The Great Animorphs Re-Read #11: “The Forgotten”

363392Animorphs #11: “The Forgotten”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s been an accident. Someone crashed-landed a Yeerk Bug fighter. And the Yeerks have been trying to cover it up – quickly. But not before Tobias spots it. So the Animorphs and Ax decide to steal the ship to show the world that Earth has been invaded. That’s when things go terribly wrong. Before they know it, Jake, the other Animorphs, and Ax find themselves in another place. Another time. And there’s no way home…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Jake is having bizarre flashes of scenes involving him and the others in the rain forest of all places. Thinking he’s going insane, he must plow forward in spite of it all as the faithful leader of the group when Tobias notifies them all of a downed Bug fighter being hidden and worked on in an empty strip mall. The Animorphs decide to go check it out and, in a bizarre and rapid-fire sequence of terrible decision making, sneak aboard and fly off with the hopes of landing it at the White House and outing the Yeerk invasion once and for all. Surprising no one, this plan fails and fails big.

Losing control of the ship, they end up in outer space participating in a space battle with the Yeerks’ Blade ship. They cross laser fire and both ships end up damaged and plummet to earth, landing in the Brazilian rain forest. But not only are they now miles and miles from home with a broken space ship and Visser Three and his minions sweeping the forest looking for them, but they realize that they’ve traveled back in time several hours.

Ax, of course, wasn’t paying attention in school that day, but he theorizes that the space battle/laser intersection created a Saario Rip, a break in the space time continuum resulting in there now being two Jakes, two Cassies, etc etc all existing at once in different locations. And if they don’t re-set the whole thing in time, both groups will be wiped out. This portion of the plot was just as confusing as most time travel plotlines are and at a certain point I just threw up my hands and went with it.

Ultimately, the group spends a ridiculous amount of time acquiring jungle morphs (monkeys and jaguars) and generally getting a thorough lesson on why the rain forest is deadly. Rachel (of course it’s Rachel) almost gets eaten alive by a colony of ants. They’re almost poisoned by a variety of frogs and snakes. And they make friends with the local people who aren’t too thrilled with the Hork Bajir and other aliens now wandering around on their turf.

Jake and co. come to the obvious conclusion that they must return to the ship and hope to sneak on and hop a ride with Visser Three back to the U.S. and their own time period. Unfortunately for them, Visser Three seems to be smarter in this time period than he usually is and anticipates this move. He morphs some strange tree tentacle creature (how is that he has all of these super specific morphs ready at hand that seemingly would only work in these exact scenarios?) and captures and eats them all when they show up. Jake’s death then snaps his consciousness back to before they stole the Bug Fighter and he quickly calls off the whole thing, leaving him as the only member of the group remembering any of it.

I still don’t quite understand how Jake is the only one to remember all of this and why any one of the Animorph’s deaths wouldn’t have done the same. Maybe the others who were eaten weren’t dead yet? So Jake technically dies first and then stops the whole thing? I dunno, it was all quite confusing, but a blast anyways! I loved the changed setting of having the story take place in the rain forest, and it was fun seeing Visser Three not be a complete idiot. After the nonsense in Cassie’s book with his reaction to the skunk spray, he had begun to lose some of his fear factor and validity as a legitimate threat, so it was nice to see him back on form, even if it all gets wiped away anyways.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s books are always interesting due to his unique position as leader of the group. Through the others’ eyes and narratives, we always hear about how much they all respect and appreciate the fact that he takes on this role. But it’s only through his POV books that we truly understand how crushing this load must be in every single book. This whole story essentially revolved around the types of life and death calls that Jake has to make at every moment and how easily any one decision could go terribly wrong. He’s not operating with any more information than the rest of them, but it’s still up to him to choose whether to risk the safety of the group or of individuals.

At multiple points in this story, Jake has to send individuals into dangerous situations on their own (leaving Ax to retrieve a piece of the Bug fighter while they’re in the rain forest to prevent Visser Three and the rest of the Yeerks from leaving without them, and then later leaving Rachel behind as she struggles to navigate the paths through the forest in her bulky bear morph). Not only does he have to make these decisions, but he has to live with the anger and fear of the others for doing it at all. Tobias is angry that Ax is being left to fend for himself, and the whole group struggles with the close call Rachel has with her bear morph being almost eaten alive by ants.

Towards the end of the book, it is clear that Jake has made all of the wrong decisions that lead to their “deaths.” But, as we’ve seen through his eyes, at the time, he made the best decisions he could, which just makes their ultimate “fate” all the harder for Jake. This book is a good look at how easily things could go wrong for the group, even when making the best decisions they can. And man, poor Jake. He has to be the strongest member of the group to deal with this type of pressure every day.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Other than the horrifying ant scene, there were a few moments with Rachel that I found notable. One was the opening scene which was a comedic little bit where Jake and Rachel are square dancing. It’s always fun when we get moments like this between Jake and Rachel when we’re reminded that they’re related and have a unique relationship to and knowledge of the other. Secondly, Jake has a very astute understanding of Rachel. After she’s almost killed by the ants, Jake notes that whenever she’s scared she reacts by getting mad, and that this anger can often express itself in recklessness. It’s a nice reminder of how completely Jake must know and navigate the different personalities that make up the Animorphs so that he can best lead the group.

A Hawk’s Life: As usual, Tobias is the one that starts off this mission as he has nothing but time to fly around and notice strange things like downed Bug fighters. But, for once, he actually gets to come along on this trip. Obviously a hawk doesn’t do well in the rain forest, especially not a rain forest full of Controllers who are on the look out for animals that don’t belong. Jake also notes that an extra challenge with Tobias is that hawks don’t deal with hunger as well as humans, so Tobias’ situation is even more perilous the longer they are there.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is, of course, useful. She is able to identify where they are in the world by recognizing the types of monkeys swinging in the trees. I just don’t get it. Cassie is so much more sane and likable in other character’s books! It’s almost like she’s out-of-character in her own when she reacts so ridiculously to things. For example, in this book the Yeerks end up killing a lot of the local animals and trees in their attempts to flush the Animorphs out. When she’s asked if she’s upset about this she says that of course she is, but the best way for her to save the planet is to not die, get back to their own timeline, and beat the Yeerks. Not get bogged down in trying to save some specific trees. This! This makes sense! But we just got done seeing her have the completely opposite thought process in her own book when she essentially prioritized a small bit of forest, a nest of baby skunks, and a termite colony above the safety of the group! I don’t get it. She’s so much more relatable, rational, and sympathetic in books like this than her own.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t do much in this book. He’s good for his quips, as always, but his usual contributions (smarts and planning) aren’t used much in this book.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: As always now it seems, the group wouldn’t get far without Ax’s knowledge of technology. But I think Applegate made a very good decision with his re-occuring “I wasn’t paying attention in school that day” routine. Obviously he’s way more technologically advanced than the rest, allowing them to even think about trying to fly the Bug fighter. But it’s good that he doesn’t have a complete understanding of things like Saario Rips and so forth, otherwise he’d be a bit too close to a deus ex machina in all of these stories.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The ants! The ants! Why is it always ants?!?! The whole scene where Rachel is being eaten alive in bear morph by an ant colony was probably one of the most horrifying scenes in the series to date, and that’s really saying something. There were unnecessarily vivid descriptions of ants carrying off pieces of flesh and crawling into mouths and eyes and..,.nope, just nope.

Couples Watch!: There’s a cute scene in the beginning when Cassie comes to watch Jake and Rachel square dance and Jake is super embarrassed by it all. But at least he has a healthy outlook on it and is relieved to see that she’s laughing her head off at him, rather than pitying him.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three has a smart plan! He has a smart plan, guys! He also has a couple good snarky lines that were pretty funny, especially when his underlings went crazy and started shooting up the forest and he questioned the thought process that lead them to destroying the trees…cuz obviously the “Andalite bandits” morphed trees…

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There really wasn’t anything too soul crushing in this book. Lots of action, less feels. I mean, I guess I should have gotten upset about then all “dying” and everything…but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen so I couldn’t get too worked up about it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole thesis statement of this book was “Jake has terrible plans and it sucks to be the leader.” I really feel that the whole “let’s steal the Bug fighter and fly it to the White House” had some glaring flaws from the start. Beyond the fact that none of them knew how to fly it, Ax’s techy knowledge aside, the whole thing was a massive gamble that was going to get their cover blown with them having no control of the actual outcome beyond the point where they landed. Not only would the Yeerks be trying to shoot them down, but I’m pretty sure the U.S. government would have something to say about an alien aircraft approaching the White House.

Favorite Quote:

More proof for my “Marco follows (loves??) Rachel” theory!

“We didn’t vote,” Rachel said. “But if we had, you’d have voted yes.””How do you know how I’d have voted?” Marco demanded. Rachel smiled. “Because I’d have voted yes.”

And a good Marco quip about their terrible planning:

<Oh, good,> Marco said sarcastically. <Another rushed, unplanned, last-minute mission. Those always turn out so well.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks, since if it weren’t for convenient timey-whimey tricks, Visser Three pulled off 1.) an actually well-thought out plan, 2.) a useful and appropriate morph, and 3.) killed all of the Animorphs. Further, even after Jake closes the Saario Rip, the Animorphs still fail to take advantage of the massive opportunity that was the downed Bug ship.

Rating: It’s not furthering the overall plot at all, but it was a great stand alone story! The change of scenery to the rain forest added for a lot of unique fun!

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: “Princess of Thorns”

18782855Book: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

Review: I picked up this audiobook in a spur of the moment panic brought about by previously requested audiobooks not being ready at the library and a long, traffic-filled commute staring me down. This book had been hanging out for so long on my to-read list that I have completely forgotten how it go there and (an even worse habit!) I had begun to assume that because I hadn’t gotten to it in so long, I must not really have been that interested in the first place. Reading the description, some type of bizarre fairytale re-telling about the Sleeping Beauty’s daughter it sounded like something that would be right up my alley, so why hadn’t I gotten to it?! Ah, the mysteries of life, and one that burned me in the end here for ignoring such a delightful story for so long.

Just as the description suggests, this is indeed a fairytale type re-telling, if by “re-telling” you mean “tragic post script to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story that, depending on the translation, is already pretty horrifying.” The prince who wakes up the Sleeping Beauty is indeed a jerkwad of the “hide your multiple wives” variety. And things only get worse when an Ogre prophesy puts her two children at risk, leading to her imprisonment and some truly terrible forced choices. The story then picks up 17 years later following Aurora who is now working off a tight deadline to rescue her brother from the Ogre Queen and raise an army to save her kingdom. All with the help of Niklaas, a seemingly shallow prince who is hell-bent on marrying a princess.

Niklaas was one of the most surprising elements of this story. Based on the cover, the book description, and, let’s be honest, the tons of YA fairytales that have come before it, I went into this assuming that Aurora would be our one and only POV character. So color me surprised when Niklaas shows up and steals away half the story for his own! And I couldn’t be more happy about it. Niklaas brings his own fairytale to the book, this time a twisted version of the “Seven Swans” story, and his own personality to the page. His is one of my favorite character types to stumble upon. Witty, but flawed. Self-aware, but delusional about how he comes across to others. He’s the type of character you should hate (as Aurora first does as well) for all of his egotism and blatantly stereotypical and demeaning opinions about women. But he’s so charming and hilarious that you end up loving him anyways, gleefully waiting for the inevitable slap to the face that will knock him out of his narrow way of thinking. He was a perfect foil to the more impulsive (reckless!) Aurora, and a humorous balance to her own more straight-laced approach to the trials and tribulations they find themselves in.

Aurora, herself, was also a great character. Not only did we have Niklaas showing up as one of my favorite types of romantic leads (the kind that exist as more than a romantic lead in the first place), but with Aurora I had another favorite trope: girls disguised as boys. The biggest challenge with this approach is balancing the friendship/romance between the two main characters in a believable way. For Aurora’s perspective, it is easier, as she is in on the sham the entire time. So for her, it was most enjoyable simply watching her slowly realize that for all of his foibles, Niklaas might be a good guy. But for Niklaas, it’s harder. His relationships with Aurora starts out purely platonic, with him believing that she is her younger brother. Their friendship and camaraderie during this period was great, and I was beyond pleased with the way the author transitioned this relationship once the secret comes out (this is NOT a spoiler, cuz…obviously). Particularly, I loved that the challenges of this reveal weren’t hand-waved away. Not only does Niklaas have to come to terms with the new reality he’s living, but also that he’s been actively lied to for weeks. Full points for the author in her handling of this entire storyline.

Beyond these two, the most surprising part of this story was the inclusion of a handful of story chapters from the POV of the Ogre Queen herself. Initially I was rather put off by this as I had been having a grand ole time romping around in the woods with Niklaas and boy!Aurora. But the Ogre Queen’s chapters, and the character herself, brought a necessary level of severity to a story that could have easily slipped into pure silly escapism (though there’s a healthy dose of that, for which I was glad as well). For the few number of pages she’s allotted, the Ogre Queen’s transformation and story arc was probably the most compelling. Her story was unique and completely unexpected, probably bring the only truly “new” portions to this fairytale from the long lists of marks that are almost always hit in these types of books.

My only frustrations came towards the end. Throughout the story, Aurora’s character is pushed to grow and adapt from her particular brand of bravery that often revealed itself in foolhardy decision making with results that could have been prevented if a bit more thought had gone into them. With all of the build up, I went into the final act ready for her to complete this arc. And…in a way she does? But not really. She ultimately makes all the wrong choices and is only saved by the courage and sacrifice of those around her. There’s a very brief moment where she does confront this reality and make one good decision that does have major ramifications. But only after making ALL OF THE WRONG decisions up to that point, with only luck leaving her this one last opportunity to make it right. She does pay a steep price, but I ultimately felt that her arc was left rather incomplete in this area. Did she really learn a lesson here? Was it really satisfying that everything ended up aces for her out of pure luck? I wasn’t completely satisfied on either account.

But let’s not end on that note! Even with those frustrations, this book was completely and utterly a joy to read! It may have hit me at just the right moment when I needed a bit of humor, romance, and adventure without too many complicated strings attached. But as a beach read, I think it’s perfect, so make sure to grab a copy before you head off on vacay this summer!

Rating 8: Pure fun! If only brought down a few points by a bit too much luck in the end for my taste.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Princess of Thorns” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girls Disguised as Boys” and “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems.”

Find “Princess of Thorns” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “The Cold Eye”

28962896 Book: “The Cold Eye” by Laura Anne Gilman

Publishing Info: Saga Press, January 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: In the anticipated sequel to “Silver on the Road,” Isobel is riding circuit through the Territory as the Devil’s Left Hand. But when she responds to a natural disaster, she learns the limits of her power and the growing danger of something mysterious that is threatening not just her life, but the whole Territory.

Isobel is the left hand of the old man of the Territory, the Boss—better known as the Devil. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she is traveling circuit through Flood to represent the power of the Devil and uphold the agreement he made with the people to protect them. Here in the Territory, magic exists—sometimes wild and perilous.

But there is a growing danger in the bones of the land that is killing livestock, threatening souls, and weakening the power of magic. In the next installment of the Devil’s West series, Isobel and Gabriel are in over their heads as they find what’s happening and try to stop the people behind it before it unravels the Territory.

Review: After reading and loving “Silver on the Road,” I was excited to pick up this prequel. In the first book we were introduced to the unique, re-imagined West that is ruled by the enigmatic Devil who has sent out 16-year-old Isobel to travel the territory as his own brand of magical justice. In many ways, this book simply doubled-down on the same elements readers were presented with in the first novel, in some ways to its benefit and in others, less so. But ultimately, the “freshness” of the story/world/characters pulled through, leaving me with favorable impression of this second book in the series.

As before, the atmospheric world of the West was one of the biggest appeals with this book. The story starts out with Isobel traveling alone, and through her eyes we once again get to experience this strange, untamed landscape that effortlessly blends the ruthlessness of nature (with some added teeth from the magical elements) alongside the stark beauty of the rolling plains. Of course, there would be no story if something wasn’t amiss, and Isobel’s “sixth sense” leads her down a path of darkness and mystery.

While I enjoyed Isobel’s independent moments in the story, I was also very happy when she was reunited with Gabriel, as their friendship/mentorship was one of my favorite parts of the first book. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book also continued down these relationship paths without any addition of romance. Each respects and admires the other, but, if anything, they read as siblings on the page. It is refreshing to read a story about a 16-year-old female protagonist that proves you can draw an interesting tale and create viable and intriguing relationships without the need to insert romance into the equation. Believe it or not, teenage girls are capable of forming other types of relationships with those around them.

I did have a few frustrations with the story, however. And, like the pros to the tale which all built upon elements I loved from the first book, the negative aspects came from the same quibbles I had with the first as well. Namely, the pacing and the magical system. While the slow and meandering travels allow readers to fully immerse themselves in the world that has been built, it can also deflate the story from the brief action sequences that can be found, leaving readers wondering just how many descriptions of dusty saddles are really necessary. The last third of the book involves some high stakes and challenging moral considerations (of the kind that really make you wonder about the Devil’s thinking in sending out an untrained, teenage girl to deal with the forces at work in the Territory), but it takes a long time to get to this point, and I wish there had been a way to tighten up some of the storytelling of the first two-thirds.

And lastly, the magical system. I love the uniqueness of the magic that is set up in this book, especially that which is connected to the animals (the buffalo’s herd magic, and the speaking snakes). But as far as Isobel’s own particular brand of power, it is just as frustrating as it was in the first book. She does things, but never knows how she is doing what she is doing. And more often than not just lead into an action by an undefined “feeling.” I understand that she is learning what her role is as the Left Hand, but that means she must actually learn. Just discovering that something worked without any explanation or knowledge of how/when/in what circumstance she could hope to repeat the process, at a certain point simply feels like lazy writing. And a bit boring.

But, as I said, at this point in the series, the uniqueness of the world and the appealing nature of Isobel and Gabriel and their friendship is enough to keep me interested. But don’t take my word for it! Check it out for yourself and enter to win a hardcover copy of “The Cold Hand!”

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Rating 7: A strong sequel that builds on the elements I liked from the first, but also, sadly, doesn’t improve on my original quibbles either.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cold Eye” isn’t on any relevant  Goodreads lists but it should be on “Best Alternate History Novels and Stories. “

Find “The Cold Eye” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously reviewed: “Silver on the Road”

Serena’s Review: “This Savage Song”

23299512Book: “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Info: Greenwillow Books, July 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Review: After reading and loving Victoria Schwab’s “Darker Shade of Magic” series, I decided to go ahead and check out her young adult offerings. And while I still prefer her adult fantasy trilogy (though this was a very high bar so most books should be excused from not reaching the same highs, even those by the same author), I very much enjoyed this first book in what will be a completed duology once the final book comes out one week from now.

Schwab herself described this book as “Romeo and Juliet” but with monsters and without romance, and since my biggest problem with “Romeo and Juliet” wanna-be stories is the often trite romantic flounderings of the protagonists, I was excited to see how she would pull this off. I mean, what even is a “Romeo and Juliet” story without romantic nonsense? Turns out its pretty much a gang war in a city that has been taken over by demons of its own creation.

The world building was strong, right out of the gate, from the equally hellish northside and southside of the city and their various approaches to life in a now monster-filled world, to the monsters themselves. Born from human acts of hatred and violence, the city is plagued by three types of beasts. The Corsai, a viscous shadow-like creature that lurks in the dark places of the world only to emerge at night and shred its victims. The Malchai who resemble skeleton-thin humans and drink blood, similar to vampires in all but their ability to walk during the day. And the Sunnai, most rare and least understood of the monsters who can steal a soul with their song. Years ago, with the sudden appearance of these monsters, the city’s population sank into warfare only creating a tenuous peace after a massive disaster took out several city blocks. Since then, the city has been split, north and south, with one side fighting against the monsters and enforcing a strict rule of law for those committing crimes (and creating more monsters in the process), and the other ruled by a gang lord who has managed to rope the monsters into some semblance of control and requires his citizens pay for protection. These are the two sides from which our main characters come. Kate, the daughter of said gang lord, eager to prove herself stronger than the mother who attempted to flee the city so many years ago only to meet a tragic end. And August, a Sunnai, and adopted son of the fighters’ leader, who wishes he weren’t a monster and who struggles to find his role in this war.

Both Kate and August were intriguing, complicated characters. Each struggles with their own tenuous understanding of family, from Kate’s complicated relationship with a father who has distanced himself from her throughout her entire life, to August’s role, alongside his “brother” and “sister,” the only other two Sunnai, who all have been adopted by the leader of the resistance. Not only do the two not fully understand the war that they’ve inherited and the people who have already been fighting it, but each struggles with their own understanding of what is and what is not “monstrous” in this world.

August’s Sunnai abilities were particularly interesting, both the connection to his music and his own limitations. The Corsai and Malchai are fairly clearly described early in the book, while the Sunnai remain mysterious, even while having chapters featuring a Sunnai himself. This exploration of what it means to be a monster and what it means to be a Sunnai specifically was very compelling. All three Sunnai, August, his brother, and his sister, are all different in their abilities, their philosophy on the use of those abilities, and the arc they travel throughout the story.

Throughout all of this detailed world and character-building, Schwab manages to insert an action-packed plot full of danger and mystery. Every time that it felt like the plot was reaching a crescendo (ha!), she would wisely pull back for a quiet, character-driven moment. It was this delicate balance between action, adventure, and quite frankly, a lot of violence, with these these slow, beautiful, character introspections that really made this book stand out.

The only thing I will say as a negative was that while I loved Kate and August as characters in their own right, they didn’t jump off the page the same way that Lila and Kel did. There were a few scenes that read a bit flat, a few instances where I felt that Kate and August were slow to pick up the clues that were laid before them, and just a few missteps with dialogue that rang a bit forced. But, really, take all of these criticisms with a gigantic grain of salt. Again, see the overly high expectations that were set by the “Shades of Magic” series. For fans of young adult fantasy who are looking for a completely unique magical setting and two main characters who are blessedly free (so far) of romantic entanglements, definitely check out “This Savage Song.”

Rating 8: A great new YA fantasy, blessedly free of love triangles and any romance at all, really!

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Savage Song” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA Feuding Families” and “Unique special abilities/superpowers.”

Find “This Savage Song” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #10: “The Android”

7089Animorphs #10: “The Android”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Marco runs into his old friend Erek he doesn’t think too much of it. He’s got a couple of more important things to do. Like helping to save the world. But then Marco finds out Erek’s been hanging with some of the kids at The Sharing. And he starts to think that something just a little weird is going on. So Marco, Jake and Ax decide to morph and check old Erek out. Just to see if he’s been infested with a Yeerk. The good news is that Erek’s not a human controller. The bad news is that Erek’s not even human…

Narrator: Marco

Plot: After convincing Jake to join him in an “inappropriate use of morphing” escapade to crash a concert in dog morph, Marco and he discover that a friend of theirs from school, Erek, is not what he seems. He has no scent! He’s also handing out pamphlets for “The Sharing,” the Yeerk front group for recruiting new Controllers. All highly suspicious! Let the sleuthing begin! Some more scouting has Marco and Tobias in bird morph see Erek get hit by a bus and then pop right up as if nothing had happened. Even more amazing was the flicker they see, revealing a bizarre metallic body beneath what seems to be a hologram of some sort. The Animorphs then conclude that they need to use “non traditional” eyes to see beneath this hologram to discover the truth of Erek, so Marco and Ax end up morphing spider and infiltrating a “Sharing” lake-front gathering to sneak up on Erek. I’m unclear why they couldn’t have used their fly morphs which also have compound eyes and would be much safer than spiders due to the simple fact that they can fly. This is even more true since Marco gets eaten by a bird at one point and must demorph THROUGH THE BIRD’S NECK to escape! But, they do discover that Erek is definitely some type of android when he comes upon Marco and Ax morphing and “invites” them back to his house to discuss things.

What follows is the introduction of a completely new set of aliens into our growing catalog of interstellar life. Beneath Erek’s house is a whole host of androids that they learn are called the Chee. The Chee are the creation of an extinct species called the Pemalites, a technologically advanced, but peaceful, species that was wiped out when they were attached by another race. The last of their kind escaped to Earth where the Chee were able to somehow connect the remaining essense of their creators into the most similar species to be found on Earth: wolves. The result was the modern dog, the happy-go-lucky animals that share the same spirit as the lost Pemalites. But due to their peaceful perspective, the Chee were programmed in a way that doesn’t allow them to commit violence in any way. Now that the Yeerks are threatening Earth, the humans, and the dogs that contain all that remains of their creators, Erek and some other Chee wish to join the fight. And this is where the Animorphs come in.

Turns out that the Yeerks have somehow acquired a Pemalites crystal that they are using to develop a super computer that will be able to take control of all the computers in the world. Further, this same crystal could be used by the Chee to re-write their programming and allow them to more actively join the fight. All of this is enough motivation to get our heroes involved.

What follows is an action sequence right out of the movie “Entrapment.” Morphed as cockroaches and spiders, they must navigate a piped tunnels, fall great distances (seriously, there’s so much falling in this series as a whole), evade a rat, almost get burned alive by a furnace activating at an inopportune time, and then morph bats to sneak through a pitch black room full of trigger wires. All of this to discover that once they get there, they have no way of carrying the crystal back. So, because no Animorph book can be completely without them all using their battle morphs, the team decide they must bash their way out. This is…not successful. There was a reason they were told by the Chee that sneaking in was the best option. The Animorphs are sliced and diced and only saved by Marco’s dying push to shove the crystal through a window to Erek who is waiting outside. He is then able to re-write his programming and save the day by massacring the remaining Controllers. But he discovers the price of this violence is too high, especially for an android whose memory is always clear, giving no relief or escape from these acts. The story ends with the Chee offering to help by providing information as they can, but refusing to take the crystal. Marco and Jake have a final moment on the beach with Homer and some other dogs where, majestically, Homer carries off the crystal to be lost in the ocean. The end.

The Comic Relief: Marco is definitely my favorite narrator. His voice is the most distinct, and, especially as I re-read this series as an adult, he is the character I most relate to. He’s highly pragmatic, but also comfortable admitting when things are getting too real and scary. As far as character-growth, there’s not necessarily a lot of that in this book for Marco. Probably some of the least as far the series has gone so far. Usually the POV narrator has some distinct arc to go through. But I’m guessing that there was so much action and world-building that came with the introduction of the Chee and the Pemalites, that some of this had to take a back seat. We get some nice moments between Marco and his Dad (see Adult Crying portion), and some fun friend moments with Jake, but at this point in the series, Marco is pretty committed what with his Mom being Visser One and doesn’t need much more motivation to keep this fight going. He does have a strong reason though to have a very frank approach to getting the Chee involved in the fight. No moral concerns from him, really, about tainting a peaceful species’ (?) soul with violence. Not when their help could make the difference in this war and save his mother and humanity. When Cassie is blathering on and on about the wrongness of tainting the Chee species, Marco has this to say:

“Look, no one likes violence. All right? But we didn’t ask for this war with the Yeerks. When the bad guys come after you, when they start the violence, they leave you no choice: fight or die.”

On the other hand, he doesn’t fight against Erek’s and the Chee’s choice to abstain from the war after he sees the effects Erek feels after the violence to save the Animorphs towards the end of the story. This whole approach to the Chee conundrum just felt very real and true to Marco’s character as a very practical guy, but also a very empathetic one. He’s just a very well-rounded character. And, funny, never forget funny.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s fun to see Jake get wheedled into just being a regular teenager by Marco early in the book with the concert escapade. Their relationship is very similar to Rachel and Cassie’s in that Jake is more serious, but Marco allows him to just be a regular kid who wants to see a band for free. Marco also mentions how much he appreciates the work that Jake does as a leader when they are all trapped in the building needing to decide how to break out. They all know they’re going to need to go the almost-suicidal-route and barge their way through in battle morph, but it takes Jake saying it for it to be real. And Marco notes the strength it must take to always be in that role.

Xena, Warriar Princess: I don’t know if this is “shipping” per se (though, again, re-reading this series, while I love Tobias/Rachel, I more and more can see a Rachel/Marco thing working), but it is interesting to note a pattern with Marco’s views of Rachel. In book 7, we see him change his vote about going with the Ellimist after seeing Rachel break down and admit that she’s struggling with this war. And here, Marco doesn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation with Erek’s pain after killing until he sees Rachel crying. In both of these examples, it is clear that Marco uses Rachel as a gauge upon which to judge his reaction to an event. Rachel clearly has a thing for Tobias, but Marco…even if it’s not romantic, he clearly respects Rachel very much and perhaps even identifies with her the most when it comes to these situations.

A Hawk’s Life: Ugh, poor Tobias! Again he is completely side-lined from the action in this book, especially the last half. He does some good work in the initial scouting of Erek, but can’t, obviously, do anything in their infiltration plan in the end.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie seems to have come to her senses a bit with regards to the fact that Tobias is a hawk that *gasp* eats baby animals sometimes. In one scene she’s scoping out a baby possum nest and notes how cute they are, but admits that Tobias as a hawk has a right to eat them if he needed to…but they’re so cute! Effectively guilting him out of it. Still, a vast improvement over her ridiculous anger in the last book. She is also, of course, completely against the idea of re-writing the Chee’s programming so that they can fight. But it must be noted that when Marco essentially gives her an out on the mission to steal the crystal by saying that he understands if anyone wanted to not involve themselves, Cassie steps up to the plate and accepts the group’s choice (and more importantly, in my opinion, Erek’s and the Chee’s choice!).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Turns out that not only can Ax keep track of time in his head, he also has an innate ability to tell direction, which I’m sure will come in useful in the future. As always, Ax’s deadpan humor and inability to discern sarcasm plays as a great foil to Marco. These two are really the most entertaining pair in the group, and it’s always great when they end up on missions together, like they did here as spiders.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: We learn an important fact about morphing in this book that will come up again in a future book in a big way, if I remember correctly.  But, with his usual perfect timing, as they are morphing spider, Ax informs Margo that when one morphs a smaller animal then themselves, their “extra mass” gets ballooned out into Z space. So….blobs of extra guts, and skin, and hair just bobbing around in space. Disgusting and also incredibly nerve-wracking as Marco notes the freakiness of the fact that these blogs could be hit by a passing space ship at any time. Ax is very reassuring about this concern, of course, noting that a ship would never “hit” a mass of excess morph material; it would be disintegrated by the ship’s shields immediately. Thanks Ax.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot in this book, other than my own developing Marco/Rachel/Tobias love triangle that exists nowhere but my own head. When describing the team members, Marco mentions Jake and Cassie’s quasi relationship saying:

“The only time they’ll act that way is when we’re about twelve seconds away from doing something insanely dangerous. Then they’ll kind of give each other these pathetic sad looks. It’s so lame.”

Also, at one point, when Marco and Cassie barely escape being killed by the furnace which suddenly turns on as they are crossing it, Jake becomes very concerned about Cassie, forgetting to ask about Marco’s well-being, much to Marco’s annoyance.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three isn’t in this book! This is a first I think! Instead, we get some high-ranking “grandmotherly” human Controller leading the troops in the final battle. But, guess it makes sense. Though we never see him in action, it sounds like Erek was pretty much an unstoppable killing force when he saved the group and we can’t have him taking out Visser Three right here and ending the whole series!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: So, the scene between Marco and his Dad. It turns out that Marco’s Dad’s company is thinking about getting involved in developing some type of military technology. But Marco’s Dad tells him this story about how in the year before her death, his relationship with Marco’s Mom turned some type of corner and they had a blissful relationship. Never fighting, completely in love. And one night during this time he woke up to see Marco’s Mom sitting up in bed, clearly struggling with something. But all she says is “They won’t take you if you don’t become involved with the military.” And he never fully understood it, but it’s been enough for him to avoid military projects ever since.

Marco sees this story for what it really means. This “blissful” period of time is when his mother became infested. The Yeerk has no reason to involve itself in petting marital spats, preferring a simple home life to focus on its own work. And that night in bed between his Mom and Dad was his Mom’s massive fight against the Yeerk to gain enough control to give her husband that one warning to avoid the military to save him from becoming a Controller himself.

The whole thing is so tragic. His Dad’s false memories of this happy portion of their marriage. The real struggle, and likely high price that was paid, by his Mom to deliver the warning.

One last note on this, the book never really addresses this point again, that Marco’s Dad was considering getting involved with a military contract that would make him bait for the Yeerks. I guess we are left to assume that he decides to continue abiding my his wife’s warning, even if he doesn’t understand it.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Marco notes how the original plan to infiltrate the Yeerk base to get the crystal was supposed to be a week away, giving them time to practice their bat morph and better prepare. But Erek discovers that the Yeerks are working to make the base even more well-protected, forcing the team to need to jump into action immediately. So, there’s some excuse (and self-awareness!) here about the lack of planning. However, turns out the bat morph is super easy to control, so practicing it wasn’t really necessary anyways. But the fact that they couldn’t carry the crystal out…that problem was always there, right in front of them, being ignored!

Favorite Quote:

Marco/Rachel banter is the best. And a big deal is made over the fact that Marco has cut his hair short in the beginning of this book (let’s be real, the model for Marco for the book covers cut his hair and the book needed to address it, for some reason).

“That’s what that hair of yours reminds me of: a wolverine. I knew it was something.” [Rachel said]

“Oh, yeah?” I shot back. “Well, how about your . . . your …”

“My what?” Rachel asked coolly, with the absolute confidence of a girl who never looked less than perfect.
“Your tallness,” I said lamely. “You’re . . . tall. Way tall.”
Somehow this brilliant comeback did not cause Rachel to break down in tears.

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 5

Even though the Chee don’t end up joining the war, escaping with the Pemalite crystal and preventing the Yeerks from creating some type of super computer that would control all computers is still a pretty big win, so a point to the Animorphs!

Rating: A solid Marco book! He’s my favorite narrator in the series, and even though he doesn’t have much of a personal arc in this story, we’re still introduced to the Chee who will play a role in future books, so this is an important installment in the series.

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

Serena’s Review: “Shadowcaster”

30253091Book: “Shadowcaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publication Info: HarperTeen, April 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Alyssa ana’Raisa is the reluctant princess heir to the Gray Wolf throne of Fells, a queendom embroiled in a seemingly endless war. Hardened by too many losses, Lyss is more comfortable striking with a sword than maneuvering at court. After a brush with death, she goes on the offensive, meaning to end the war that has raged her whole life. If her gamble doesn’t pay off, she could lose her queendom before she even ascends to the throne.

Across enemy lines in Arden, young rising star Captain Halston Matelon has been fighting for his king since he was a lýtling. Lately, though, he finds himself sent on ever more dangerous assignments. Between the terrifying rumors of witches and wolfish warriors to the north and his cruel king at home, Hal is caught in an impossible game of life and death.

Review: I told Kate that I was struggling with how to start off this review because I have noticed a trend in my own reviews: nit-picky focusing on covers! I mean, the fact that I devoted time to griping about this cover in the limited word count available for our little features in “Highlights” posts…and then STILL want to rant about it more here? But I will resist, so please refer to our “April Highlights” post for my thoughts on this travesty.

“Shadowcaster” is the second book in Cinda Williams Chima’s “Shattered Realms” series that takes place a generation later in her “Grey Wolf Throne” world. I struggled with the first one, feeling that the characters were less interesting than the original cast and that the romance was a bad example of insta-love. So going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Which, as it turns out, was the appropriate approach as, in many ways, this is almost a second beginning to the series. We’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters and a timeline that is largely running alongside the events of the first book. There were still aspects of the series that I am struggling with, but I did find myself enjoying this book more than the first (a bit of a trend, I’ve found with this author, as I had the same experience with her first series in this world.)

This time around, our two main characters (though there are several others with POV chapters, including a few from Jenna, a character from the first book) are Lyss, the reluctant heir to the Grey Wolf Throne, and an Ardenian captain, Halston, who after being capture by the enemy begins to learn more about the other side of this war and story.

First off, I think the main reason I enjoyed this book more than the first was the fact that I enjoyed both of these main characters more. Lyss especially was very fleshed out and well drawn. Her struggles with identity and with her relationship with the queen, her mother, are thoroughly explored throughout the course of the story. After her sister’s death, a sister who Lyss and the entire country revered as the ideal princess heir, Lyss finds herself in the impossible role of needing to fill those shoes. Further, her own talents for warfare and military strategy, combined with her physical fighting prowess, call her to a role of action. Throughout the years, she has gained respect and acumen for her success in the war against Arden, but whenever she returns home, the duties of ruling chafe, especially given her penchant for frank and perhaps less diplomatic language and ideas. All of this, plus the shared loss of all their family (or so Lyss believes, not knowing as we do that her brother lives) creates an ongoing tension point in her relationship with Raisa, the queen. Lyss was a brilliant character, and her journey throughout the book neatly tied the plot’s action to Lyss’s own growth and challenges.

Halston received less page time, but he too was a compelling character. Throughout the story, Halston’s story makes it clear how difficult life in Arden is. Politics is tangled around every aspect of life, with the fear of angering the cruel king tinging every decisions. After being captured by Lyss and her troops, Halston begins to see the falsehoods that have been spread by the King about the war and the northern country with whom they fight. However, loyalty and a fierce desire to protect his family must drive his every decision.

One of my primary concerns with the first book was the insta-love relationship that seemingly evolved out of nowhere. With that in mind, I was extremely pleased to see the more developed and extended relationship that was drawn between Lyss and Halston. Both characters are given the proper amount of time and shared experiences to make a budding relationship between the two enemies believable. I was much more invested in this relationship than I ever was with Jenna/Ash.

While Ash was referenced in this book, only Jenna had page time out of the original characters. Ultimately, while I did like elements of her chapters, especially now that we have her dragon pal to appreciate, I did question these inclusions. Her story line felt largely separate from the rest of the action and her reference to Ash only reminded me how much I disliked that relationship from the first book. There were a few plot points that were introduced and helpful to driving the larger story line crossing between books, but these chapters were so few and so disconnected from our main characters and plot that I question there inclusion.

Adding to all of these POVS is another, fourth perspective from a young man who has a mysterious gem or mage mark on the back of neck similar to Jenna’s. His role is more important to the driving factors in this story, and as a character I found his story and history interesting.

However, all of this highlights my biggest concern with this book and now the series as a whole. There are so many characters! The first book had around 4 POVs if I remember correctly, and this one introduced another 3. It was obvious in the first book that certain narrators were stronger than others, and the rushed elements of the book (the romance, specifically) I directly attributed to the choice to include so many. There is simply not enough page time in an already lengthy book to fully develop this many characters and their relationships with each other. So, here, we are given even more characters. And while I liked the main characters in this story more than I did those in the first, this just presents me with more concerns. Even in this book I found myself skimming through characters’ chapters (specifically Jenna’s) to get back to Hal and Lyss. What’s going to happen going forward when they all need to share page time together? I don’t want to lose the awesomeness of Lyss, for the less interesting Ash. Or, even worse, focus on the shallow Jenna/Ash relationship at the expense of Lyss/Hal.

While I enjoyed this book more than first, largely due to the strength of its main characters, I came out of the reading experience even more worried about the direction of the series as a whole than I did in the first. After that book, I had hoped that my concerns would be addressed by spending more time with Jenna/Ash so that I could get more on board with these characters and see their relationship flesh itself out further from its unfortunately rapid beginning. But now not only is that not the case, but I’ve been given character alternatives whom I enjoy even more and who are ultimately will have to give up their page time and stories to these originals. Not only do I not know how all of these characters will be given their due in a limited number of pages left in the series, but I now have a strong bias for/against a few of them. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see, fingers crossed.

Rating 7: A stronger book than the first, but one that raises questions for the series as a whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shadowcaster” is a newer title and isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Music in Fantasy Fiction.”

Find “Shadowcaster” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “Flamecaster”

Serena’s Review: “The Alloy of Law”

10803121Book: “The Alloy of Law” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor, November 11

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Centuries after the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity – railroads, electric street lights, and skyscrapers. Waxillium Ladrian can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After 20 years in the dusty Roughs, in the city of Elendel, the new head of a noble house may need to keep his guns.

Review: I have resisted reading this book for a while based completely on my utter love of the first Mistborn trilogy and the continuing and endless sadness that came about in the wake of leaving that cast of characters behind. However, Sanderson is one of my all time favorite authors and while I impatiently wait for the next book in his current epic fantasy series, I decided that it was about time to check out “The Alloy of Law.”

First off, while this book is technically the beginning of a new a trilogy and can be read without first reading the original “Mistborn” series, I would strongly recommend doing that first anyways. Sanderson does a good job of re-describing his world and the elements of his magic system, especially with regards to how these abilities are changed in this new industrial era, but there’s still a lot of strings that need to be picked up from the first book. As I said, I read and loved the original trilogy, but it has been years since I finished it, so in many ways I was coming into this book with similarly new eyes as a first time reader. I had just enough knowledge to know what I was missing, essentially. There are references to the original cast scattered here and there (particularly their influence on the various religions that have formed in the last three centuries), and the complicated magic system gets a brief re-fresh, but the fully detailed accounting of the ins and outs of all the various abilities are not presented again. As I said, the book is technically approachable as is, but I feel that new readers are missing out on quite a bit if they don’t read the first trilogy before diving into this one.

Sanderson is best known for his brilliant magic systems and once again he does not disappoint. Many elements that show up here are carry-overs from the original, but as even the name of the book itself implies, over the years these abilities have merged and changed with the creation of metallic alloys. Essentially, allomancers are those born with the ability to swallow and “burn” flecks of different metals, each metal granting them a distinct ability. Our two main characters, Wax and Wane each have a combination of these abilities. Wax has one of the most common gifts, the ability to push against metals, as well as the ability to increase/decrease his own weight. With Wane, Sanderson introduces one of the new allomantic powers, the ability to create time bubbles; he is also able to store/use health, allowing him to heal wounds with stored health from self-enforced sicknesses. These abilities were all incredibly well thought out and utilized throughout the story. In particular, I loved the exploration of how allomancy has changed in a new industrial era that now has things like railroad lines, guns, and many other metal creations that would affect how allomancers can use their powers.

The western setting was also a nice change from the original trilogy which adhered to a more typical fantasy setting. Government, business, society as a whole, has all moved forwards from the cataclysmic events of the first books. I’ve particularly enjoyed this recent trend of western/fantasy crossovers, but I understand how the appeal might be strange for fans looking for more traditional fantasy. And, while the western elements were engaging, it was also clear that Sanderson’s strengths lie with the fantasy portions. There were a few bits that felt too on the nose or too closely mirrored classic western storytelling for me. I applaud the effort, but wish he had been a bit more gutsy with the setting and western style as a whole.

Characters wise, this book is solid. Fans of Sanderson will be familiar with the character type that Wax represents: strong, lawful good, a conflicted hero who must choose to join the fight once again. I like this character type however, so while Wax felt familiar in many ways, I still very much enjoyed reading his story. Wane was a great counter balance to Wax, less serious and bringing the more raucous joy to the book. The main female character, Marasi, sadly, felt less fleshed out than I have come to expect from the author who brought us the awesome Vin. There was all together too much blushing on her part, and while she was crucial to the success of the group’s plan, she was also a damsel in distress a few too many times. The other two main female characters had potential, but had so little page time that they each felt rather one dimensional in their own way. Lastly, for characters, I will say that I very much enjoyed the villain of this story. In many ways, the villain’s perspective was relatable and sympathetic, something that always makes for a stronger nemesis, and his abilities were sufficiently intimidating for readers to respect the challenge he posed for our heroes.

I very much enjoyed “The Alloy of Law.” My biggest concerns (the less developed world-building with the western setting and simpler female characters) can all be laid at the foot of the book’s shorter page length. I’m used to Sanderson’s fantasy tomes and all the goodies that come with spending hundreds and hundreds of pages on one story. However, even with the condensed page length, this book was a solid start to a new trilogy in the “Mistborn” world, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here!

Rating 8: Only suffering for not being longer and letting loose the full power of the author’s creativity and characterization!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Alloy of Law” is included on the Goodreads lists “Gunpowder Fantasy” and “Most Interesting Magic System.”

Find “The Alloy of Law” at your library using WorldCat!