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!

Serena’s Review: “Brother’s Ruin”

29964674Book: “Brother’s Ruin” by Emma Newman

Publishing Info: Tor, March 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Review: I’m trying to increase my short story/novella reading, and so I was excited when I heard about this new steampunk, fantasy novella put out by Emma Newman. And while I feel like the novella aspect of the book may have weakened aspects of the story, overall, I was very pleased with this story which is the beginning of what looks to be an ongoing series.

Charlotte is in hiding. Not only is she a successful illustrator who must publish under a false name to hide her gender which might cripple her chances at success in a male-dominated profession, but she’s also a talented mage. And to be a mage is to give up one’s life to God and Country, be removed from one’s family (though the family is compensated based on the potential ability of their soon-to-be-lost family member), and be trained into serving in the elite Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. Charlotte has no interest in losing her family, her burgeoning profession, or, worst of all, her fiance. Mages aren’t allowed to marry, and as Charlotte is already engaged to a perfectly pleasing man, so being discovered for the Latent that she is would be catastrophic. Instead, when her family hits hard times, her father recognizes the signs of a magic in his house, but falsely attributes it to his son, and brings in the society mages to test him for abilities. Charlotte must help her brother trick them into accepting him into their group, all while solving a dark mystery into which Charlotte’s father’s debts have dragged them all.

I very much enjoyed the originality of this world. The mages’ society is both something to be esteemed and feared, and this balance is struck again and again throughout the novel. Families can greatly profit from sending a family member to be trained, but they also lose their loved ones in the process, and that loved one gives up the chance to lead a normal life. In one of the opening scenes, Charlotte and her brother witness a young boy being dragged away from his mother once he’s been discovered as a Latent mage. The horror and the tragedy of this early scene is an important reminder as the story progresses and the true danger that her family faces at the hands of her father’s debt collectors becomes clear. It would be easy to question why Charlotte doesn’t simply bring herself forth. In many other fantasy series, having great powers is always shown as a purely good thing. But the sacrifices that come with this life are made clear throughout the entire story. Not only does one give up one’s planned life, but the mages society itself is not without its own dangers and dramas.

Charlotte was a very good lead character. Through her eyes, we can see the fears that have driven her throughout her entire life. Not only does she need to hide her magic, but her own success as an illustrator, a profession that she shares, nay exceeds at, with her own father. He, of course, is unaware of this commonality and the fact that Charlotte has spent much of her own money supporting her brother, in particular. Also, right away, her relationship with her fiance is set up as a challenge. Charlotte has not been honest with him either about these aspects of her life. In truth, her closest relationship is with her sickly brother, the only one to fully know her.

One of the bigger challenges for me in this story was the introduction and use of the mage who aides her in investigating the debt collectors. He is presented as a very attractive man whom Charlotte is drawn to right off the bat. However, throughout the story he routinely misleads her, sends her into dangerous situations without giving her complete knowledge, and out-and-out manipulates her. This behavior is explained, but, for me, he never quite recovers as a heroic character. While Charlotte and her fiance are clearly not well-suited (talk about a wet blanket relationship), I wasn’t as able to forgive the flaws of this new love interest as easily as Charlotte seemed to. The end of the book sets them up to work together in the future, with only the barest hints of romance alluded to (she’s still engaged, mind you), so I’ll be curious to see what comes of this going forward.

My only other struggle was with the pacing and the writing in spots. Charlotte had a few revelations that felt out of the blue and un-earned, and the pacing was jarring in the middle when the plot had to gallop along to cover all the multitude of plot points that were jammed into such a short story. I feel that the story could have benefited from an extra 25-50 pages to fully flesh out the deeper emotional beats and ensure that the plot ran more smoothly.

The world building was strong, however, and Charlotte was a fun main character, so I’m definitely on board to see what troubles she finds herself in in the future! And to see what becomes of her brother, Ben, another character I very much enjoyed who is now trapped in a magical society that thinks he is more than he actually is.

Rating 7: A great start to a new series, if only rubbing up a bit against the restraints of a shortened page length.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Brother’s Ruin” is a newer book and not on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Popular Steampunk Fantasy Books” and “Novellas by women, about women.”

Find “Brother’s Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #9: “The Secret”

363362Animorphs #9: “The Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s something pretty weird going on in the woods behind Cassie’s house. The place where Ax and Tobias call home. It seems the Yeerks have figured out one very important thing: Andalites cannot survive without a feeding ground. Visser Three knows the “Andalite bandits” don’t feed where he does, so there can only be one other place.

Now Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax have to figure out a way to stop a bogus logging camp. Because if Visser Three finds Ax in the woods, nothing will stop him from finding the Animorphs…

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: The book starts with our now customary “mini adventure.” This time is Cassie trying to complete homework to make up her grade since all the Animorph action has real consequences when it comes to success at school. She’s to conduct a research project with a rat and a maze and one thing leads to another and….Rachel and Cassie each morph rats, obviously! Even though it is expressly against Jake’s rules to never use morphing for reasons that aren’t strictly necessary. And then, of course, teen boys show up to pester the rats and they two decide to drive them off by running up the inside of their jeans. Which…maybe it’s just me, but if I were two teen girls, the last place I would want to go is up two boys’ pant legs. I mean, either route has a bad destination….Anyways! The science project is ruined, so Cassie and Rachel went back to Rachel’s house to give Rachel’s sister a home perm. Like you do.

The main action of the story comes when Tobias and Ax report that a logging company has moved into the woods near Cassie’s farm and set up a base. The notable piece being that the base is protected by a force field. Points to Cassie for immediately discerning the Yeerks’ goal: destroy Andalite environment. Flush out the Andalite warriors. After scoping out the place, it becomes clear that the Yeerks are ready for them (Cassie and Marco almost get snagged in a net), so they must come up with a sneaky way of infiltrating the base. After meeting up at the mall, they decide the only way to do it is in insect form. But not ants. Never ants again. Instead, termites! So..better? They fly in owl morph, then after drawing straws, Jake morphs a wolf to provide a distraction as the others morph termite and tunnel their way in.

The termite morph, while not as bad as the ant, still plays with the kids’ minds, sucking them into the group-think colony in a similar manner to other insect morphs. They essentially all get mind controlled by the termite queen, and are only saved by Rachel’s quick thinking to kill the queen and Cassie managing the task herself. But then she panics and demorphs, erupting through the wood only saved by Ax’s ability to demorph his tail and cut them all out. She then proceeds to completely melt down, screaming and pushing the others away, forcing them to hold her down and clamp her mouth shut while Ax is accessing the computer to get information on how the Yeerks managed to get logging access to what turns out to be a federal forest. They discover the Yeerks need one more person to sign off on the project before having full permission to “log” and so the next mission becomes keeping this person from becoming a Controller.

Throughout the book is a side story in which Cassie and her dad rescue a skunk that had been burned by a Yeerk laser beam (they must have thought it was an Animorph). They discover the skunk has kits somewhere out in the woods, which continues to distress Cassie throughout the story. And I can’t blame her! She manages to double up her mission to the logging base, scouting the woods and finding the babies’ nest while in owl morph. But then she takes it too far. After her breakdown in the base, she goes home, morphs the skunk, and ends up falling asleep taking care of the babies. She’s only saved from a life stuck in a skunk morph by the appearance of Jake and co. (summoned by Tobias who helped Cassie find the nest). Jake is understandably angry about not only the close call, but also Cassie’s supremely poor decision making throughout this all. But then, cuz they’re all good kids and Cassie’s clearly lost her mind, a “skunk babysitting” system is put in place in which they will all help take care of the baby skunks until the mommy skunk is well enough to be released.

The main plot is wrapped up with a fairly nonsensical battle in which Cassie essentially ends up captured, morphs a skunk, sprays Visser Three and all of his thugs, and somehow…this freaks them out so much that they hand the guy over in exchange for the trick to get rid of the smell? It was honestly the stupidest conclusion to a book so far in the series. Between Cassie’s supremely annoying moralizing and termite-related insanity, way too much time spent on saving baby skunks, and the ridiculous final battle, this is the first book the series that I think I have outright not liked. Ah well, was bound to happen sooner or later!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, Cassie, she just makes it difficult for me. I mean, I grew up in northern Idaho. I love the woods, and I know how damaging clear cut style logging can have on an environment. But the girl has got to get her priorities straight! After they scope the logging company and almost get caught, realizing that the whole thing is a trap for them, she still starts going on and on about how the logging itself is also, equally!, a big deal. And no, I’m sorry, that’s just not true at this point. They are trying to save the world. The fate of one forest is not the concern here. This is the kind of stuff that makes Cassie’s books the most frustrating for me to read. She just comes off as a bit ridiculous and foolish with her priorities a lot of times.

And her panic attack in the fort….I was a bit confused in the moment, but later in the story Cassie is reflecting on it and her major problem was that she was sick with herself for killing the queen and destroying the termite colony. And look, empathy is great and all. But I draw the line here. This reasoning is on the level of true craziness, to risk your human friends’ lives because you need to panic about destroying a termite colony and how awful of a person that makes you. I’m just going to say it. I don’t like Cassie. I’ve tried, I really have! But, of them all, she consistently behaves in a way that seems ridiculous, unsafe, and unwise. And none of this madness ever really gets resolved in the book. She goes on to get angry at Tobias for eating a baby skunk, and by the end of the book is still trying to work through all the moral quandaries of termites and how maybe we’re no better than Yeerks etc etc. And I just kind of wanted to slap her.

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(source)

So, while I can appreciate the unique aspects that Cassie’s character bring to the series, at this point, she’s not for me. But there’s a lot of books left, so maybe she will improve as we go.

Our Fearless Leader:  Cassie and Jake like each other. As in like. Cassie’s words, not mine. Jake also shows his leadership in smaller ways. When the go to scope out the logging company, he teams up Cassie with Marco instead of Rachel because he knows that the girls tend to egg each other on, as evidenced by the rat escapade which Jake caught on to after hearing about teen boys freaking out due to rat-to-pants invasions.

It is also particularly weird, even for the reader, when Jake selects the straw to be the distraction. It’s mentioned that they all kind of assumed he’d be going in with them, the leader and all, and I found myself surprised as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Cassie sums up Rachel and her own relationship (and Rachel and everyone’s relationship, for that matter) fairly effectively saying:

“That’s the great thing about Rachel — she’s always willing to help talk you into doing something you probably shouldn’t do.”

There’s also a nice little reference to a few books ago when Rachel talked Cassie into joining her on her elephant crusade against the cruel trainer at the circus, which Cassie effectively uses to guilt Rachel into joining her in rat morph to complete her homework in the beginning of the book. It’s always fun seeing these small callbacks pop up in these books.

Rachel also helps comfort Cassie through her panic attack in the Yeerk base after demorphing from termites. Their bestie relationship is still very precious, if only because Cassie seems like a better person when Rachel is around.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias and Ax are the ones to discover the logging base. And he gets the termite for them. But, per the usual at this point, Tobias gets sidelined due to his inability to morph. He even misses out on the pre-mission action as the rest approach at night in owl morph and hawks can’t see well at night. Man, Tobias’s book can’t come soon enough. Spoiler alert: the whole recurring Tobias inaction thing gets solved, which will be a relief at this point.

Tobias does help talk Cassie through her craziness about guilt over killing the termite queen. In this conversation, she proceeds to compare herself to the Yeerks for invading the termite colony and destroying it to protect herself. Again…actual thinking is clearly not Cassie’s strong suit. Self-protection is not the same as wantonly destroying other species for your own benefit and power! But then she gets mad at him for eating a baby skunk, and….angry at Cassie yet again.

The Comic Relief:  Marco continues to prove that he’s one of the smartest members of the group, picking up on the Yeerks’ plan just as fast as Cassie and anticipating the challenge of scoping it out since the Yeerks would be on high alert for just that kind of reaction and be immediately suspicious of any group of animals that would approach. When Cassie gets paired with Marco, she says that he can get on her nerves. Of course he can, Cassie! Cuz, girl, you can be a bit of a stick in the mud at times. But she later admits that Marco is a very loyal friend, sticking with her through all the skunk madness.

Marco’s terrible driving is also referenced when Cassie goes out with her Dad to pick up a skunk that got hit by a car and comments that they’re in a truck they just bought cuz the last one was “stolen” and found wrecked in a ditch.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: When the group meets to form a plan in the mall, Cassie’s reaction to Ax coming in his human morph sums up it all “Uh oh.” According to Jake, Ax is making progress since he “didn’t eat the plate this time” when they get nachos at the food court. We also find out that Ax, in addition to cigarette butts, has eaten dryer lint and engine oil.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: “Face bulged like a zit about to pop”…in reference to morphing a rat. As if just morphing a rat in the first place wasn’t horrible enough. There’s also another reference to Cassie’s superb morphing abilities when she becomes a wolf, only controlling her morph so the wolf head comes first and is fully formed on her human body. Wolfwoman. Cool…or creepy? And the termite morph is about as disgusting as you would expect.

Couples Watch!: Other than the references that Cassie makes herself about her and Jake liking each other, there’s a moment in the beginning when Rachel asks Tobias why he didn’t come by the other night and Cassie clarifies that they hang out together in the evenings and watch movies and such. Super cute.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerk logging company is called “Dapsen” which, according to Ax, is  a “not polite” word. So it’s funny to see that the Yeerks must have some kind of sense of humor for this all! Also, the fact that somehow Visser Three is so evil that he projects an aura of evilness even disguised in human morph is once again mentioned. Eve after only seeing Visser Three’s human morph once before, Tobias immediately says that something feels “wrong” about one particular human when they’re scouting the log camp.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Is it weird that the saddest part might have been Cassie’s thoughts about the abandoned skunk kits? Crying out for their mother? Alone in the woods, not knowing why she won’t come? Ugh! Animal sadness!

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I can’t even accurately describe the final “battle” in this book, because that’s how terrible it all was. Cassie is trapped by the Yeerks, and for some reason, she can anticipate that her skunk morph’s spray will be the most effective tool against them. Any logic here would have her morphing something with more fire power. And the complete melt-down the Yeerks have is completely ridiculous…in a series that is already pretty ridiculous, so you know it’s got to be bad.

Favorite Quote:

While their final plan is even stupider, I appreciate the dryly humors and accurate commentary by Rachel on their initial plan to scout out the logging base.

“Here’s the plan,” Jake said. “We morph owls to get close. We demorph at least two hundred yards away from the compound. Then we crawl close, morph termites, dig under the force field, and enter the termite holes in the outside of the building.”

“As long as it’s nice and simple,” Rachel said darkly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 4

I am awarding the Yeerks a point on the cleverness of the logging plan and for the fact that that plan is a million times smarter than anything the Animorphs themselves came up with in this book. Essentially, I refuse to give the Animorphs points for a book that depends on skunk spray for its resolution.

Rating: Not great. Really, I didn’t like anything about this book. Cassie cemented herself as my least favorite character by far with her irresponsible craziness, and the story itself felt unnecessary (waaaaay too much time on random skunk kits) and had a conclusion that I couldn’t take seriously. And I tried  hard.

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: “The Prophecy”

34036785Book: “The Prophecy” by Petra Landon

Publishing Info: January 27, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Book Description: Chosen have walked the earth for time immemorial. Tasia is a very special Chosen. Warned to keep her distance from her brethren, she makes a fateful decision one night to assist an injured Shape-shifter. Suddenly, Tasia finds herself in the cross-hairs of Shifter mercenaries encroaching on San Francisco. Forced out of the shadows, Tasia has little choice but to ally herself with the local Shifter Pack led by a formidable and dangerous Alpha Protector. In the cut-throat world of a Shifter Pack, Tasia must fight to protect her secrets while struggling to negotiate with the enigmatic Alpha who holds his violent Pack together with a ruthless hand on its reins.

Grave danger threatens their world as a powerful wizard exploits an old prophecy to divide the Chosen. When the Pack is asked to investigate the twenty-five year old mystery, Tasia is drawn deeper into a past that risks raising the suspicions of the very Chosen she hides from. As danger closes in on her, Tasia must decide who to trust with the deadly secrets she guards.

Review: I was approached by the author to read and review this book, and after looking over the book description, I decided to give it a go! While urban fantasy isn’t my go-to subgenre in the larger speculative fiction group, there are several series that I have read and enjoyed for a several years now, and this book sounded as if it would fit in well with those! And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed by this initial assessment. “The Prophesy” is a solid entry into the urban fantasy realm, if still in need of a bit of tightening up and a few more elements that differentiate it as a unique world.

From my experience, most urban fantasy series live and die by the strength of their main character. Tasia, I am happy to say, held her own very well. Her voice was interesting and the mysteries of her abilities and why she is disguising herself as a lesser being were intriguing strings to follow throughout the book. I will say that this initial set up struck a bit too closely to the Kate Daniels books which are set up with a similar premises (very strong heroine hiding her abilities from the rest of the supernatural world), but as I continued reading I was able to appreciate the unique aspects that the author brought to Tasia and her own story.

I also enjoyed the larger world building and the inclusion of many different supernatural beings with creative names and relationships between the groups. Obviously we spend much more time with the Shifters than any other group, so they stood out as a highlight in the book. At first I was a bit confused about the power structure within this group and how the different Shifters all related to each other. It was clear, however, that the Alpha Protector was the One-Shifter-To-Rule-Them-All, and I liked him as a character very much.

This is a hefty read. The page count is fairly long, especially for urban fantasy which tends towards the shorter page counts for fantasy fiction. But the book is full of action and adventure, so after a bit of a slow start, I was able to fully invest myself in the story and simply enjoy the ride.

There were a few writing mechanics issues that I did struggle with. I, personally, am not a fan of exclamation points in most of my reading. Perhaps in some dialogue, they can work. But they were used a bit too often in the general narration, for my preference, and I found myself being thrown out of the story a bit due to it. And, as I said, there were a few aspects of the story that struck a bit too close to home to general urban fantasy tropes. I very much liked Tasia, but she also felt a bit too familiar to other classic urban fantasy heroines at times. However, this is the beginning of a series, so there is plenty of room left to grow her character and this world even further, lending more distinction to the series as an entry into the genre.

So, in conclusion, this was a solid start to a new urban fantasy series. There were a few parts that I struggled with, but if you’re looking for another dose of urban fantasy action, check out this book!

Rating 7: A good start for a new urban fantasy world if still leaving room for improvement going forward as a series!

Reader’s Advisory:

This is a lesser known book at this point and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Awesome Urban Fantasy Heroines.”

This book is also not currently listed on WorldCat, but you can get a copy on Amazon!

 

Serena’s Review: “Hunted”

24485589Book: “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Review: Just in time to cash in on my “Beauty and the Beast” phase that has been reignited by the recent movie release (though, let’s be real, I’m almost always interested in “Beauty and the Beast” stories) comes this new release by Meagan Spooner with a re-imaging of the classic fairytale. And, what a relief, it is actually a true re-imagining! And a very enjoyable one at that!

Similar to my love of Jane Austen re-tellings, I’m always on the look out for a good fairytale re-imagining, and my favorite is “Beauty and the Beast.” And, just like the Jane Austen wanna-bes, many of them fall sadly short, so I’m always slightly nervous going in. Will this one be yet another let down? Or…?

In Spooner’s version, Beauty, or Yeva, and her two older sisters are the daughters of a wealthy merchant father. But this time, her father’s rise to fortune came upon the back of his skill as an archer and hunter in the mysterious forest that surrounds the city. From him, Yeva has also learned to tread the forest pathways, bow in hand, and developed a deep love for the woods and its denizens, both the ordinary and the fabled. After the family’s inevitable fall from fortune and her father’s subsequent disappearance on a hunting trip, Yeva sets out to find him only to become entangled in the plot of a Beast who is on the lookout for a skilled hunter to free him from a curse.

What I most loved about this book was the blending of familiar aspects from the classic tale (the main plot points are all there) alongside the truly unique new take on the story as a whole. And these new aspects weren’t only superficial changes. The entire curse is changed in a way that effects the action of the story, the characterization of its main characters, and the gradual build in the relationship between Yeva and the Beast.

First, for the familiar aspects. I was overjoyed to see one of the only other examples I can think of of a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the sisters were as well-handled as they were in my all-time favorite version, Robin McKinley’s “Beauty.” In particular, Asenka, the middle daughter who was born with a clubbed foot, is incredibly well-rounded and made to be a character in her own right. The relationship between all the sisters is lovely, shown and not told through small moments, like their ritual of break-making each night, and the larger interactions that come from the traumatic events that befall the family throughout the story. We all know that I am a sucker for sister stories, and this one was completely satisfying in every way.

And, as I said, the main bullet points of the fairytale are all there in this book. The family’s fall from fortune, Beauty’s time with the Beast, her return to her family, and her choice to go back to the Beast and save him from the curse. But, as I said, all of these traditional plot points were handled in completely unique ways. Beauty’s motivation for staying with the Beast is different. His motivations for wanting her there are different (we get small insights into his thoughts between chapters). Their relationship develops along different lines than those we expect (hunting trips in the woods rather than elaborate, enchanted dinners in a castle.) And the curse itself is set up in a completely new way.

I loved how naturally all of these elements came together, new and traditional. Yeva’s love of hunting isn’t simply thrown in as an aside that makes here character “strong” but is actually integral to the story. The relationship between the two builds slowly and naturally, never easily side-stepping the challenging aspects of the situation they find themselves in. There is no quick forgiveness or trust, but instead, a natural transformation. I also particularly liked what Spooner did with the Gaston-like character, Solomir. He was another excellent example of fleshing out a character who can often come across as just another stock character.

Lastly, Spooner added a level of depth to Yeva’s internal struggle throughout the book. Yes, circumstances force her into situations that she wouldn’t have chosen for herself, but from the very beginning her desire for something more is made clear. I appreciated how deeply the author delved into this sense of wanting and dissatisfaction, and how neatly these aspects of Yeva’s character were tied to the story and curse as a whole. Again, it wasn’t an aside to make Yeva more well-rounded, but an important aspect of the story itself. My only complaint would be that I feel Spooner may have missed an opportunity to push this theme further in the end of the book. It seemed like she walked right up to the edge of making a more powerful statement about this, but then side-stepped it a bit. She still made her point clearly and tied it together well, but I personally feel like it could have been taken a bit further, even.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It is always so exciting to see an excellent fairytale retelling, especially of “Beauty and the Beast” which I think is probably one of the more challenging tales to do well. I strongly recommend this book to fans of the original story and of fairytale retellings in general!

Rating 9: An excellent story, perfectly blending the familiar elements of the fairytale and unique characters and plots!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hunted” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best retellings of Beauty and the Beast” and “Archery.”

Find “Hunted” at your library using WorldCat!