Serena’s Review: “Honor Among Thieves”

30129657Book: “Honor Among Thieves” by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegen Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it

Book Description: Petty criminal Zara Cole has a painful past that’s made her stronger than most, which is why she chose life in New Detroit instead of moving with her family to Mars. In her eyes, living inside a dome isn’t much better than a prison cell.

Still, when Zara commits a crime that has her running scared, jail might be exactly where she’s headed. Instead Zara is recruited into the Honors, an elite team of humans selected by the Leviathan—a race of sentient alien ships—to explore the outer reaches of the universe as their passengers.

Zara seizes the chance to flee Earth’s dangers, but when she meets Nadim, the alien ship she’s assigned, Zara starts to feel at home for the first time. But nothing could have prepared her for the dark, ominous truths that lurk behind the alluring glitter of starlight.

Review: It’s been way too long since I’ve reviewed a sci fi novel on this blog. While I love the fact that YA fantasy fiction is booming, it does make me sad that sci fi fiction seems to have been left on the sidelines for the most part. I mean, you can have just as much fun in space as you can riding around on a horse with a sword! Arguably, more. I’ve also read a few of Rachel Caine’s books in the past, and the book description for this one, of a teenage girl forming a connection with a sentient ship/alien, sounded right up my alley!

So this book was a bit of a roller coaster for me. There were things that I really enjoyed. Things that I wasn’t expecting at all that I quite liked. And other things that kind of knocked me out of the story with too many questions about plausibility and the pacing of the plot.

To start with the things I really liked: the characters. Zara is a great leading lady and the authors walk the line fairly well in keeping with the hardness that has made up her life on the street, the trauma that still exists from her childhood, while also making her sympathetic, and more importantly, believable. Her harshness is well-grounded in past events, and as the story progresses and she forms a connection with Nadim and her fellow shipmate Beatriz, we see her not only begin to open up to those around her but begin to question her own understanding of friendship and loyalty and how damaged some of her past relationships really were.

Nadim was everything I could have wanted from a sentient ship/alien. He was sufficiently “other,” with his own biological quirks and distance from human concepts of gender and other social norms. As the story unfolds, we begin to unravel the mysteries of his species and see in what ways Nadim stands out from the other Leviathan. While his relationship with Zara and Beatriz are at the core of the story, we also see glimpses into the role he plays among his own people and social hierarchies that exist there. I particularly enjoyed the parallels between the Leviathan and whales, especially their unique relationship to sound and music.

Beatriz took me completely by surprise. As you can see in the book description, there is no indication that this isn’t just a Zara/Nadim story. Instead, the Honors program is set up to send two cadets into space with their own Leviathan, and Beatriz is Zara’s crew mate. We all know how much I love sisterhood/girl friendship stories, so I was thrilled when I realized that’s what was being set up here. What’s more, Beatriz is an excellent contrast to Zara. Originally, she struggles much more with the vastness of space and the otherness of Nadim. But she also brings unique strengths to the crew with her abilities as a pilot and masterful singing voice. What made this all the more interesting was the idea that while Zara and Nadim have a special connection, it is by no means the only connection that matters. Beatriz, too, is just as much a needed and valued member of this team. It really is more of a three-way relationship than a traditional romance, with each pairing having their own specific connections to each other.

My struggles with this book had a lot to do with the first third of the story. The pacing seemed off for much of the beginning, with Zara rushing through several different set pieces and action scenes before finally landing herself with Nadim. We have her on the streets! Then she’s caught! Now she’s in a facility! Now she’s famous! Finally out to space! It all zips by in only a few chapters. I get that the authors wanted to get to the good stuff, but the story might have been served better had these things been told in flash backs. As it stands, I felt off balance for the entire first third and had a hard time really connecting to the characters and the story because it was too busy jumping from one thing to another.

My other criticism also comes from this first bit and it’s a straight out plausibility issue. Again, I get that the authors wanted to get Zara to the ship as fast as possible and for her to go through most of her character growth through her experiences there. However, the way it is set up, we’re supposed to believe that all training and preparation for the Honors takes place over a single week. And that somehow, after that, they’re ready to go out on a year-long mission and manage complicated scientific and mathematical equations during their work. The way the Honors are chosen makes this even worse. It’s not like they’re coming from a pool of candidates who have all had rigorous training up to this point and could theoretically be made ready with a short turn around. No, this is just a random draw from the entire population and Zara herself has been living on the streets for years, with no education to speak of.

I would always have a problem with this set up, and it’s just made worse by the story its serving. I LIKED the science and action in this book. It’s a true science fiction story with discussions of the equations needed to pilot in space, the knowledge of natural science needed to explore new planets, and the machinery skills necessary to maintain a ship. But with each moment when these skills were necessary for their survival or the completion of a task, I was reminded of how impossible it would be for Zara and Beatriz to have learned any of this in only one week. So each time it came up, I was thrown out of the book. Again, maybe flashbacks to a longer training time period would have helped this. All I really needed was something saying that, say, even 6 months went by with blah blah boring training blah. Great! Now I can buy it! But as it stands, I had a real problem with it.

But those things aside, I still very much enjoyed this book. It reminded me of how awesome books in space can be, and it fully capitalized on the concept of a living spaceship forming a connection to its pilots. The action was suspenseful and varied, and the mysteries about the Leviathan that were answered and that still remain are enough to keep me reading. Plus, one can hope that now that we’re through the first book, in a second outing, I’d have less problems with their skill sets since maybe they just picked things up what with their time on the ship. If you like science fiction and are able to turn your brain off a bit, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 7: Plausibility issues aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of teenagers in space with a living ship!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Honor Among Thieves” is a newer title, so isn’t on many relevant Goodrads lists, but it is on  “Teenagers . . . IN SPACE!”

Find “Honor Among Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Onyx and Ivory”

34739766Book: “Onyx and Ivory” by Mindee Arnett

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life.

With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.

Review: This is another book that I requested primarily based on the beautiful cover art. Another win for the “no models on covers” team! I was also intrigued by the dueling narratives, though I think I generally tend to be a reader who prefers only one POV. But, if done right, I’ve loved alternating narrators in the past, and I was hopeful for this one. Plus, I’m always there for any fantasy story that involves animal magic!

Kate is living a life in hiding. After her father was executed for attempting to murder his good friend, the king, Kate’s life fell to pieces. Where once she had a best friend and burgeoning love in Prince Corwin, now she has only estrangement and bitterness at his failure to stand up for her and her father. Her cozy life working alongside her father in the palace stables has turned to one fraught with danger and hard work as she tries to support herself as a mail carrier in a land full of dangerous beasts that kill any out after dark. All of this while she tried to hide her magical ability to influence animals from the inquisitionists roaming the realm looking to round up and dispose of those like her.

Corwin’s life, too, is not what he once believed it would be. After years in self-imposed exile, he has returned to a country that doesn’t seem to need him, being well run by his brother in his ailing father’s place. But when strange attacks begin to happen in daylight, Corwin and Kate find there paths crossing again, as they both strive against dark forces at work in the kingdom.

Both Kate and Corwin were strong narrators with compelling arcs of their own, plus the storyline of their re-building relationship. Kate’s magic was intriguing and throughout the story, we learn alongside her what she is truly capable of. What’s more, her story is an interesting take on persecution and privilege. Up to this point, Kate has been comfortable enough hiding her magic. She has believed the stories she has been told about the dangers of her magic and that of others like her. So, while she lives in fear of being caught, she hasn’t had to truly confront what life is like for those who didn’t grow up in a palace, free from suspicion primarily because of position. Throughout the story, Kate witnesses the harsh realities of what this type of persecution, based on nothing more than fear, is like for those who have not had this type of shield. Once she is thrown back into life alongside those in power, she begins to see that her role can no longer be that of a passive player, content to use her powers in secret and live a quiet life.

Corwin’s story is fraught with insecurity and doubt. His self-esteem and self-respect have been poisoned by regret over his lost relationship with Kate and his perceived failures of her and of his country. The story introduces an intriguing concept with a sort of test that historically has been signaled by the arrival of a two-toned animal. This test determines which heir will inherit the throne. In his early 20s, the time is well past when this sign should have arrived and Corwin sees this as confirmation of his own failures. When the sign finally does arrive, Corwin must learn to accept his own strengths and make his own choices.

I also very much enjoyed the romance between these two characters. This isn’t first love, as that happened earlier in each of their lives only to be cut short by the trauma of Kate’s father’s betrayal of Corwin’s father. So when they are forced back to each other, their is doubt, hurt, and betrayal that must be dealt with. Beyond this is the understanding that Kate, the daughter of a traitor, will never be considered a worthy consort for a would-be king. What’s more, they each have secrets: Kate’s own magic, which she fears to reveal to Corwin whose own mother was killed by an out-of-control magic wielder; and Corwin’s lost years which clearly added to the self-doubt he feels with regards to himself.

The world-building and magic system were fairly standard, but I didn’t really see this as a down side. I very much enjoyed the magical creatures who descriptions were terrifying and whose presence and limitations based on day and night clearly shaped much of what goes on in this kingdom. I particularly liked the magical system set up for the process of inheritance. It was a unique concept and the trials themselves were exciting. The villain was also quite good. There were numerous red herrings and the motivations and methods of said villain were also a good reveal.

Overall, I had a blast reading this book. I was able to slip quickly and easily into this world. I cared about both Kate and Corwin’s stories separately, and was invested in their relationship as a couple. My only criticism comes with the ending. There’s this great battle scene full of magic, fighting, and sufficient stakes, and then it kind of just…ends. I was reading an ebook version, so maybe I was just caught by surprise more than I would have been had it been a physical book, but things did feel as if they got wrapped up fairly quickly. I’m also assuming there is going to be a sequel, though I haven’t seem mention of that anywhere! All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a fairly standard fantasy, but the strength of its two narrators and the solid romance kicked it up pretty high on my own personal rating scale.

Rating 9: Two main characters whom you can’t help but root for!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Onyx and Ivory” is a new title, so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Multiple POV Fantasy Books.”

Find “Onyx and Ivory” at your library using WorldCat!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #3 “Elfangor’s Secret”

363419Megamorphs #3: “Elfangor’s Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs are given the power to pursue eighteen-year-old Henry– a human Controller who has discovered Elfangor’s Time Matrix–through time, but one Animorph must pay for this power with his life.

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: What I remembered from this book:

  1. Tobias/Rachel kiss
  2. buc1lidogce01

The story starts out in the barn with our favorite team. But wait, is it our favorite team? Rachel’s not there, and instead Melissa is a member of the team. Jake is a burgeoning sociopath who is a hair’s breath away from turning in Cassie for being sympathetic towards her…slaves? And Ax’s opinion’s don’t matter. He’s just some dirty alien, anyways. The entire unpleasant scene is suddenly interrupted by the Drode. Everyone is back to themselves, and Rachel is once again there (turns out that in the other timeline she had been sent to some type of reform camp for being too aggressive for a woman). The Drode informs them that what they just experienced was the result of a Controller, specifically Visser Four, getting his hands on the Time Matrix that was discovered at the old construction site where they all met Elfangor. Crayak and Elfangor have once again struck a sort of deal with the Animorphs at the heart of it. They will be given a special connection to the Time Matrix that will allow them to time jump with Visser Four to try and re-capture it from him and undo his changes to history. But there’s a price: the life of one of the Animorphs.

Cassie and Marco know who the most likely casualty will be: Jake, with whom Crayak has a particular beef. But, at the same time, letting the future they so briefly experienced go forward is unacceptable. They vow to protect Jake, and the team agrees to the mission and terms. And so the time jumping commences!

Agincourt: The team find themselves in what seems like the middle ages, between two armies (French and English) that are about to go at it with horses, spears, and bows and arrows. Rachel and Cassie almost get taken out by an errant knight before they all manage to reconvene. From there, they begin looking for Visser Four. They realize that the best way to spot him will be to look for someone who is NOT covered in fleas and has terrible teeth. They finally do, just as the two armies collide. He’s in a tree aiming an arrow at the English king. Tobias manages to snag it out of the air. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie almost gets trampled in the fighting, but horse!Jake and HorkBajir!Tobias rescue them in the nick of time. Ax almost catches Visser Four and the Time Matrix in a local bell tower, but he manages to jump at the last minute.

Delaware River: It’s night, it’s cold, and it’s raining. And George Washington and co. are about to cross the Delaware. In human form, Marco and Jake end up on a boat alongside him when it all goes wrong. Visser Four had already warned the Hessians on the other side that they were coming, and a volley of bullets sprays across the boats. Jake falls, a bullet hole in his head. The team panics. Marco tries to hold onto Jake, but he falls into the river. Dolphin!Cassie tries to collect his body. Rachel insists that Ax attack the Hessians for killing Jake.  In the chaos, they all jump again.

Battle of Trafalgar: The team is on a ship. They’re all still reeling from the loss of Jake and trying to find their way. Dolphin!Cassie gives up hope and heads out to sea. Marco and Ax fight their way up from the brig. Up above, Tobias and Rachel spot Visser Four. Chimp!Rachel follows him up onto the crow’s next, but just then canons begin firing. Rachel falls, blown in half by a canon ball. Back below decks, Marco and Ax almost nab the Time Matrix again, but just miss as Visser Four sets an explosion that blows up the ship. Another jump.

Princeton: Cassie and Tobias find themselves on what appears to be the campus of Princeton. But the American flag is not flying. Washington was killed crossing the Delaware, and America doesn’t exist. Cassie is done with all the death, morphs polar bear, and lays the smack down on a passing college student when he expresses some racist opinions. Suddenly, Marco and Rachel (!) show up. The team realize that the rules of this mission were that one, and only one, of the Animorphs would die. Are they all now invulnerable? They wring more news out of the terrified student and realize that Visser Four was likely here to kill Einstein. But history has already changed so much that he miscalculated. Einstein isn’t even here. The team realizes that their plans  need to change.  History has already been too damaged by Visser Four. They need to get back the Time Matrix for themselves, change history back, maybe even get back Jake. Time jump!

D-Day: Several of the Animorphs experience the unique horror of charging the beaches and seeing hundreds of soldiers gunned down. Ax is particularly horrified by the violence. In small morphs, they are able to escape the rain of bullets. As birds from above, they see a line of tanks making their way towards the beaches. They realize that the French are on the side of the Germans, yet more proof that the timeline has been changed in crazy ways. In an attempt to get at Visser Four, HorkBajir!Tobias gets shot in the chest, but miraculously just stands right back up, confirming their theory that they can’t die. Eagle!Rachel takes out a tank with a hand grenade, but afterwards, realizing that so much is different, has a panic attack after realizing that it is no longer clear who the bad guys are. In this timeline, Hitler is just an old man driving a truck. They manage to finally nab Visser Four and the Time Matrix, but the host body is too injured to survive for long. The Yeerk makes a break for it, but Marco manages to grab it. None of them want to be the one to kill it, so Marco takes one for the team and throws the Yeerk into the fire that was the tank. With the Time Matrix now in their hands, they debate what to do. Cassie is the one to come up with the solution: she asks the man whom Visser Four had Controlled where his parents met.

The 60s: They then time travel to that point to break up the meeting, figuring that if his parents never met, then he would never exist and Visser Four would never Control him and discover the Time Matrix. While they are waiting, they discuss the horrors that they saw and that at every point in history they visited, people were senselessly killing each other. They debate whether or not they could do more to change the world, making it a more peaceful place. While they are talking, several hippies wander by and are impressed by the Time Matrix itself. Suddenly, they are back in the barn.

They realize that one of the hippies admiring the Time Matrix had been the would-be mother and that her distraction had resulted in her missing meeting the would-be father. What’s more, Jake is back, alive and well, not remembering anything after their attempted crossing of the Delaware. The world may not be better, but it seems that at least things are back to the way they were.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake gets the short straw as he is out of the story fairly early on and misses much of the action. We have some good leadership moments from him, particularly during their first time jump when Cassie, Rachel, and Marco are in the middle of the battlefield about to be trampled at any moment. Tobias is going crazy with worry about Rachel, not wanting to focus on Visser Four at all, and just go in after her. Jake reminds him that Cassie is down there too, but that just wildly going after them will not get them anywhere. His calm, even in the midst of crisis, is really highlighted.

While I like the tie-in to Jake and Crayak’s particular beef when it comes to the likelihood that Jake will be the one to die, it also lowers the stakes quite a bit. There are a few of the Animorphs who, theoretically, we might have bought as actually being killed off in this book. Rachel or Tobias are probably the most likely candidates. But with Jake, there’s never any question that he’ll be back somehow.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is at her reckless/brave best (worst?) in this book. In their very first jump, she and Cassie end up in a tight spot with a few knights when Rachel’s go-to response of morphing elephant doesn’t turn out so well. Though I did, as always, love the Cassie/Rachel scene!

<See, Ax? Told you it was Rachel. Any time you hear a bunch of screaming and see people running, you’re going to find our girl Rachel somewhere close by.> [Tobias]
“Very funny,” Rachel said. ” They started it. Cassie: Tell them who started it!”

Later, she has a really cool scene taking out the tank with the hand grenade, though it is questionable later whether this was necessary. Mostly, she was just gungho to take out Nazis. But once she realizes that the French were teamed up with Germany in this timeline, she begins to understand that she doesn’t know whether they were the enemy or not in this scenario. It’s a really small scene, but it does highlight Rachel’s own knowledge and fear of her recklessness. She’s scared by herself in this way.

But, as I’ve pointed out in the past, she’s also, again, the first one to go into danger to try to save one of the others. This time, she’s the first to try to save Marco when he gets stuck in the middle of the battlefield in the first jump.

A Hawk’s Life: This whole book is a perfect example of why Tobias should use his Hork Bajir morph more often. He uses it to great success multiple times within this book. It doesn’t hurt that the clearly alien morph is sure to freak out any nearby people, thus clearly the way quite effectively without having to even do anything.

He also has another impressive hawk moment when he catches the arrow that Visser Four is shooting straight out of midair.

Tobias is also particularly vehement about taking out Hitler in the D-Day jump. Cassie tries to talk him down, pointing out that they don’t know who he has become in this new version of reality, but through a series of events, HorkBajir!Tobias does end up killing him, rather accidentally. As everything gets undone, it doesn’t matter one way or the other, but now Tobias can brag that he did in fact kill Hitler at one point.

tumblr_inline_oh0uyq9du11s7x432_500
Tobias and Dean Winchester, getting it done.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie gets a lot of chapters in this book. As I discuss in Marco’s section, she and Marco have a unspoken plan to protect Jake. When they don’t succeed, Cassie succumbs to a moment of weakness and tries to flee out into the ocean in dolphin morph. Obviously this doesn’t work out, and she finds herself tugged along in the next jump anyways. It’s also nice to see her get mad and take things into her own hands when it comes to dealing with the racist guy in the Princeton jump.

She’s also the one to come up with the plan for out to set things right in the end. She’s not outright “killing” anyone, but her plan does result in the end, or more like, lack of existence, of a man’s life.

The Comic Relief: This is one of the first books where we’ve really seen a strong connection between Cassie and Marco. In the very beginning, when the Drode is laying out the situation, Marco is resistant to agreeing. It doesn’t take long for Cassie to realize why and for the two of them to come to an unspoken agreement about not letting Crayak take Jake. It’s nice seeing them both recognize the special relationship they each have with Jake. Rachel, too, has a close connection with him, but, as we’ve seen, she and Jake have a bit more of a fraught relationship than the BFF relationship that Marco has or the quasi-dating relationship of Cassie.

It’s also worth highlighting that Marco is the one to ultimately kill Visser Four. He tries to pass it off as a casual thing, but this is only marginally successful. But it does show that he is also willing to shoulder the burden when it is clear no one else is capable of it. Given their ultimate plan, though, I don’t know why this was so much of a concern. They change the timeline for the man he was Controlling, but it seems as if the Yeerk Visser Four would be alive and well back in their new timeline, so his “death” here is rather meaningless.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: After the Hessians shoot Jake, Rachel orders Ax to take them out. He tries to argue that they are innocent (at least of meaning to take out Jake specifically), but in the end, he goes for it. Throughout the rest of the story, we see this decision continue to haunt him.

On the beaches on D-day, he has a similar moment to Cassie’s where he thinks to just flee. He is horrified by the violence all around him, and struggles again to understand the duplicity of humanity, that people like his friends can exist yet throughout history humans just seem to kill each other. He is even more horrified when he learns the reasons for this particular war and what happened to the Jews.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There’s so much actual action taking place in this one, that we get a lot fewer descriptions of disgusting morphs. That said, this has to be one of the most violent books we’ve seen, made worse that it is drawing from history. Rachel’s death is probably the most gruesome. Her chimp body is literally blown in two and as she falls, she sees the remaining half of her own body still hanging from the ship’s masts. Then we switch perspectives to Tobias and get to have even more lovely descriptions of her blown apart body.

Couples Watch!: As I said, one of my big memories of this one was the Tobias/Rachel kiss. Once again they are blowing Cassie/Jake out of the water as far as relationship goals go. Tobias thought she was dead for like fifteen minutes, but the minute he sees her, he runs to her and kisses her. Cassie thinks Jake is dead for quite a long time, but when he shows back up in the barn, everyone’s kind of like “Oh, hey there!’ and Cassie casually kisses him on the cheek while talking about the philosophy of time and humanity. Romantic it is not. Seriously, what is with these two??

“Whoa,   Cassie!   That   is   so   Rachel,”   Marco   said. [Cassie in polar bear morph threatening the Princeton guy].   I   recognized   the   voice immediately. He’d come up behind us.

“Really,” Rachel said. “What are you doing? Stealing my act?”

“Rachel!”  Tobias  yelped.  And  a  millisecond  later  he  had  spun  around, grabbed her, and kissed her. Then he held her back at arm’s length.”You’re dead!”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Four is obviously the big bad in this. But we never really get to know much about him. Throughout the book he’s seen more as a distant figure that they are chasing, and the few interactions they have with him are pretty typical Yeerk boasting.

“So. The Andalites pursue me still,” he sneered. “I was careless. I did not expect to be pursued. But I’ll be careful now. Yes. And you know what? It’s better this way. I have the power now! I have the POWER!”

More telling, when John Barryman is finally freed from the Yeerk, he is astonished and amazed that they are all just kids. He mentions how much the Animorphs are driving the Yeerks, and especially Visser Three, absolutely crazy trying to catch them. He tells them they’re heroes. Probably something they needed to hear about now.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Ax’s complete bewilderment and horror at the violence throughout human history really struck home. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene on the beaches when he witness a man get shot, and then sees a army doctor run up to try and help him and the doctor is shot too. All while trying to help a solder whose injuries were to dire to begin with.

Jake’s death, while not really worrying as something that will stick, is made more poignant because of Cassie and Marco’s silent agreement to protect him and how suddenly and completely they failed. In many of the other books, we see them get horrific injuries and then slowly start dying but have the time still to morph out to save themselves. Here, Jake is shot in the head. He’s dies in a second and there was absolutely nothing Cassie or Marco could have done about it. It really hits home how dangerous the war with the Yeerks is. This same thing could happen at any moment in their ongoing war, and the others would be equally helpless to stop it, and wouldn’t have a convenient time loop hole to get them out of it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Really, the fact that they were even for a second discussing messing around with the Time Matrix more than just trying to set things right. They’ve already seen how even the smallest changes have had huge repercussions on the world. How could they ever think they could figure out this impossible puzzle in a way that wouldn’t be disastrous somehow? And it’s not like this is even their first experience with time travel! In the last megamorphs book with the dinosaurs, they saw how fragile the balance was for things to need to happen in a very specific way to get to the world they knew. Plus, you have to assume that any further messing around with time would have been put to a quick stop by either (or both!) Crayak or the Ellimist.

Favorite Quote:

There’s quite a bit of dark stuff and deep, timey-wimey musings, but, as always, Marco quips win the day:

“Oh, man, the colors, man!” A “hippie” had come up to admire the Time Matrix’s shimmering globe.

“Right, the colors, whoa! Cool! Go away. We’re trying to figure out the space-time continuum here,” Marco snapped.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

I’m not going to change the score for this one. Like the other megamorphs books, this one kind of exists on the sidelines of the main plot, so there aren’t any long-lasting repercussions from their success here.

Rating: I still really enjoyed this one. I forgot about Marco and Cassie’s mini alliance, and all the details of the historical time periods they visited. I had completely forgotten how this book started out, just dropping readers into the other timeline. I was pretty confused at first since I know the last megamorphs deals with an alternate reality and I started questioning whether I had somehow gotten the order mixed up and that was this one. And, of course, I’m going to love any book with good Tobias/Rachel moments!

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!

Serena’s Review: “Song of the Current”

31450960Book: “Song of the Current” by Sarah Tolcser

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury Children’s, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the publisher!

Book Description: Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.

Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.

Review: First off, a bit thanks to the publisher for sending this my way! Just in time for us all to gear up for the second in the series, “Whisper of the Tide,” to come out this June. And this was a super solid outing for a new fantasy series, so count me as on board that excitement train!

So I was one of those kids who went to summer camp. During middle school I just went to the regular camp, but then I discovered the magnificence of “themed” camps also offered through the sane organization. Specifically, sailing camp. It was a week long camp where a bunch of high schoolers and a few counselors pretty much sailed around this massive lake in northern Idaho and camped overnight at various places. So…yeah…I’m pretty much a sailing expert. Ha! Not all. But this little jaunt into memory lane is one of the reasons that I loved this book.

We’ve all read a million and one epic fantasies with dragons and magical powers A few trillion fairy tale retellings. And as much as I love both of those, it’s always nice to find a new take on the genre, and that’s what we get here. Not only does the majority of the story take place on the water, be it rivers or the ocean, but the main character’s entire life and that of her family revolves around living on and operating ships. What’s more, it is a crucial aspect of the magic system, the economy of the world, and its belief system.

I loved that the author went all in on this concept. She doesn’t hesitate to devote a decent amount of time describing ships and the skills necessary to successfully navigate them. I had a lot of fun picking out the few bits of knowledge I recognized, and it was interesting to learn even more. This may read as a bit dull to some readers, but I think if you know what you’re going to get and have an interest in sailing and ships, this sharp focus will be appreciated.

But the world-building goes beyond just detailed ship knowledge. As I said, the politics and economics of this world revolve in one way or another around the waterways. Caro’s path through this adventure is tied to the different parties involved who have an interest in what goes on out on the water. Caro’s mother and father both come from very different worlds, and I loved the very different outlook they both brought to what it means to love the water and the ships on it.

Caro, herself, was an excellent protagonist. It’s clear from the beginning that she is a skilled sailor, and as she moves through the story, she gains even more confidence in this area, all while still trying to find her exact role in this world. She’s pulled between the two opposite forces of her parents, and also is starting to suspect that she may be something altogether different than either of them would suspect. Here, the magic system was particularly interesting, including a very unique river god.

The other major player is Markos,  a young man full of arrogance and swagger, and whose lot gets thrown in with Caro’s, much to her initial displeasure. This was a perfect example of one of my much loved romances: the dislike changing to love arc. But it’s also a tough one to pull off, with many authors succeeding a bit too well at the “dislike” portion, so much so that they can’t justify the love to follow. Here, Markos’s vanity and incompetence are humorous. And while it’s easy to see why he gets under Caro’s skin, as a reader, I was just having blast reading about his foibles. And, as Caro gets to know him better, he has clear strengths, such as an unbreakable love for his family and some pretty stellar sword skills.

For me, the unique world-building and the spot-on characterization of Caro and Markos are what truly sold me on the story. It does focus quite a bit on the sailing aspect of things, so if you have zero interest in ships and how they work, this might be a struggle. But for everyone else, jump on board!

Rating 8: This book was a romp, a fast-moving adventure full of ships, magic, and high stakes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Song of the Current” is on these Goodreads lists: “Teen Pirate Books” and “Mixed Race MG, YA.”

Find “Song of the Current” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Furyborn”

34323570Book: “Furyborn” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley and BookishFirst

Book Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

Review: I’m pretty sure “Furyborn” wins the competition for most hyped book this spring. Everywhere I look there are lists including it as most looked forward to, rave reviews, or options to get your hands on it early. So props to the marketing team for getting this one out there. However, as has become a bit of a habit for me with much-hyped books, I had some mixed feelings on this one. Mixed though! I did enjoy this more than “The Cruel Prince” which was my last big letdown from the hype machine.

Most of the things I enjoyed in this story were also directly tied to aspects that I did not. Unlike other books, the problems I had with this story weren’t connected as much to the actual characterizations we’re given or the overall story. Both were mostly strong. But there are writing choices throughout the story that frankly sabotaged the good efforts made elsewhere.

For example, to start out. Both Rielle and Eliana are strong enough characters on their own. They live in very different worlds, and while some of their struggles are similar (trying to find their place in the world & hiding/fighting against perceptions that might set others against them and those they love), they are distinct in their own right. They each have a unique voice, always an important element in shared POV books. I personally found myself a bit more drawn to Eliana. Her story has a bit more mystery (for reasons we’ll discuss later), and as a character, I enjoyed her more morally grey worldview. However, I didn’t dislike Rielle either.

The other side of this coin, though, is the fact that both of these characters feel cut off at the knees by the alternating POVs. It’s not even a complicated problem: each POV is simply too short. The reader is being constantly bounced back and forth between each girl’s story, that one can never really settle into either character or plotline. This results in me kind of just not caring, when all is said and done. Readers need a chance to settle into a character, to really come into their world and understand their motivations and challenges. But when we’re constantly bounced back and forth between two very different stories every few pages, there is never a chance to really get that moment where you become invested. It was a fine read, but it was just that, a read. I never felt like I was really in this world. I was always just reading about it.

This problem extends to the world-building. There’s a lot that needs to happen on this front for a story that is going to try to present two very different worlds, thousands of years apart. The author essentially has to do twice the world-building to successfully pull it off. But, again, because of the quick switches between one character and the other, I never felt like I had a clear understanding of either of these worlds. There are angels in one? But the details are foggy. The other world has a empire that is set on taking over the world, but why and how? These details are all interesting on their own, but it ultimately felt like the author had bit off more than she could chew. Or, at the very least, more than could be reasonably fit in one novel that also has a lot of other things going on.

The action was fun. There is no denying that this book moves, and it was this that got me through some of the failings in my full connection to either character or the world itself. What’s more, I enjoyed that the action was very different between each girl’s storylines. Rielle’s ongoing magical trials were exciting and fast-moving. Whereas Eliana’s were caught up in politics and the violent nature of what the world has become under this ambitious empire. But, again, this same fast-moving action was also part of the reason the world-building and character development felt stunted. There simply weren’t enough pages to fit in all of this action while also developing two fully-realized characters and two fully expanded worlds.

I did  also have one major criticism of this book. I read a good article recently that questioned whether a prologue is ever necessary for a book. The author of the essay mentioned that very talented authors could pull them off (like J.K. Rowling and her prologue in the first Harry Potter book), but even then, did you need them? This book serves as a perfect example where, for me, the prologue actively damaged my perception of the story right off the bat. It’s not long, but in even those few pages, the author managed to spoil almost every single reveal that was to come throughout the rest of the book. I already new the secrets that plagued some of our characters, thus making their confusion and ultimate surprise incredibly uninteresting to read about.

Further, I feel like this prologue was meant to inspire curiosity about how one character ended up where she did. But instead, I felt spoiled for her entire plot and thus her chapters held very little interest. There was no real threat behind any of the things she confronted because I knew where she ended up. If I hadn’t already been losing interest in characters because of the quick jumps back and forth due to the POV switches, this prologue alone did enough to pretty much kill off my interest and curiosity in at least one of these two.

All of that said, there book is still a fairly strong outing in a new fantasy world. There isn’t a lack of action or story, and the characters are interesting on their own. The problems I had were all down to stylistic choices (too short of chapters between switches, an uneven balance between action and world-building, and an unnecessary and ultimately harmful prologue). I’ll probably still stick around to read the next books in the series, however.

Want to judge for yourself? Get your hands on an ARC of “Furyborn” before it comes out! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends May 10, 2018.

Click here to enter!

Rating 6: Had some good things going for it, but the author made a few writing choices that seemed to shoot the book in the foot.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Furyborn” is an upcoming title, but it it is included on this Goodreads list: “Badass YA Heroines.”

Find “Furyborn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Song of Blood and Stone”

36347830Book: “Song of Blood and Stone” by L. Penelope

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack’s mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagamiri is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and it’s people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda’s Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

Review: I was super excited when I received this in the mail. For one, look at that gorgeous cover? I’m not usually a fan of covers with models, but I’ll make an exception for this one. Beyond that, I was intrigued by the premise and am always stoked when I can find fantasy fiction featuring a diverse cast of characters. And while there were some slower moments, overall, I really enjoyed this read!

The world is literally split in two by an impenetrable magic force field that has kept two warring civilizations separate for as long as anyone can remember, with only brief breaks of warfare every few centuries when the field falters. On one side, Elsira, a technologically advanced civilization has risen, longing for the day when their sleeping Queen will again awaken. On the other side, Lagamiri, a nation full of magic wielders who can control the elements, but who are ruled by a tyrannical and vicious God King. The prejudices are strong on each side. Jasminda, a daughter of both races, has grown up in a country where her skin marks her as the enemy, as an Earthsinger. She’s kept to herself these long years, finding isolation to be her best bet for a quiet life. That is until she meets Jack, an Elsiran soldier with his own secrets, but who also shows her that there are those out there who see her as more than just an “other.”

I loved the world-building in this story. The idea of magic users vs. technology isn’t anything new, but what really added to this take on it was combining it with other prejudices, on both sides, and the fear and ignorance that can come from these sorts of long-standing built up generalizations about people. Throughout the story, we are also given glimpses into the ancient history of this world, and this is really what solidified the concept for me. Through these, we see that the world wasn’t always this way, and in fact many things had been turned on their heads. The origin story was compelling and each chapter was intro’d with little parables from this almost forgotten time. I particularly enjoyed how each parable loosely connected to the happenings of each chapter.

Through this history and the current situation, Jasminda and Jack both portray different roles and experiences of segregation and prejudice. Jasminda has lived a life of not belonging. She’s grown up in a country that judges her for her skin color and her power, but it is her home. I enjoyed how much this fact was hit home. Just because she looked like those on the other side of the wall, didn’t mean she would be any more welcome there or that that should in any way be her place, based on only one part of her being. Jack, as an advocate and an example of a more tolerant and enlightened individual, still must learn to understand the true battles that those like Jasminda face. His idealism is often based in naivety. But through him, Jasminda, too, learns that not everyone is as they seem, and that there may be a way forward for both peoples together.

The story also had a strong through line on the experiences of refugees, and the terrible choices they face. Here, many Lagamiri secretly cross the border, hoping to escape the terror that is their homeland. This choice isn’t only leaving behind all they have known, but is to willing walk into a country knowing they will face a different kind of persecution there. They live in camps and face many injustices at the hands of a struggling nation looking for someone to blame. And yet, this is still a better choice than the horrors that wait back home.

For all of these positives, I did struggle with a few things. While the story took on some big concepts, giving detailed focus and attention to these challenges, I never quite felt connected to the story. Jasminda and Jack, while interesting protagonists, were each a little too perfect to feel real. They were just kind of…fine. I wasn’t hugely invested in their individual struggles, but happy to go along for the ride.

The story also isn’t helped out by a few strange choices with pacing and explanations for the magic system. The plot would zip through a few key moments, with very little clarity on what was actually taking place, and then suddenly move very slowly through other, more character-driven scenes. I think this is likely a show of where the author’s true interests and talents as a writer lie, but it makes for a rather bumpy reading experience.

Also, at different times, it felt like distances on the map changed drastically, or didn’t match with the expanse of the world that we’re told exists. It seemed, at times, that the entire country could be traveled in only a few hours, which doesn’t make sense given the references to geographical elements and the population that is hinted at. Further, while the magic system was interesting, I struggled to understand how it actually worked. For example, it was referenced several times that Earthsingers couldn’t kill with their magic, but could use the elements in every other way. But what does that actually look like? If they sent fire at someone, wouldn’t that still be killing with their magic? Or does it do nothing, and if that’s the case, then what power does that actually give them? I found it confusing, especially given the fact that this restriction was referenced more than once.

The romance, kind of like the two main characters, was also a bit too perfect. For all of theirs struggles, Jasminda and Jack’s love is never really the complicated or tragic “Romeo and Juliet” story that we’re promised. I enjoyed the romance, don’t get me wrong, but I think the misleading description played against it, in the end.

All in all, I very much enjoyed “Song of Blood and Stone.” It’s a great example of fantasy fiction tackling bigger topics like diversity, prejudice, and the challenges faced by refugees. However, there is a large focus on romance, so readers who don’t enjoy those elements might want to avoid this one, and the characters are also a bit flat.

Rating 7: Even with some missteps, would still recommend it based on the strengths of the challenges it addresses, especially set against an interesting fantasy backdrop.

Reader’s Advisory

“Song of Blood and Stone” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance” and “Fantasy Romance.”

Find “Song of Blood and Stone” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #29: “The Sickness”

8036147Animorphs #29: “The Sickness” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs’ alien friend Ax is in trouble. He’s come down with a virus called “yamphut”, and it’s making him very sick. The Animorphs discover the virus could be deadly–but they can’t take an “alien” to the hospital. They need to come up with a plan–or lose their friend forever.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot:

Reading the plot description, I remembered that this was the one where everyone got sick and somehow Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie has a soul-search with back in book #19 (“Serena’s RAGE book,” as I’ve come to think of it), was somehow involved. But I am happy to report…

it-could-have-been-worse-samuel-l-jackson-gif
You know, Cassie books/T-rex attacks…the same! But no, this one was legitimately not as bad as others. (source)

The story starts out with actually a fairly long portion of the kids in real life doing real kid things. Like Cassie and Jake continuing to be ridiculous with their burgeoning relationship when it comes to school and dances. With some kicks to the butt offered by Rachel, the team all end up at the dance with the various couples all pairing up. As they dance, Rachel and Cassie notice Ax growing a sudden protuberance on his head: a stalk eye! The group rush him out of the gym, all while frantically trying to cover up his emerging Andalite bits. Ax is also delirious and mumbling incoherently.  In the hall, Ax makes a wild bolt for it just as Chapman and a teacher, Mr. Tidwell, come around the corner. Mr. Tidwell takes one look at Ax and quickly tells Chapman that Ax must have been drinking, and crab-walks Ax back towards the group. The others grab Ax away as Marco and Rachel try to convince Tidwell that Ax is just sick and they need to take him home. But as they try to get past him to the door, Ax’s tail shoots out and whacks Tidwell on the head.

Tidwell grabs Cassie and walks her back down the hall. There, he confesses that he knows Ax is an Andalite. What’s more, Mr. Tidwell is a Controller, but not just any Controller. He and the Yeerk in his head are part of the Yeerk Peace Movement organized by none other than Aftran, the Yeerk Cassie saved way back when. But Aftran has been captured and Visser Three is on his way to interrogate her personally, likely exposing all of the Animorphs in the process. For now, she’s being held in the Yeerk pool, but Tidwell insists that Cassie and her friends have to rescue her, for the sake of themselves and the entire Yeerk Peace Movement.

Cassie rejoins the group and they manage to get Ax back to Cassie’s barn. There, in a moment of clarity, Ax explains that Yamphut, a disease that infects the Tria gland in his brain and can cause it to explode. The only way to save him will be to remove the gland when his temperature goes back down. Yamphut is also contagious to humans, but in them it just presents as a common flu.

Cassie then also explains about Aftran. Marco and Rachel are particularly harsh about reminding her that it was her choice to give them all up to Aftran that lead them to being in this current situation. They decide they need to get into the Yeerk pool tonight, hopefully returning before Ax’s temperature dips to the crisis point. In the meantime, they call in Erek to hang out with Ax in the barn, projecting a hologram of an empty stall so Cassie’s parents don’t discover him.

But to get into the Yeerk pool, they now need to get past the new security system that attacks all biological life that isn’t controlled by a Yeerk. Marco has the idea to use the sewer system, reasoning that the Yeerk pool is like an entire city, so there must be plumbing connecting it to the outside world. Tobias then comes up with the idea of using an eel morph and he retrieves one from a local bait shop that he knows of. With Erek’s map of the city plumbing system in their minds, the team find themselves up in water tower, ready to use the extra force of the water to propel them where they need to go.

In eel morph, the team rush down the pipes. It’s a wild ride with them barely making all of the turns they need to. Suddenly, Jake is sucked into the wrong pipe. Forming a line, the others manage to pull him back out. But they realize that something is wrong with him, that he has come down with the same sickness. After some debate about whether they should split up, they all decide they have to abort the mission. They manage to ride the strongest currents they can find and end up getting shot out of a fire hose and into a burning building. There, they all de-morph and re-morph birds to escape. Jake, now violently sick, heads home with Cassie and Marco to help him.

The next day at school, Rachel is no where to be found. Turns out she came down with the “flu” last night as well. Mr. Tidwell catches up with Cassie in the hall. He explains how dire the situation is becoming, Visser Three has moved up his visit, and that the other Yeerk Peace Movement members can’t do much. Many of them don’t have hosts (since they are committed to finding hosts that want to team up with them) and many of the others, like Tidwell, are in bodies that can’t fight. Desperate, Cassie comes up with a new plan: they can morph Yeerks.

On the way home, Marco, too, gets sick. But he also points out the one flaw: what happens if they do save Aftran? She’ll just die of starvation. Back in the barn, Tobias says that Ax’s temperature continues to drop. He then flies off to check on the other patients, which Cassie reads as him wanting to go check on Rachel. Cassie looks around the barn for tools, mentally preparing herself for the fact that she’s going to have to do brain surgery on Ax eventually. As she gathers things, Tobias swoops back in, but he’s clearly not well and accidentally flies into a rafter, knocking himself out. He’s sick too. Cassie picks him up and puts him in a cage, figuring that her parents will think they just have one more rescued animal.

Cassie bikes to Mr. Tidwell’s house. There she puts her plan in action. Tidwell’s Yeerk comes out, Cassie acquires him, and begins the morph. In Yeerk form, she’s blind and deaf, but does have a sort of sonar. Tidwell picks her up and put her to his ear where she slithers in. She connects to his brain and regains her senses. It takes her a bit to figure out how to move Tidwell, who’s voice she can hear urging her to hurry up. She also can see all of his memories and feels ashamed that she is essentially violating his privacy.

Tidwell!Cassie then makes her way to the local McDonald’s, one of the known Yeerk pool entrances, hiding the original Yeerk on her person. She gains entrance and successfully gets past the security system. The Yeerk pool is as horrifying as ever. At the peer, she releases the Yeerk and slithers out of Tidwell’s ear herself. In the pool she is able to locate Aftran just as Visser Three arrives to collect her. She manages to demorph to human and then remorph as an osprey, the only bird morph she has that dives into water so can handle flying while wet. She grabs Aftran and barely manages to escape the pool. Conveniently, another Controller is entering up in the McDonald’s, so she is able to escape out before the security system fries her.

Back at the barn, Ax has reached his crisis and Cassie must operate. She quickly decides to have Aftran Control Ax so that she can tell Cassie from inside where exactly in Ax’s brain the Tria gland is located. Together, they are able to successfully remove the gland. Ax awakens just as Aftran exits and is horrified that he was infested. But now Cassie has another challenge: what to do with Aftran?

A few days later, the team are all recovered and walking along the beach. Out in the ocean, a humpback whale leaps before heading out to sea. They all agree that they used the blue box the right way this time. They let Aftran gain morphing powers if she agreed to trap herself in a morph. Whale!Aftran is now free.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This book definitely played to some of Cassie’s strengths. More so than most of the other characters, Cassie is probably the best character to describe what their lives are like as ordinary kids. Through her eyes, we’ve seen a lot more scenes of what school is like for the group and the various dynamics that exist between them outside of missions. Here, there were some very nice moments where Cassie was just an ordinary teenage girl, feeling awkward about her quasi-relationship with Jake and the fact that none of the girls at school know they are together (or even believe it could ever be possible!) So small moments, like her pride when they dance together, are just very sweet.

I also like the fact that we finally have circled back around to the aftermath of her decisions in book #19 when she left Aftran infest her and exposed them all. Here, she is much less confident that this was in fact the right choice. She admits that it felt right then, but the situation that they’re in now calls that all into question. There’s a very real possibility that they will all be exposed and killed simply because of that choice. Even with Aftran’s cooperation, here, Cassie sees that she is still a risk point for the group. She never outright regrets her decision in that book, but I like the fact that here she had to confront the reality of that choice a bit more head on. Also, when she is alone right before the mission, she is forced to leave Ax right before it seems like he is going to hit his crisis. She tells him that she has to save the group first, and tells Erek that if things go south, he has to just let Ax die rather than expose them. These are hard choices, but it’s nice to see Cassie confront them. Though, again, this calls into question my ongoing frustration with her character. She is completely inconsistent in her decision making and ability to prioritize individuals and her morals and the entire group/world. Sometimes she’s willing to throw everything away to make a stand on something, like quitting the team and telling Aftran their secrets, or letting the aliens re-direct the asteroid in Megamorphs #2. And at others, she’s willing to make the tough calls. I dunno. It just feels like I never know which Cassie I’m going to get.

But there’s no denying the coolness of her ability to successfully perform brain surgery on Ax. The idea of using Aftran to get a sense of things was great, but it still rested on her ability to pull it off. Without Cassie, Ax definitely would have been done for, as no other member of this group could have done what she did here.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is out of commission very early in this book, which makes sense. In order to sow the most confusion, you have to take away calm, collected, Jake. Even in the midst of his burgeoning illness, when they’re in the pipes as eels, the others still are relieved when he manages to come to enough to tell them what to do.

Xena, Warrior Princess: It’s always fun to see Cassie and Rachel at school, and here Rachel takes things into her own hands about Cassie/Jake’s secret relationship. It also becomes clear that there is an unspoken hierarchy in leadership within the group. When it first becomes clear that Jake is getting sick, Rachel immediately steps into the leadership role. There’s some snark, but they all seem to kind of agree that this is right. And I know there’s a later book that focuses on this point, too. Other than that, she gets sick second, so doesn’t have too much to do.

A Hawk’s Life: When Ax gets sick at the school, while the others all fret about whether or not Mr. Tillman saw him, Tobias is the one clearly most worried about just Ax, forget everything else. He also gets sick, and I think it’s understood that this is because he is in human morph when Ax first comes down with it, and thus susceptible to infection.

As we’ll see in Marco’s section, he’s third in line for leadership, after Jake and Rachel. So leadership goes Jake, Rachel, Marco…? But honestly, given what we’ve seen from past books, I’d say leadership should go Jake, Tobias, Marco/Rachel, Ax, Cassie. Tobias has proven himself to be the most even-keeled of the group, he’s a good strategist (as proven in his book with the Hork Bajir valley), and he’s willing to make the tough calls (as seen in Megamorphs #2). Marco is probably the only one who would prove a problem, just because they tend to clash with Tobias not really appreciating Marco’s cynical outlook on things. But other than that, I think he’s a strong candidate for the role. I put Marco and Rachel together because, as we see in her book, this is kind of a tough role for her to fill. So Marco might make a bit more sense, simply because he’s a more level-headed player. But, it should be said, a big part of leadership is simply stepping up, unasked. Tobias has done it in the examples I gave above. And Rachel does it here, and will do it later. So it’s a tie.

The Comic Relief: Marco has some good lines in this book, and it is notable that he (along with Rachel) is the most critical about Cassie’s past decision with Aftran that lead to them being in this tough situation. He also comes up with the eel plan, which is clever, if not fully thought out. After Rachel goes down sick, Marco asks Cassie if this means that he’s now in charge.

In a nice reminder to Marco’s particular hatred of David, when they are on the beach in the end discussing their use of the blue box, we get this exchange:

“We made the right decision,” Jake said. “Better than the last time we used the blue box.”

“Would have been hard to do any worse,” Marco said.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax. It’s never really explained how he was exposed to this disease, but it seems kind of like the Andalite version of appendicitis. Some gland becomes painful and if it bursts, bad things follow. Of course, the tension must be raised by placing this gland in his brain. And then, in the midst of fever dreams, he’s the only one who can even marginally explain what is going on. Beyond that, he’s still a kid! Imagine some teenage boy trying to tell a doctor how to operate on him for appendicitis! Ax is also completely horrified when he discovers Aftran in his head immediately after waking up; he even goes so far as to say he wishes Cassie had just let him die. Cassie does a good job slapping some sense in him, but I don’t remember if Ax ever refers to this in future books. But it seems like something I’d want to hear his thoughts on.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie morphing the Yeerk was particularly bad. She describes it as first having a layer of mucus ooze out of her pores until it covers her entire body, and then rest of her just kinds of melts away. But…mucus….all over body…I mean, I guess the process of morphing Yeerks should be one of the worst, and if that was the goal, then well done! Also, the process of infesting Mr. Tillman. Obviously the Yeerk instincts are fine with this, but I imagine there’s a pretty disturbing element to the thought of climbing into another human’s head through their ear, when you’re a human yourself only in morph.

Couples Watch!: Cassie has a very real teenage girl moment when she’s dancing with Jake, reveling in the fact that the other girls will now see that shy, animal-poop-covered Cassie is the one who gets to be with fairly popular Jake. Cassie also acknowledges the fairly official relationship status between Rachel and Tobias, hoping that they can get away to dance, too. And then later, she knows that it is really Rachel, not “the others,” that Tobias wants to check on when he flies off.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three makes his token appearance towards the end, and it has to be one of the shortest cameo’s we’ve gotten from him one of these. He does make a very good point about osprey!Cassie’s escape while being shotat my multiple Controllers at the end:

<Would it be asking too much for one of you to actually hit something?!!> I heard Visser Three roar.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much! We all knew Ax was never in any real danger at this point, so while it was a good motivation for events, it didn’t have a lot of emotional impact. The scene of whale!Aftran was probably the most emotional bit of the book.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There were some clever plans here, mostly Cassie coming up with the idea to use Yeerks as a morph to get into the pool, and then getting Aftran to help with the brain surgery. But man, that eel morph plan was not well thought out. I mean, it’s a cool idea and props to Marco for having the creativity to come up with it, but what was the end game there? How exactly were they going to get out, and with Aftran in toe none the less?? Even Cassie’s plan failed to have an exit strategy, and the fact that she wasn’t shot is pretty unbelievable.

Favorite Quote:

Mandatory Rachel/Marco banter:

“I just had a thought,” Marco said.
“I’ll buy you a card to commemorate the moment.” Rachel, of course.

In the very beginning, when Marco and the others are discussing just going to the dance like regular kids:

“Oh, man,” Marco moaned.

“What?”

“Every time we try to do something nice and normal it ends up turning out nasty and weird,” he said. “Every single time.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! It’s a big win for the Animorphs to just survive this situation, but as far as actual damage goes, there’s not a big change. The Yeerk Peace Movement is a good thing to now have, and maybe indirectly through Cassie and Aftran, the Animorphs are responsible for it, but not much.

Rating: For the most part I did enjoy this book. I really liked the follow-up on the Aftran situation and the introduction of the Yeerk Peace Movement. Cassie, too, has some good moments in this story. I do wonder at these choices to continue to give Cassie books where she is isolated from the rest of the team for some reason or another. She simply doesn’t have the strongest voice of the group. Her narration is usually pretty straightforward and not very nuanced. She’s simply not as interesting to read about as say Marco, Ax or Tobias. So it’s strange that she seems to routinely get books where she’s all by herself and much of the story’s appeal (or lack there of) is left to her characterization. Obviously this is a story that had to belong to Cassie, and if it was the only example of her as an isolated character in these books, then fine. But this is like the 3rd book where she’s mostly on her own for a lot of it, and it’s just not the best.

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!