught a very dark line that I didn’t notice before. When they’re all at Rachel’s funeral, Cassie mentions looking to the sky to see if Tobias was there, noting that “if he was still alive, he’d come.” What. If he was still alive?! In one throw away line it seems to be saying that at least Cassie thought that there was a chance Tobias would return to his semi-suicidal ways and off himself after Rachel’s death. This is so, so dark. And I didn’t even notice it the first time around. But there is is. IF he was still alive.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Marco considers himself and Cassie as the two “survivors” of the war. Ax is pulled back away. Jake doesn’t seem to recover. Tobias disappears. And Rachel died. These two are the only ones who seem to thrive and find places for themselves in the world. And it doesn’t take a genius to see that Cassie’s is a more stable, healthy version of a life. She is able to use her fame to further the cause of the free Hork Bajir, the Yeerk rebels, and the Taxxons. She ties this all together with her love of animals and conservation by helping set up homes for them in Yellowstone and the rain forest. She’s healthy enough to recognize that her relationship with Jake is doomed and to move on to find a new, seemingly solid, relationship. She even goes to school to pursue her dream of being a veterinarian. All this adds up to Jake making the call for her to stay behind. She immediately offers to go with him, but also doesn’t fight him much on staying back. He notes that she is needed; that the free Hork Bajir was their only clear win and she needed to protect it.

It’s all well and good, and it makes sense. But again, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed by her role. All and all, she felt too passive in this last book. We only get a few lines about the loss of Rachel, and Cassie being her best friend, I would have liked more from her with this. And then her relationship with Jake just…fades away. I get why Jake wouldn’t call her; he’s falling apart. But Cassie, the girl who gave up the morphing cube to “save” Jake…she just lets him fade away completely? To the point that she’s asking Marco how he’s doing?? And Marco is the one who has been morphing and spying on him? It seems out of character that she would step back this far.

And, even if I just said how it makes sense for her to stay behind, a part of me still wishes that she would have went. That as an adult she would have recognized more than ever the important role that she played and  how needed she is as a member of the team to balance the others out. And, like Applegate says in her afterword, she wanted the Animorphs to go out as they came in: fighting. I wanted that for all of the Animorphs, no matter how much sense it made for Cassie to stay behind.

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up with quite a few chapters, almost serving as the primary narrator it seems after the war is over. But amidst all of the glam, cars (nice call back here, that he buys a bunch of fancy cars), TV shows, and such, it was great to finally see a return to the clever Marco of old. In the first negotiations with the Andalites, for example, he’s the one to keep pushing Jake through, knowing that if they come off as weak in this exchange, humanity will always be under the thumb of the Andalites going forward. It’s nice to see a return to his good comedic lines too:

“I guess we won, Ax.”

<Yes.>

“Shouldn’t someone be singing ‘God Bless America’?”

And as I pointed out in Cassie’s section, it is Marco who keeps an eye on Jake and works to keep up his friendship with him. Spying on Jake seems exactly up his alley. He’s also the one not to mince words when Jake finally approaches him at the end. He’s quick to tell Jake that the public has it wrong: Marco was the tactician of the group, not Jake. What Jake had going for him was his determination, bravery, and willingness to just move forward with the options he had, not second guessing himself. Marco is pretty frank about the fact that Jake’s habit now of looking back on the war and over-analyzing all of his mistakes is the trait that will get the group killed going forward.

I think Marco’s life after the war is one of the more interesting representations. On the surface, it could seem very shallow, silly, and almost like a caricature of the character. But at one point in his narrative, Marco himself says that he expects the reader is waiting for him to say his life was meaningless and he was just filling a hole with all of these superficial things. But no, he says he was happy. I think this is a good balance to Jake, Cassie, and Ax. They all show different ways of coming out of the war. And Marco’s makes sense. One of the reasons he was successful with his strategies and ruthlessness was his ability to compartmentalize things. That same trait it seems could allow him to come out of a war like this and be able to hop into a celebrity life like this and enjoy it. Everything is in its own tidy box. Though we do see, after three years, that he is at least somewhat bored, what with morphing lobster for no really good reason. And it’s not like that was a favorite morph of his or anything.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Without paging back through my book, I seem to remember only one chapter from Ax’s perspective as well, which is a shame. We don’t get anything from him immediately after Rachel’s death when he is negotiating with the Andalites or during the trial for Visser One, both of which seem like huge missed opportunities. I really liked the concept of the “challenge” and the way it played out, especially with Alloran stepping in to support them. It would have been great to get into Ax’s head during all of that. There’s a bit where they Andalites go off to confer and it seems like that would have been a perfect place to cut to Ax so that we could see some of his reflections on everything.

And then the one chapter we do get is many years later when he’s operating his own ship. It’s pretty brief even then. Though it was particularly nice to see how his experiences on Earth changed him as a commander. He regularly explains why he makes the decisions he does, something that Andalite Princes don’t do, but is clearly a reflection of his time fighting a war in a more democratic, small team where their missions were always discussed. We also see him lead the boarding mission, wanting to take a more active role in the missions he assigns.

As for the end, I’ve got to say, it doesn’t look too good for Ax. We don’t know much about The One, but I can’t imagine it’s ever a good thing to be “absorbed” into another being. Regardless of the outcome of the ship ramming, it seems like there is a fairly decent chance that poor Ax-man is out of it for good.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: For all that it’s the last book, there isn’t necessarily a lot of body horror in this book. I mean, definitely don’t think too hard about Rachel’s death and the fact that she was flushed into space (also don’t think about the odds of her body being found). It’s not so much body horror, but the fact that Arbron gets killed by poachers down in the rain forest is almost too real. Of course that’s what happened. Never underestimate the stupidity and cruelty of people. There’s a throwaway line about how maybe Arbron was relieved. And, maybe. But I really doubt that being killed by a poacher looking for bragging rights is anyone’s preferred way to go.

Couples Watch!: For me, it seemed like Jake and Cassie’s relationship was doomed ever since she gave up the blue box. There was a weird moment in Jake’s next book where he mentioned getting married after the war is over, but, to me, that read more out of character than anything at that point. Even if Jake forgave her, that moment was pivotal and not something that could be simply brushed past easily.

To go even further back though for Cassie, the writing was probably on the wall for her ever since she  went to Australia and caught herself being drawn to a nice, regular boy. Understandably, as the war became more intense, Jake became more and more singularly focused and was bearing a greater load on his shoulders than ever before. It seemed like he simply didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be there for Cassie, too. And in some ways, Cassie herself seemed to recognize this and her decision with the blue box could be read as a last, frantic attempt to save the Jake she knows she’s already losing (not just romantically, but Jake is slowly turning into a different person than the boy she had a crush on in the beginning of the series).

I won’t rehash how strange I found it that Cassie just let Jake slip away after the war ended, but I do like that they showed a healthy end to that relationship, at least for her. That Cassie knew when to let him go and move forward herself. However, she does make a mention of the challenge it must be to be the boyfriend to come after Jake, pretty much having to compete with a guy who, in the public’s eye, is a combination of George Washington and Batman.

And then there’s Tobias and Rachel. Their last moments are about as tragic as you can imagine, especially the asking for help line.

<Rachel!> Tobias cried.

<Help me, Tobias,> I pleaded.

<l can’t. . . I . . .>

He didn’t understand. <Help me get him. Help me get him!>

And the fact that Tobias morphs human so that’s the last version of him that Rachel sees and so that he can cry. And her telling him she loves him. And then he steals her urn and disappears. And man, it’s all just a lot of sadness. These two have definitely had the more stable relationship throughout the series. They seemed to “be together” much earlier than Jake and Cassie. And then that “togetherness” was pretty solid. Cassie and Jake were pretty much tip-toeing around each other the entire time. Not to get super nerdy and everything, but it’s kind of like how in “Friends” Rachel and Ross were set up as the major romance of the show. But then after season after season of drama and will they/won’t they, the Monica/Chandler relationship, with all of its solid, normalcy kind of ended up overshadowing it at the end. I think Jake and Cassie were set up to be the big romance, but in the end, I think Rachel and Tobias were. You can’t beat the tragedy, sweetness, and uniqueness of it.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: We don’t have a whole lot from our villains in this book given that, well, they all lose pretty early on. Visser One had a few good quips, but we didn’t get to hear anything from him  during his trial. I’m pretty sure I would definitely have been down for an entire book of the trial of Visser One.

Tom’s death is also pretty quick in the coming and the event itself and the after effects are, rightly, much more focused on Rachel and her death. He only really showed up as a player in the last few books, so it’s not a huge loss really. Though you do have to question his decision to morph cobra there in the last fight. Kind of opened himself up for an easy take-down. Rachel was already on her way out, why even chance it with a morph that can be killed pretty easily by an even 90% out of it grizzly bear? She didn’t even need her eye sight to pull it off! But they did talk again about the difference between the Animorphs who are familiar with their morphs and the strengths that go with that knowledge as compared to the Yeerks who still don’t have much experience, so maybe that’s all it was.

The One, again, shows up only briefly at the end. I have mixed feelings on this. As a kid, I was pretty mad through this entire book over Rachel dying so didn’t spend too much time thinking about the rest of the story. The description of The One is terrifying for sure and definitely sets up a compelling new villain. But it’s almost too good. After an entire book filled with depressing scenes about Jake’s downfall, the loss of Rachel, Tobias’s potentially suicidal depression, Cassie pretty much checking out of the story, and Marco doing his own thing, the brief few chapters at the end where they’re teamed up again are so thrilling that you’re just left kind wanting more there at the end. You build the reader right back up, and then bam, the end. And there are just so many mysteries. Who is The One? Is Ax dead? Do they survive the ramming of the ship? One mystery, sure. But that many made it more frustrating than I would have liked for the end of the series.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Wow, so the entire book? Obviously, Rachel’s death is the worst of it. I do find it kind of funny that the tag line on the cover and the book description itself is trying to be all secretive about which Animorph dies. But then you open the cover and…bam!

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Yeah, not too subtle there. Plus, anyone who had read the previous book knew which one it would be. Anyone who read “The Ellimist Chronicles” and Megamorphs #4 closely knew who it would be.

Obviously, the one line about Tobias being potentially suicidal again is pretty bad. Marco and Cassie both address why this loss was so much worse for him than anyone else. Marco says:

I knew why Jake had sent Rachel to Tom. I agreed with his thinking. But then, I wasn’t in love with Rachel. I wasn’t some lonely kid trapped in a hawk’s body, half in one world, half in another with only Rachel’s love tying me to my humanity.

And Cassie says to Jake when he’s asking to find Tobias:

“He doesn’t hate you, Jake. He never did. His heart was broken, that’s all. And you know, Tobias never had anyone. No one before Rachel. No mother, really, no father he could ever know. Rachel was the first and only person who ever loved Tobias.”

When you really think about Tobias’s story over all, there’s really no competing for sadness. He had it the worst before. He had it the worst during. And he has it the worst in the end, losing the one person who grounded him and spiraling so far down that, while he doesn’t kill himself, he retreats completely from humanity, essentially killing his human side in the process. Those three years couldn’t have been good. The one strange thing about this is the lack of any mention of his mother, Loren. I can see how since the relationship is so new and Tobias isn’t one to form bonds quickly or easily, he might still have retreated from humanity. But I find it surprising that there’s no talk from Cassie of Loren trying to find Tobias and bring him back from the brink.

And Jake’s entire arc is sad, too. Even at the end, both Cassie and Marco don’t see his return to action as a good sign. Cassie notes that Jake seems almost like Rachel, which from Cassie’s perspective isn’t a good thing as she always worried that Rachel needed the war too much. And here, it’s like Jake, too, has gotten back his drug of choice. Marco, too, sees the problems with Jake’s renewed energy and knows that Jake will try to use this new fight as a way to correct the mistakes he sees in the past. But Marco knows that this return to action will just be more of the same, the same burdens falling on Jake’s shoulders, the same impossible decisions with no “right” answers.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, not to undermine what Rachel did and all…but what exactly was the plan here? I get that Erek kind of threw a wrench in things by depowering the dracon cannons, but it seemed like a lot of fuss was already made about how the Pool ship couldn’t really stand up to a major fighter like the Blade ship. So, was Rachel somehow supposed to take out Tom and destroy the ship? Were they hoping that the loss of Tom would make the rest of the Yeerks aboard suddenly surrender? It’s clear that things didn’t go to plan, but I’m not sure really what that plan even was. Jake knew the cannons had been depowered before telling Rachel to go for it and reveal herself. Were they just going to blow it up with her in it as Plan A? And then Plan B was a single Animorph somehow taking out the entire Blade ship from within? Tom was a factor, for sure, but either Jake had built him up into more than he was and expected the others to wilt under the loss of their leader, or it was really just personal, at the heart of things, and there wasn’t really a solid plan behind any of it.

On this re-read, I do really like the plan to ram the ship at the end. It ties in perfectly with that pretty major speech Marco gave Jake about why the Animorphs won the war and why Jake succeeded as a leader. And then there is a nice symmetry to Elfangor ramming ships and the fact that there is a precedent for characters surviving maneuvers like this, so readers aren’t left to assume that they all just died. We’ve been hearing about how indestructible cockroach morphs are for about 50 books…just saying.

Favorite Quote: There are a ton of really great quotes. It was hard not to just pepper them all throughout the review, and I still ended up including a bunch. But I think the one I want to highlight is this one:

The six of us stood there contemplating our dangerous-looking new home, set against the sunrise over Earth.

“So what do we call her?” Marco wondered.

<She’s beautiful,> Tobias said. <She’s beautiful and dangerous and exciting.>

I turned in surprise to look at Tobias. He stared back at me with his eternally fierce hawk’s gaze. Marco laughed, realizing what we were thinking.

“She would love it. A scary, deadly, cool looking Yeerk ship on a doomed, suicidal, crazy mission that no one can ever know about? She would love it.”

So it was that we went aboard the Rachel.

Scorecard: Yeerks 16, Animorphs 21

Obviously the Animorphs win this one. But I think the bigger win in this book isn’t so much the destruction of the Yeerks (that was pretty well covered in the last book), but the way that Jake and the rest set up humanity as a equal voice on the intergalactic playing board. The negotiation scene with the Andalites was crucial and the fact that a bunch of traumatized teens were able to manage it and put Earth in a strong position is pretty impressive. Jake notes that had that not gone well, humans could have very well ended up as second class citizens on their own planet.

This is the final score of the series. The Animorphs win, but the Yeerks held their own pretty well, too. (No reason to point out the fact that they may have won some of these points based more on my irritation at the idiocy of the Animorphs than on them actually winning a battle in a particular book.)

Rating: Well, we made it. 54 regular books, 4 megamorphs, 4 chronicles. I’m pretty sure if I did a word count for these reviews, I would find that I have written a literal novel about this series over the last 2 years or so. But what a blast it’s been! I found out that some of the opinions I held as a child remained the same. And some changed.

Things that stayed the same include my eternal love for Rachel and Tobias, as separate characters and as a couple. My struggles with Cassie as a character and several of her books and decisions. The fact that the series had a definite trough in the last third of the series, with a few notable exceptions. And that I cried way more often than is appropriate for a middle grade series.

Things that changed included my deeper appreciation for Marco as a character. I always thought of him as the funny guy, but failed to remember how supremely clever and with it he was. Of them all, in this read I think I identified with his approach to the war the most.

While most of my opinions on Cassie stayed the same, there were definite books and moments for her that I had forgotten were so good and important. So she’s now a mixed bag character for me.

My appreciation for the war story at its heart and the deep, sympathetic, and really tough to read look at the experiences of soldiers fighting a war day in and day out and what life can be like when that war ends.

 I still really wish Rachel had lived, just because she was one of my favorite characters and no one likes it when their favorite character dies. But I can now appreciate the huge impact her death has on the reality of the story.

And, most of all, my appreciation for the way the book ended. I was really pissed about that as a kid. While I wish there weren’t quite as many threads dangling there, I think it was an awesome way to tie things up, ultimately. There’s also plenty of evidence to make you think they live through it to fight another day. You have the fact that major characters have done the same thing in the past and lived through it, so the author has set the stage for that ending. And then the fact that in this very book Marco talks about how they won by not hesitating and making crazy decisions like this. Jake’s order to ram the ship is a triumphant return to the Animorphs who win and the Animorphs who live.

I really loved reviewing this series and I’m not sure what I will use to fill the hole in my reading that will now open up (not to mention the blog itself…) now that they’re gone. I’m so appreciative of those who have read along and still love talking about this series, twenty years later. Thanks for coming along on this journey! Also, if you have some “read alike” suggestions, leave them in the comments. That ending, while cool, definitely left me craving more!

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

Serena’s Review: “Tidelands”

43260625Book: “Tidelands” by Philippa Gregory

Publication Info: Simon & Schuster, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the publisher

Book Description: England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .

Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast. 

Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbours. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

Review: Philippa Gregory was probably one of the authors I associate most strongly with my first experiences reading historical fiction as a teenager. With a few exceptions, up to that point I read fantasy/sci-fi and really that was it. But I whizzed through “The Other Boleyn Girl” and was hooked on a new genre from there on out. I read a good number of Gregory’s works over the years, and enjoyed many them. However, after a bit, I was ready to move on from her tried and true political, royal scheming stories that were starting to feel a bit stale to me. So I was excited when I heard about “Tidelands” and saw that we would be getting something outside of that wheelhouse with a story about a poor widow who comes under suspicion as a witch.

Alinor is a woman between worlds. Her husband is missing, so she is not a widow. So she’s still a wife but one without a provider, left to live independently with all of the challenges that come with it, but none of the securities that come with being a widow (mostly having to do with a woman’s honor and all of that fun stuff). But her and her children’s lives change when she runs across a priest attempting to find safety out on the ever-changing and dangerous tidelands. New opportunities are now opening before her, but with these changes come new dangers, and the watchful and suspicious eyes of neighbors are always watching.

It was nice to return to a historical fiction novel that wasn’t also a mystery. Looking back over what I’ve read the last year or so, almost all of my historical reading has been a combination of the two genres. Gregory has always impressed with her detailed descriptions of life in the time period in which her stories take place and the historical accuracy of the political and cultural experiences of those living then. This book in particular delved into the brewing tensions between the new church and the old, the new king and the old. I didn’t know a whole lot about the parties and beliefs at play here, but I enjoyed learning more about it throughout this novel. I especially enjoyed the way that Gregory approached it through Alinor’s eyes, as a common woman who has lived an isolated life away from much of the drama that is gripping the nation.

But with these details also comes a fairly slowly moving plot. The story takes a long time to get going and, thinking back on it, I’m not sure it ever even did, other than a very brief section near the end. Much of it revolves around Alinor’s romantic plot line, and even that moved at a fairly glacial speed. Once I accepted that that was what the story would be, I was better able to settle in, being now less focused on desperately trying to locate a plot. But even then, the story felt out of balance. It’s one thing to not have a strong plot in favor of focusing on characters and their relationships, but I was also never strongly attached to any of those either.

I also had hoped for a bit more from the fantastical elements teased in the description. I wasn’t expecting a fantasy, of course, but I had hoped for more on the witch front. Again, it took a long time to get there, and then it felt pretty rushed. The ending itself seemed to come out of nowhere and just kind of…end. It wrapped up in only a few pages, leaving several subplots unexplained and with an abrupt shift in characters’ lives, with little build up or exploration provided. This is the first in a series, so there’s room to expand on these things from here. But even with a series, each book should feel self-contained and have a natural beginning, middle, and end. Here, the end felt slapped on because the book needed to end, nothing more.

Overall, this was a bit of a lackluster read for me. While I liked many of Gregory’s early books, this one reminded me why I had stopped keeping up with her works. There is nothing technically wrong with it, but the story never grabbed me, the characters were not especially likable, and I felt like the historical details, while accurate and reflective of Gregory’s strong research, overwhelmed what little story there was left. Fans of her later work may very well enjoy this book, but it wasn’t really for me, sadly.

Rating 6: A bit too slow, a bit too detailed, and a bit off the mark at the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tidelands” is a new book so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Witch Hunts in Historical Fiction.”

Find “Tidelands” at your library using WorldCat!