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

363357Animorphs #39: “The Hidden”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Cassie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

363404Animorphs #38: “The Arrival”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Ax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

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

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

And one of Marco’s many good lines:

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

125336Animorphs #37: “The Weakness”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 200

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

Narrator: Rachel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Surprised to see me?> I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote:

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

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

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

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

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #36: “The Mutation”

363360Animorphs #36: “The Mutation”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Morphing into killer whales, the Animorphs discover a whole new world where humans with gills exist in the deep waters below.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Ah, yes, the Atlantis book. It’s at this point in the series where I very distinctly remember switching to this attitude:

Why rage against what is? Of course, Atlantis! Why NOT Atlantis?!

Jake gets the always dreaded late night phone call to meet in Cassie’s barn. There he finds her and several of the Hork Bajir from the free valley along with another Hork Bajir that is clearly dying despite all of Cassie’s best efforts. The Jara Hamee and Toby report that this is one of 50 Hork Bajir that were experimented on by the Yeerks in a search to create a being that could thrive underwater in order to again pursue the Pemalite ship. The experiments went horribly wrong and all of the Hork Bajir died, including, shortly following, the one in the barn. When these experiments failed, the Yeerks turned to creating a new specialized ship called the Sea Blade and they will be launching it soon.

The Animorphs jump into action and conduct their usual airborne stakeout of the Yeerk pool. When they see a large, cloaked ship emerge, they know this is it and pursue it to the ocean where they all morph orca whales (because of course The Gardens recently got an orca). They follow the ship down and eventually decide they have to attack it and destroy it and the only real way is brute force. They start going after it only to be quickly spotted and shot at by the ship’s powerful laser weapons. The group takes a lot of damage with various members, including Jake, needing to demorph and remorph several times. Finally, their only option is to all ram the ship at once. The massive blow works, crippling the ship, and it starts to sink. The group follow it to make sure it’s really destroyed, but instead see it come to rest outside of a large, underwater cave where a bizarre set of beings emerge and pull the ship inside.

Jake decides they need to follow the ship, still set on the original mission to make sure the Sea Blade is completely destroyed. They all morph hammerhead shark and head into the cave. At the back of the cave, they pass through some type of force field masquerading as a dead end. Behind this field, they come out in a bizarre ship graveyard. The space is massive and is filled with various ships from throughout the centuries, old sailing ships to more recent Russian subs. But what is really horrifying is when the examine the ships more closely, they see stuffed, dead humans displayed as if they were mannequins in a museum. They continue through the massive cave and through another entrance. Past this door they discover Atlantis.

<We come here chasing Yeerks and we end up with this?> Cassie wondered. <Is this good luck or bad luck?>

<It’s our luck,> Rachel said dryly.

The city has clearly been constructed over centuries, with the bottom layer made up of older materials and the upper with more recent steel and such. The Animorphs decide to morph birds to get a better look. They find the Sea Blade and see the Hork Bajir on board being lead away be a group of underwater beings. The Atlantians look like humans, but with larger eyes and gills in their necks. They’re armed with a variety of weapons, from bow and arrows to handguns. As they continue their search, they begin to hear what sounds like the captured Hork Bajir screaming in pain. They decide that it might be best to leave.

When they land to demorph, however, they are captured, all but Tobias who remained in the air. In their human (and Andalite form), they are brought into the city and presented to a woman who is their queen. She identifies herself as Queen Soca and that her people are called the Nartec. She invites them to tour her city and join her for a banquet, though it is clear that these are orders and not invitations.

At the banquet, the group hears the history of the Nartec people. Long ago, their city began sinking below the water. Eventually the walls they built bent inwards and formed a cave which protected them as the city fully submerged. Below water, they found glowing rocks to provide light and their people quickly adapted to their new life. Ax theorizes in private thought-speak that the rocks that are currently lighting the area are radioactive and that it is this that helped mutate the people into beings who could survive underwater. Queen Soca then goes into her plan to use the Sea Blade to attack the world above. She then dismisses them to continue their “tour.”

The group now knows that they cannot simply flee. While the Sea Blade alone could only do limited damage, there is a good chance that the Nartec people also have access to a plethora of missiles (potentially even nukes) that have sunk over the years. They also discuss why Queen Soca would be wanting to attack the surface people now of all times. Ax again theorizes that the Nartecs are perhaps going extinct due to a lack of biogentic diversity. He suspects they are very inbred and have had to breed with past ship wrekc victims to keep their people alive.

They also suspect that Visser Three is lurking around somewhere, which prevents them from immediately morphing and trying to escape. As the tour continues, they eventually end up at the Nartec hospital. Jake is suspicious about this and tries to refuse to go in. The group is surrounded, however, and soon sedated using tranquilizers. He and the others wake up face down on operating tables. They are informed that their DNA will be harvested to help the genetic cause and then they will be mummified and added to their collection. Under heavy sedation, the team struggles to move until suddenly another Nartec enters and begins taking out his fellows. Nartec!Tobias rescues the group and they all morph their battle morphs and head towards the Sea Blade.

On board the ship, Ax struggles to get through the security protocols. As he works, the Nartecs assemble outside and begin attacking the ship. They fire canons at it and blow a whole in the back end. They also begin squeezing their way through the door. The Animorphs try to hold them back, but start to become overrun through sheer numbers. Luckily (?), Visser Three shows up in a morph that has super-hot skin and can incinerate things. He starts taking out the Nartec’s himself and proposes they strike a deal: they work together and get out of this hellhole. Jake publicly agrees, but privately instructs gorilla!Marco to go to the back of the ship and try to hold the hull hole shut. Marco won’t be able to hold it against the full force of the ocean, but it should work for a bit, and Jake suspects that Visser Three doesn’t know the ship is damaged.

Visser Three gives them access to the ship’s controls, and Ax takes over as pilot with Rachel on weapons. They blow their way through to the next cavern with the museum of ships. There Jake tells Marco to let the hull go and the ship quickly begins filling with water. The Animorphs all escape and re-morph to sharks. They spot Visser Three escaping as well. They make their way out of the last cavern and return to shore. They are horrified by what the Nartec people, especially by their desecration of the dead, but, of course, the fight with the Yeerks comes first.

Our Fearless Leader: For the narrator of the book, Jake goes through very little personal growth or exploration in this book. It’s primarily focused on the action of the story. And look, when you’re going to try to sell a “Atlantis is real!!!” storyline, I get not wanting to cram in a lot more. But it’s always disappointing, too, when we miss out on these character building moments. And typically, Jake, Marco and Rachel often have the best in this area, so missing it from him is even worse.

What we do get is a lot of evidence of how far Jake has grown as a leader. In the beginning of the mission, he evaluates the group and where they are at with the new plan. He notes that with most missions, at least half of the group is having some issue or another (here, Cassie seems to be in it for the wrong reasons, Marco is rather indifferent, and Tobias is also potentially more emotionally invested than is good, while Ax and Rachel are behaving normally). It’s a good example of him quickly identifying where each member of the group is at, and also an interesting reminder of the group dynamics. Thinking back on it, this seems pretty right: it usually is about 50% of the group who has some particular struggle with any given mission with the other 50% behaving mostly normally. Ax and Tobias probably fall in the normal group more often than the others, but the stats are generally the same.

Then, throughout the story, we get the usual Jake stuff with his concerns that he is risking his friends’ lives for nothing or made the wrong choice. However, we never see any outward expression of this. He doesn’t have any freeze up or spirals of anxiety like we’ve seen in the past. Instead, at the very end of the book we get this:

My own mistakes would keep me awake at night for a while to come. But I’d been in charge for a while, now. I’d gotten past thinking I would always be right. It’s a war, I reminded myself. You did what you could, Jake. You tried to do what’s right. You tried not to make it any worse than it had to be. And you got everyone home alive.

This is a very mature outlook on things, and the first time we’ve really seen this settling of Jake’s thoughts regarding his role as leader.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Other than her usual gung-ho-ness, Rachel doesn’t have too many moments that stand out in this book, other than a scene at the very end. When they’re on the Sea Blade fighting off the masses of Nartecs, there’s a pretty badass image of Rachel standing in the doorway alone, using one Nartec as a body shield and taking out tons of others with a single paw. It’s a pretty neat image of the absolute warrior that she is.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias to the rescue! It’s often confusing why he stays in hawk morph some of the times he does (another example comes at the end of this book when they’re all fighting on the Sea Blade. I HAVE to think that another morph would have been better against the Nartecs than staying in his hawk form). But arc of this story goes to show why it’s also a good thing for him to remain as a bird. As such, he doesn’t get caught with the others and is able to acquire a Nartec morph and rescue them in the end. From his experience as a Nartec, he’s also able to report that the Nartecs are misrepresenting their own strength and that the Nartec giving them a tour is one of the few stronger ones that is able to walk on land for long periods of time. Most of the Nartecs, like the one he morphed, are only strong in water and don’t do well on land for long.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has a very strong reaction to losing the Hork Bajir in the beginning of the story. She even has to be strong enough to advocate for letting the Hork Bajir die rather than prolong his suffering with extra measures, which is Jake’s knee-jerk reaction when he sees him start to fade. But she then takes these feelings to a very blood-thristy and un-Cassie-like level which leads to Jake placing her on his “problem” list. This reaction seems in line with Cassie, both with the stronger aspects of her personality and weaker ones. She is incredibly empathetic and, especially being the one who is tasked with healing others, it is not surprising that the death would hit her hard. But she then quickly succumbs to a revenge attitude which is another example of her moral weakness (in that her much vaunted “morality” often falls away at convenient (for her) moments.) Marco even calls her out on this poor attitude:

“What they did to the Hork-Bajir was evil,” she said.”Over the line. Way over the line. We need to teach them a lesson.”

Marco said what I was thinking. “Hey, we don’t teach lessons. And we don’t do revenge. Besides, everything the Yeerks do is over the line. We stop them. That’s what we do.”

The Comic Relief: Marco is fairly reluctant throughout this entire mission. In some ways, it seems that this falls in line with his general and ongoing frustration with the Chee’s inability to manage some of their problems, like the ship. After the events of “Visser,” it is clear that Marco has an eye on the bigger picture and partially sees this mission as not worth their time. But he doesn’t push Jake too far and agrees when it comes down to it that he will follow Jake’s lead. We don’t get to see him holding the ship together in his gorilla morph, but we have to imagine that that was one of his cooler feats of strength.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the one to put together most of the pieces that make up the mystery of the Nartec people. He figures out how they could have adapted so quickly to life under water (the radiation) and is also able to figure out what is now suddenly driving their desperation to attack the surface world (their slow extinction). The Nartec queen also calls him the other Animorphs “pet” at one point, which he doesn’t take well.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Stuffed, mummified people is pretty horrifying. But what really sets it off is that when the group finally makes it back to the Sea Blade, it is already set up with the stuffed bodies of the Hork Bajir. They had just been alive and the team had heard their screams, and now here they are, stuffed and mimed to be performing functions on the ship. It’s pretty bad.

Couples Watch!: Jake gives Cassie a hug after the Hork Bajir dies in the barn and calls her his girlfriend at another point in the story. Rachel and Tobias also comment on their worry about each other when they are reunited after Tobias rescues them from the Nartec hospital.

<I’m glad you’re okay, Tobias,> Rachel said. <I hate it when you don’t get taken prisoner with us.>

<Yeah, well, I was worried about you, too.>

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There was a noticeable difference in the way Visser Three’s dialogue was written in this one. He was much more savvy and well-spoken than his usual, corny, rage-induced mania. It’s always a bit strange when readers can notice changes in characterization like this that come down to different authors writing differently. Though his plan to find the Pemalite ship to prove a big point to the Council of Thirteen about his worth seems right in line. It’s also always interesting when we see the Animorphs have to work alongside the Yeerks, and this was a fun example of them taking advantage of the private vs. public thought speak modes to outwardly agree to Visser Three’s plan while also plotting against him.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The beginning where the Hork Bajir dies is definitely cry worthy. The story doesn’t pull back on the anguish of the Hork Bajir and the sadness of Jara Hamee as he watches his friend die.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It’s not really a plan, but they sure are determined to make sure the Sea Blade is good and destroyed. It seemed like there were a lot of opportunities where some good old fashioned sneaking would have worked better than what they were up to. Jake’s plan at the end to trick Visser Three about the damaged ship was probably the best plan in the whole book.

Favorite Quote: A good burn by Visser Three:

<One can always count on two things from Andalites: That they will adopt a sanctimonious moral posture. And that when it serves their purpose, they will quickly abandon that posture.>

And for some reason, we’re doubling down again on the weirdness of whales morphs and their “special knowledge.” It’s just as stupid this time as it was the first time. This just doesn’t seem right. Again, getting into the fact that the “orca” here is just the remnants of instinct. Its body is Jake’s body made up of his cells changed to orca cells. There IS NO ORCA. Ugh, I hate it when the story goes down this kind of nonsensical “but are we any better than the  Yeerks??” hand-wank path. Luckily, it’s never touched on again, which just makes it all the more unnecessary to include at all.

I had encountered intelligence in a morph before. But there was something new here. New for me, at least. The orca was aware. Of me. Of something, someone directing its behavior. It knew, in some incomplete, simplistic way, that it was being controlled.

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 15

A point for the Animorphs! While it wasn’t the biggest mission ever, destroying the Sea Blade was their prime objective and they completed that, thus at least further delaying the Yeerks’ attempt to recover the Pemalite ship.

Rating: There was no where else to really put this bit, but there was a really strange portion of the book that briefly discussed the Nartecs using captured sailors as “breeding stock.” Cassie even goes so far as to say that that may end up being their fate as well. And then Rachel makes a joke about Marco finally getting a girlfriend. It was….very strange, seeing that in a middle grade/young adult book. I mean, if you actually think about what they’re saying there, that’s serious stuff and really seriously horrifying stuff. I get that the book was using the genetic issues as a motive for the Nartec wanting to attack the surface, but to get into the details of breeding stock and to even bring it up with relation to the Animorphs themselves (who are CHILDREN) is pretty messed up. It’s tough, because one of the things I like best about this series is that it takes a serious look at war and its effects on soldiers. But this was a story about freaking Atlantis for pete’s sake. I think if we’re that far down the nonsense path, we can maybe leave out the speculation about the rape of young kids in this go around.

Other than that, this book was enjoyable enough. I had to make sure not to let my mind turn on at any point, but the action itself was fun. I do wish there had been a bit more development for Jake’s character as I always feel like it’s a missed opportunity in Jake/Rachel/Marco books if they don’t add some good character angle.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “Visser”

343187Animorphs #35.5: “Visser”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In an hour or so, once I was out of sight of land, I would lower my sails and wait for a Bug fighter to come lift me off the deck. The engine backwash of the Bug fighter would capsize the boat. Or I might put the Taxxon pilot to the test and see if he could ram the low-slung boat. That would puzzle the humans.

Either way, my body would never be found…

My time of lying low was over…

I would spearhead the invasion of Earth. I would take charge of our greatest conquest. I would stand alone atop the Yeerk military hierarchy.

I was to become Visser One.

Narrator: Edriss 562

Plot: It’s pretty well-established that most fans love “Visser.” Not only is it such a unique story, but it’s a great insight into the Yeerk mindset, culture and history. All told from the perspective of one of the few Yeerks that, even while still terrible, it’s hard to not kind of like and root for. Though this might also just be a side effect of rooting against Visser Three.

Oh Edriss, you’re so terrible, but also so cool.

Edriss 563, or Visser One, is on trial for treason. Leading the prosecution is none other than her nemesis, Visser Three. Hosted on earth, the Council of Thirteen, the leading Yeerks of the Empire are holographed in to oversee and rule over the case. Unknown to the Council, Visser Three has beaten and starved Edriss for the last several days and she is already close to Kandrona starvation. However, not one to be cowed by a Yeerk she sees as so beneath her as Visser Three, Edriss begins relating her tale, beginning all the way back to before Earth was discovered and she was a lowly subvisser. While she begins spinning this tale, she neatly implicated Visser Three in some suspicious behavior regarding Elfangor, the Taxxon home world, and two humans. All too soon, she has successfully raised enough suspicion to make it clear that now this trial is not only evaluating her own actions but the amazing lack of progress that Visser Three has made in the effort to conquer Earth.

In her early years as a subvisser, Edriss participated in the ongoing main objective of the Yeerk Empire: locating a Class 5 species. This would be a species that would serve as good Controllers, be easy to conquer, and, most importantly, exist in large numbers. While on duty, she hears a report come in of a new species that was seen on the Taxxon home world. This report was filed by none other than Visser Three (then a subvisser himself). Using these early interactions with Elfangor and Alloran, Visser One neatly ties Visser Three into the trial as a potential traitor himself.

Without the exact location, Edriss searches for an entire year to find the homeworld of this new species. But when she learns she is to be transferred to a new host, this time a Taxxon, she knows she must do more. She and a subordinate Yeerk, Essam, steal a ship and set out for the solar system that Edriss has narrowed her search down to. Visser Three tries to use this example of stealing a ship to end the trial, but the Council is unimpressed, knowing they have all committed some crimes in their quest to rise to power.

Throughout this all, Edriss’s host, Eva, Marco’s mom, fights back against Edriss. She mocks the Yeerk, saying that she will be killed for treason here and that her son Marco will defeat Visser Three. Edriss pushes Eva’s thoughts aside, but reflects that she has to get through this, to protect…them.

At this point in the trial, the Council requests to use a live memory file to relieve Edriss’s experience first hand. Through this medium, they see the next chunk of time. Edriss and Essam finally discover Earth. They make their way to Earth and disembark only to find themselves in the midst of a battle. They are shocked to find the humans attacking each other and worry that the humans have a level of weapons that would put them as a Class Four instead of Five,  being too dangerous to overtake. Edriss, however, is determined. They locate a lost solider and Edriss infests him. Through his mind, she begins to start piecing together what makes up humanity. She discovers that the soldier she is in is on the losing side of this war and that he sees his enemies, the Americans, as the most powerful beings on Earth. Edriss decides that the way to conquer Earth will be to conquer its most powerful first, so she and Essam set off for America.

The Council calls a break in the trial. While alone, Visser Three very unsutbly tries to trick Visser One into ganging together to take out the Council. Visser One sees through this plot quickly and mocks Visser Three for his idiocy.

“The real wonder, Visser, is that you ever rose to your present rank.”

The memory transfer continues. Essam and Edriss make their way to Hollywood. There, they each take on a human host. Edriss ends up in a young woman who has a drug problem and isn’t the brightest bulb. Essam takes on a male host as well, and through these two, the Yeerks continue to expand their knowledge of humans. Edriss is disappointed with her host, finding her silly and ignorant. But after digging further, she discovers what may be a weakness in humanity: people are sad and lonely, looking to belong and needing validation from others. She begins to think that humans can be made to come to the Yeerks willingly.

The memory transfer ends, and Visser One accuses Visser Three of squandering the opportunity she had left him, to conquer Earth. Visser Three claims that she left before the Andalite bandits showed up. Visser One ponders telling Visser Three the truth, that some of the “Andalite bandits” are human children. But Eva mocks her and warns her that by doing so, all Edriss will succeed in doing is handing over an easy victory to Visser Three that he can then claim as his own. Visser One goes on to explain that this understanding of human weakness is what lead to her idea of forming The Sharing. Visser Three calls for all-out war, saying Visser One’s strategy has been failing. Visser One can’t let this happen, she fears for the lives of two humans.

As the debate continues, two Hork Bajir suddenly attack Visser Three. Following them comes a tiger and a bear. As the battle wages, Visser One quickly becomes suspicious. There are only four attacking, not the usual six. What’s more, in all of the past attacks, there was always an Andalite fighting in his true form. He is notably absent. The tiger also seems unaware the its being fired at and the bear looks confused. It all becomes clear when the tiger suddenly turns and swipes at the bear itself: these are not the “Andalite bandits” at all. Visser Three has set the whole thing up. Visser Three takes out the tiger and incinerates the poor, confused bear.

After all four are killed, Visser One acknowledges that this round goes to Visser Three. He can now claim to have dealt with the Andalite bandits, and the flaws that Visser One saw would not be apparent to the Council who witnessed it. Visser One’s claim that Visser Three is incompetent is severely damaged. Eva is pleased, she would gladly die and be free to see Edriss herself defeated. Garouff, one of the Council members and a past mentor of Visser One, does seem skeptical of the convenience of the bandits attacking just now, but calls for the trial to continue.

There is a gap in Edriss’s memory dump of about a year, but Visser Three claims to have a witness for this time period: the host body of the deceased Essam. A human man is brought in raving and clearly mentally unhinged. But when asked, he clearly remembers Essam and Edriss and his time as a Controller. He claims that he, Hildy, and Essam were married to Edriss/Allison, and that Essam was in love with Edriss and was sure she felt the same way. That’s why he agreed to having the twins with her.

Edriss is shocked, as is the Council. She struggles to continue her story in calm, rational voice, all the while thinking that her only possible saving grace would be being able to contact Marco and the other “bandits.” Eva appreciates this irony. As her tale unfolds, she discusses her switch from her original, drug addict host to the much more clever and conniving, Allison Kim. Allison showed her the greater depths of humanity, especially their ability to patiently plan and work against a foe.

Visser Three is not satisfied with Visser One simply recounting this tale and calls for a live memory recall, a process in which others can enter the consciousness of the target and relive their memories. Visser One is horrified at this violation. Eva smugly points out that this is how it feels to be Controlled. After protesting, Edriss has to finally agree to letting Garouff perform the memory recall.

Through Edriss’s memory, Garouff witnesses her grow closer and closer to humanity. Not only does being disconnected from her own people have a great effect, but Allison Kim is a clever host and finds ways to draw Edriss and Essam further into the sway of the pleasures of living life as a human. Garouff is surprised and put off to find Edriss and Allison merging in a way and developing feelings for Essam/his human host. Through a series of flash forwards, Garouff sees what he thought to be impossible: two Yeerks falling in love along with their hosts. He witnesses the announcement that Edriss and Essam are expecting twins and finally concludes that Edriss, too, had become an addict, but to humanity itself. He says that while he believes Edriss may not be a traitor in the present, this is proof that she was in the past.

After the birth of the twins, the situation becomes more dire for Edriss and Essam as they realize that their portable Kandrona is running low and will soon expire. Not knowing what to do, the four of them, Edriss, Essam, Allison and Hildy all agree that if nothing else, the children must survive. Garouff ends the memory recall and calls for the trial to continue.

Edriss is shocked. What was revealed in the memory dump was more than enough to convict her, but Eva realizes what is going on: Visser One was not supposed to be convicted and the Council is still looking for a way to avoid it. They need to discredit Visser Three. To delay, Edriss claims that her host body needs food, and the Council agrees to adjourn for an hour.

Visser Three and One make their way out and we discover that the trial is being held in a room off of the Yeerk Pool. In the cafeteria, Visser One notices that another human Controller has a cell phone on her that seems to be working. After bumping into said Controller, she manages to snag the phone and make her way to the bathroom where she calls Marco.

Marco is wary, but impresses Visser One with his clear thinking and, to her surprise, cold-blooded approach to helping. It’s only after Visser One comes up with a clear plan on how to get the “bandits” into the Yeerk pool through a Taxxon feeding station that he tepidly agrees, speaking directly to his mother and saying that he’s not sure he can save her, but that he’ll do what is right.

Back in the trial, Edriss continues her story, explaining how she finally contacted the Yeerk Empire and delivered the news of a Class 5 species and her idea for The Sharing. Back home, she described Essam as behaving emotionally and becoming upset. Edriss continued work building The Sharing, but one day came home to the announcement that Essam was taking the children and leaving. He had decided that he couldn’t go through with it and would let himself die after the three day period of time, after which Hildy could take the children and care for them. He partially starved Edriss until she was forced to retreat to the pool, though he left her alternative host attached so she could Control him. After she regained a host body, Edriss set off after Essam/Hildy, Allison and the children.

Visser Three is lived at the story being told and the clear bias that Garouff shows towards Visser One. But Visser One scoffs at him and rattles off a long list of foolish plans of his that would have been avoided had he, like her, spent the time to more fully understand the humans. Visser Three continues pushing until Visser One finally bursts, ignoring warnins from Eva, that she doesn’t care for the human children. Visser Three uses this moment to walk in her son, now Controlled and tells her to prove her loyalty and shoot him. Visser One struggles, but it is clear that she still values her own life over love and prepares to fire the gun. Luckily, she is interrupted at the last minute by an attack by the Animorphs.

The Animorphs are fierce in their battle, quickly taking out large numbers of the Hork Bajir. Edriss observes that now the Council will see what fighting this group really looks like, unlike the silly pantomime that Visser Three put on earlier. In the midst of the battle, gorilla!Marco shows up and knocks Visser One out.

When she wakes up, the Animorphs have her retrained within a hologram while still in the Yeerk pool. Visser One tries to threaten them and tell them that their job is done, but Marco notes that if any of them are ever captured now, then her treason will be known to Yeerk who has access to their memories and Visser One’s little plea for help. Marco tells Visser One to leave his mother, that he knows his mother would rather die than continue living like this. Eva tells her to go, that Eva herself is like her son and can see the clear line from point to point. Visser One wonders if this means Eva knows what she must do, but finally gives in and leave Eva’s mind.

After a long period in darkness, she is surprised to find that once again she is being given entrance into Eva’s mind. Accessing her memories, Edriss witnesses the converation between Eva, Marco and the Animorphs. She see Eva convince them that she has to remain with Visser One, that is Visser One dies or is seen as disloyal, than Visser Three will win and will get his way with open warfare. In the memory, Marco address Visser One directly, telling her that if they hear that she has retaken control of attacking Earth they’ll send a recording of this meeting to the Council of Thirteen, whom they very much can contact because not all Yeerks are as loyal as Visser One may think.

The Animorphs then stun Visser One and retreat. As she lays waiting to be discovered, she thinks over some of the parts of her tale that she didn’t share. How Essam had been in on the plan of creating The Sharing originally, how it had always been Edriss’s ambition that drove them still. She reflects on her success of the first human to willing agree to be Controlled. The real break with Essam came weeks later when Edriss decided that she no longer needed Allison’s body, but would instead switch permanently to the body of the leader of The Sharing. Essam is horrified by her plans to kill Allison, the mother of their children. She thinks back on how part of the reason she may have chosen Eva as her next host body is the fact that Eva had a husband and child, something that part of her still missed.

The trial finally starts again, and Edriss concludes her story by explaining how she finally caught up with Essam, Allison and the children in a hospital. Essam is almost dead from starvation, and when he starts coming out of Hildy’s ear he dies and Edriss tries to pull him the rest of the way out. But he was still fairly attached, so part of his body remained in Hildy’s head, leading to his insanity. She kills Allison as well and leaves the children in the hospital, knowing that they will be adopted out from there.

As the Council leaves to discuss things, Eva vents that she regrets helping Edriss, that only a monster would kill Essam, Hildy, and Allison and then leave her children to be adopted away. The Council returns and says that both Vissers have been convicted, but that their sentences have been suspended. Visser Three is excited to start open warfare on Earth, but Garouff says no, that a large Andalite fleet is finally starting to gather and that open warfare would draw them out even more quickly. As for Visser One, she remains their most successful military office, so they are sending her to another system where she is to begin taking over yet another race.

Visser One is thrilled, and as they leave, she taunts Visser Three that she has information on the Andalite bandits. But she’d rather not share it just now.

Edriss 563: Edriss is a fascinating character. It’s clear that she is much more clever that Visser Three, but it is also this same cleverness that likely got her in all of this trouble to begin with. It seems in many ways that she began to understand humans too well and this is what lead to her feelings for her children. Throughout her story, Edriss continuously reflects on the strangeness of her attachment to the children, but we also see throughout the narrative that her ambition always came first, even in her moments of weakness. Not only ambition, but self-interest and survival. Had the Animorphs not attacked when they did, she would have shot her own son. And, towards the end of the story, she reflects on how it may be ok if her kids end up Controlled anyways; that way at least they will be forced to love her. Even her concept of love is corrupted, ultimately.

Eva: Eva is also an excellent character. It’s easy to see the connection between her and Marco. She herself draws comparisons between them with their ability to “see a clear line,” and some of  her sarcastic and biting retorts are right there with what we would expect to hear from Marco. She’s also incredibly strategic, repeatedly anticipating what the Council will need to hear and predicting the fact that Visser Three might have something up his sleeve with regards to the children.

<Hey, what is that sound?> Eva laughed. <Oh, I know. It’s the jaws of a trap snapping shut.>

Our Fearless Leader: At one point when Edriss is reviewing Eva’s memory of the discussion between herself and the Animorphs, the “tiger” make a particularly strong strategic point which leads Edriss to conclude that he, too, must be an Andalite to have that type of logic and clarity. When Jake later leaves it up to Marco to decide what to do with regards to killing Edriss or letting her re-infest Eva, Edriss finally realizes that Jake is also a human and is even more shocked at the capability of the group.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Both Tobias and Rachel are in Hork Bajir morph and are never really identified between them. They only get a line or two of dialogue, and it’s not too distinguishable which one said what.

A Hawk’s Life: [see Rachel section]

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie strangely chooses to use her polar bear morph in the attack on the pool, so other than Jake, Marco, and Ax, the group isn’t in their usual formation. It’s an interesting choice. I’m guessing that they knew having two Hork Bajir morphs would be useful in adding to the confusion and that Cassie’s wolf morph wouldn’t have enough fire power with out the usual backup of Rachel’s grizzly, so she went polar bear. At one point, Marco turns to Cassie to confirm the truth of what is being said and she also, in bear morph, tries to hug him at one point.

The Comic Relief: Obviously Marco has the most of all the Animorphs in this book. And from the very beginning, Edriss is impressed not only by his quick thinking and ability to strategize, but by his cold-heartedness with regards to his mother. When he’s talking Edriss in the end, threatening to kill her/Eva if she doesn’t come out of his mother’s head, he references a license plate that said “Live Free or Die,” knowing that his mother (and Edriss through her) will recognize this discussion from his childhood and know that Marco knows that Eva will agree with his decision to approach things like this. Marco is really at his best in books like this when he’s dealing with Visser One/Eva. His ruthlessness is at its peak, but is balanced by his unique ability to quickly think through all of the options and anticipate the moves of other ones, like Visser One.

E.T./Ax Phone Home:  Edriss witnesses a bit of Ax’s particular vendetta against Visser Three as Ax goes straight for him in the initial fight at the Council meeting.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Poor Hildy! What a horrifying concept, to have half a dead Yeerk still stuck in your head. Not only is the idea disgusting, but the results he has to live with, the insanity, sound pretty terrible as well.

Couples Watch!: Edriss and Essam’s “love affair” is the real “romance” of the story. But throughout it all, while Edriss does develop some sort of feelings for Essam and the children, we see her again and again chooser herself and her own future above others. Essam is the only one to truly understand and succumb to human emotion. In the end, he chooses to die rather than live in the world that Edriss is working towards, and what pushes him to it is a threat to Edriss’s host body, Allison, and his fear for the future of teh children. If he had lived, we can be sure he would have been part of the Yeerk Peace Movement.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Some of the best parts of this book are the pieces of dialogue between Visser Three and Visser One. Not only is there no love lost between these two, but Visser One is on point with her put-downs. At one point, she reflects out loud that Visser Three is less likely to be working with the Andalites, but instead sounds as insane as the Helmacrons. We also get to see just how frustrated Visser Three has become with the war effort on Earth. While it is clear that he wants to get rid of Visser One, it seems he’s equally interested in gaining permission to start an all-out war on Earth, having had such little success following Visser One’s initial plan. Visser One also at one point notes how strange it is that Visser Three is this bad at understanding humans, as his claim to fame was the fact that he took such care to truly understand Andilites. You also have to wonder that if he knows Andilites all that well, the he’d start to pick up on some of the stranger behaviors of the Animorphs that aren’t inline with how a group of true Andalite bandits would attack.

“You’ve never understood anything but brute force and crude manipulation, Visser Three. Your plans are grandiose and absurd. You wasted how much time and how many resources inventing a clever potion to destroy human free will? A failure! As anyone who knows humans could have told you. You try and seize control of the head of state of the most powerful nations and end up alarming them, making half of them suspect our presence on Earth! You spend a fortune in pursuit of an Anti-Morphing Ray that doesn’t work! Why? Because you cannot even manage to wipe out a handful of Andalite refugees!”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Obviously, as always Marco and his mom’s situation is one of the most tragic in this story. You have to feel particularly bad for Eva at the end of this book. After essentially coaching Edriss through the last half of her trial and then choosing to return to be Controlled to try to spare Earth, she ends up having to confront the true horror that is Edriss’s mind: no remorse for what’s she done and now simple glee at the fact that she has an entirely new space system to begin conquering.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: We have to give some credit to Visser Three for coming up with the plan to stage an attack by the “Andalite bandits.” It’s a pretty clever ruse and one that really had no immediate downside. There no way he could have suspected that Visser One would not only know where the bandits really were but would have a way of quickly contacting them and convincing them to, essentially, do her a massive, and dangerous, favor.

Favorite Quote: Here’s one of the great Marco moments, when he’s on the phone with Edriss and deciding whether or not he and the others will attempt to attack the Yeerk pool:

My mind was racing. Incredible! The little monster was cold-bloodedly writing off his own mother!
He didn’t answer. Instead he said, “Mom, I know you can hear me. I don’t know if I can save you. You understand that, right? I’ll do what’s right. I’ll do what I have to do.”

And one of the many great moments between Visser One and Three:

<Aaaarrrgghhh!> Visser Three screamed and slammed his tail blade into the wall.

“You really should learn some self-control, Visser.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 15

I’m going to give the Animorphs a point here. We don’t see it on page, but any attack on the Yeerk pool is a huge undertaking, and they pull it off seamlessly. What’s more, they did all of the right mental equations in this situation. Yes, it was worth the risk to save Visser One in order to prevent all out war. And they planned ahead using Chee technology to stay in the Yeerk pool longer and recorded the entire thing to use as blackmail against Visser One.

Rating: All of the Chronicles books are so strong, and they’re all so different. The “Andalite Chronicles” is an adventure/romance, essentially. The “Hork Bajir Chronicles” is a tragedy. And this is strange, villain’s perspective type story. I do wish that there hadn’t been the pointless cliffhanger at the end of the last Marco book. Not only did it not improve that book one bit, but it spoiled some of the bigger moments of this book. Reading it this way, we all know that at some point she’s going to contact them, so readers are just waiting for it to happen. But if we didn’t know that was coming, how much more surprising and powerful would it have been when it did?! It would have been a huge moment in the series. But alas. Either way, “Visser” is an excellent book and adds a lot of background on the initial days of Earth’s invasion, especially with how and why The Sharing was created.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #35: “The Proposal”

363393Animorphs #35: “The Proposal”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are stepping up their invasion tactics. And Marco has problems of his own. His dad is starting to date. But Marco knows his mother might still be alive.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I mean, look at that cover? You know it’s going to be bad when that’s the cover. I didn’t have a whole lot of memories from this book, other than the fact that Marco’s dad wants to get married to a woman who owns the featured “evil poodle.” I had successfully blocked out the rest of the story. Or, more likely, merged it with Rachel’s crocodile-allergy story from which this book LIFTED ITS ENTIRE PLOT LINE! But I will vent about that in my small review section at the end. In the mean time…

Marco and Dean are right: those small dogs are evil!

Marco and his dad’s night of video game playing is interrupted by a phone call from Marco’s math teacher, a woman whom is dad is now dating. To drown out the mushy gushing the two are exchanging via the phone, Marco begins channel surfing. He gets caught up on a self-help talk show where an uber chill man named Tennant is famous for giving his calm, collected advice to callers to the show. Marco recognizes the self-help guru as fairly famous and sits back to watch, only to be bolted out of his seat when he hears Tennant suggest to one caller that the best place to help her loneliness is the perfectly lovely organization called “The Sharing.”

Marco immediately calls Jake and arranges to meet with the group at Cassie’s barn. He begins to morph his usual osprey, but halfway through, things go terribly wrong: he ends up as a half osprey/half lobster monstrosity. Marco manages to morph out, but is too shaken to morph again and instead rides his bike to the barn. There, the others rib him for taking so long, but he quickly distracts them with news of Tennant. Surveillance is called for.

Over the next three days, the team takes turns watching Tennant and establish that he has a very fixed routine involving jogging, working from home while cuddling his pet birds, and airing his show in the evenings. Another pair had already caught him sneaking in through a known Yeerk pool entrance, so his status as a Controller is confirmed. While Marco and Cassie are on watch, Cassie asks how Marco is doing, having caught on to his being shaken recently. He ends up venting about his dad’s dating life and the struggles of knowing that his mom could still be alive.

The next day, they decide to take their scouting to a new level and infiltrate his house. Tennant’s pet birds roam free throughout the house, so Marco and Rachel sneak in to acquire and morph two of them. The others wait to provide back-up should anything go around. Parakeet!Marco and Rachel head into Tennant’s office. There, they see him writing an email to a CEO of the television company that runs his current show. It appears that he is going to be offered an award in the next week followed by a promotion to prime time where he will have an even larger audience to promote The Sharing to.

He gets a phone call from Visser Three, and while he talks to him, discussing plans, Marco feels himself beginning to lose control of his morph. He begins squawking and poops on Tennant’s desk. After Tennant gets off the phone, he explodes into a manic rage, screaming about how he hates all of these animals and he’ll be happy when he’s free to kill them all. He grabs parakeet!Marco and begins crushing him in his hands. He’s only stopped by his host body that begins to fight back. He lets Marco go, but then decides to play the little game his host plays with his pets: getting the birds to say their own names. Of course, Marco doesn’t know the name of the parakeet he morphed.

Tennant quickly realizes that he is an Andalite in morph and hits him with a book, breaking his small bird body. The other Animorphs barge in in battle morphs and Tennant calls for Hork Bajir back-ups who seemingly appear out from….somewhere? Marco manages to de-morph, but when he tries to morph his gorilla battle morph, he again splices two morphs together, this time a fish and the gorilla. Barely making it back to human, he manages to shut the office door in Tennant’s face while he and the other Animorphs make a break for it out of the window.

Back in the barn, the others are furious with Marco for not revealing his morphing problem. Ax suggests that he may be struggling due to some type of stress factor in his life. Jake immediately benches Marco until he gets things under control. Marco heads home, frustrated. But he doesn’t find any relief there, since his dad’s girlfriend is visiting, and what’s worse, she has her evil toy poodle with her. The dog starts barking and biting at Marco, and he ends up acquiring it to get it to settle down, before hiding out in his room.

Marco’s ban doesn’t last long, however, since their new mission is coming up and the team needs him. They decide that the best course of action is to expose Tennant as the wacko he is. Even by Yeerk standards, it is clear that the Yeerk in Tennant is barely clinging to sanity, and if he was to explode like he did at his home, but in a public place, his future as a TV personality would be ruined. To do this, they decide to crash the awards ceremony later that week.

The team sneaks into the banquet halls as cockroaches and make their way to the kitchen. Their plan is to crawl onto Tennant’s salad plate with spider!Marco directing them to the right plate. Once in the kitchen, Marco demorphs in a bathroom and tries to morph the spider. Instead, he ends up as a mixture of spider and poodle. A bunch of kitchen workers spot him and chase him. The others ask what is going on, but Marco puts them off, saying everything is fine. Using thought-speak, he is finally able to scare off the kitchen workers. He then demorphs, grabs a kitchen uniform, and tries to pass himself off as a busboy. He gets the rest of the Animorphs onto one of the plate and tells the cook to set it aside specifically for Tennant. He then gets caught up in other kitchen chores by a tyrannical chef. Once he gets a chance to breath, he sees that all of the plates have been mixed up again and are heading out. Instead of being placed in front of Tennant, the plate ends up in front of of Zac Hanson (cuz of course a teen pop group is also at this B-level TV event). Much screaming ensues, but Tennant is unmoved. The Animorphs manage to scurry away.

They come up with Plan B. Ax morphs his human morph and the others morph flea. Jake instructs Ax and Marco to deliver the fleas to Tennant, but Marco gets trapped outside, leaving Ax to do this. Predictably, whenever Ax is near food, things to not go well. Marco gets inside just in time to see Ax licking the plates clean from Tennant’s table. However, he does manage to transfer the fleas to Tennant. Marco convinces the outraged people that he and Ax are just really big fans and they escape to the back of the room to watch Tennant’s speech. The Animorph!fleas make their way beneath Tennant’s wig (which they discovered when parakeet!Rachel accidentally nabbed it while trying to dive bomb Tennant the other day) and begin biting. Tennant twitches and squirms but manages to get through his speech without blowing up. Defeated, the team returns home.

The next day, Marco’s week gets even worse when his dad tells him that he is thinking of marrying the teacher girlfriend. He wants to make sure it’s ok with Marco. Marco simply bolts. Later, Cassie shows up at his house asking if he wants to talk. She says that there’s really no one outside of the group who can listen, but she’s willing to do it. And she knows that he had another failed morph while in the kitchen; she could tell from the sound of his voice. Marco vents that his stress isn’t special, they all have burdens they’re carrying, some of them (like Tobias) have much worse going on than him. Cassie shares a story about her anger when she sees hurt animals that have been harmed by cruel people. She says that her dad said to focus on what is: the hurt animal and how to help it. So in this case, is his dad happy now?

Running out of time, the team comes up with another plan. Poodle!Marco begins stalking Tennant. Whenever he is out in public, and unable to respond, the terror that is the poodle shows up and begins biting him, but Tennat’s animal-loving persona can’t respond. All week this goes on, with Marco succeeding in controlling his morphs the entire time.

Finally, the night of the first prime time airing of the show arrives. The team stake out the studio in various morphs, ready for Marco to make the grand scene once the program begins airing. But as he begins to morph poodle, his ailment strikes again and he ends up as a mix of a poodle and a polar bear. He loses control of the morph and goes after Tennant, only barely able stop from killing him. Cassie wants him to talk about his feelings to help him stable himself. Jake tells her that he loves her and cares for her, but shut it. The two bicker a bit, but Jake shuts her down saying now is not the time for her approach, and Marco just needs to suck it up and deal with his crap. Jake finally breaks through by bringing up Marco’s own philosophy (that he, in turn got from his mom), that you can either laugh or cry at the struggles of the world. Marco gets it together and finishes his morph to poodle. Seeing that “the Andalite” is now fully helpless as a small dog, Tennant grabs poodle!Marco and begins strangling him. Just then the cameras go on. Everyone is horrified and Tennant immediately releases Marco and tries to say it was a mistake. The Animorphs all bail

The clip goes viral and soon enough Tennant’s future as a TV star is over. The book ends at the very slap-dash wedding between his Dad and the teacher who get married two weeks later. Marco is still struggling with it all, but has come to accept it. But never that dog.

One evening the phone rings. The answering machine picks it up, and it’s Marco’s mother, asking for him. Dun dun dun.

The Comic Relief: The unfortunate bit of this whole thing is that after the very real, very serious events of the book before it, this one just seems…beneath him. Like, I get that this book is trying to fill a niche of dealing with a real-life issues that reader kids may be dealing with, a widowed parent re-marrying. But in the world of these books, Marco’s character specifically has had to deal with so many traumatizing things with his parents, that the fact that he would break down to the point of failing his morphing over this particular issue is just hard to believe. Let’s go through it. In the first few books, he’s dealing with the death of a parent. On top of that, he’s had to parent himself as his dad has completely lost it and hasn’t been parenting him at all. This has been going on for who knows how long. Then he finds out his mother is alive, but the leader of the Yeerk invasion. Then he thinks she dies, several books later. Then he rediscovers her, but has to plan her death himself. And now, again, he’s unsure whether she’s alive. So yes, I understand the quandary he is in with his father re-marrying, and I would have been completely on board for that being a through-line in the story that he is dealing with. But to make it the crux of the story by having it impact his morphing…nah, not buying it. That’s not the Marco we’ve come to know through all of these books. Cold, calculating, brutal Marco isn’t going to break down over just this. Even Marco thinks it’s out of character:

I was going insane. Hard to believe that after all the craziness I’d been through since this war started, a simple, everyday, domestic problem would be the thing to push me over the edge.

And then, on top of that, Marco’s usual bits, even in books that aren’t his, weren’t up to snuff. The author of this book pretty much recycled Marco jokes from the past (the back-and-forth between Marco and Ax about Ax’s use of “your minutes” could almost have been directly lifted from another book. Not only wasn’t it funny, but it’s boring to read the same joke over and over, especially without any new twist), and also re-used Marco’s philosophy from book 5. Didn’t expand on it. Didn’t bring anything new to the table, pretty much AGAIN lifted it directly from there and plopped it down here to serve the exact same purpose. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since Marco books are some of my favorites.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake tries to bench Marco when he realizes that he’s struggling with his morphing. But, unlike Rachel and her crocodile experience, Marco’s breakdowns are further apart. He goes several days and many morphs without any issue, so it’s easy to understand why Jake would let him back on missions. Not only is Marco’s gorilla morph one of their best battle morphs, but we know that Jake recognizes Marco’s smarts as the best planner of the group. So benching him is a big loss. In the end, when Marco’s struggling once again, Jake comes down on him hard. He tells Marco to get it together, no excuses. Fix it. That’s an order. Cassie tries to argue that Marco just needs to talk about it. But Jake shuts her down firmly. They’re in the middle of a mission and Marco just needs to deal with his crap. Period. Jake also must have talked with Marco about Marco’s life approach, since he knows Marco’s whole bit about looking at life with a sense of humor. We, as readers, know this because Marco shared it with us in an internal narrative back in book 5. But we never hear him tell it to Jake. Instead, it’s a nice reference to how close these two are and that they must have talked about stuff like this at some point.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel tries to give Marco a lecture about hiding his morphing issues from the group. He rightly calls her out on the hypocrisy of this given her crocodile-lying incident. She agrees that someone else should take over lecturing Marco from this point. She’s also paired up with Marco on the parakeet mission, of course furthering my secondary Marco/Rachel focus. She also dive bombs Tennant while morphed as a parakeet, proving that the morph itself has very little affect on Rachel’s general plan of action. She will attack with whatever she has available.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias gets very, very little to do in this book. I mean, even adding up his lines of dialogue, it’s pretty sad. If anything, he mostly serves as a point to fuel Marco’s self-disgust. In the very beginning, after Marco’s first failed morph, he comes down hard on Tobias and ends up feeling guilty about it. And later, when he’s talking to Cassie, he says all of the other Animorphs have stressers and aren’t freaking out. He particularly emphasizes Tobias’s situation. Other than that, Tobias mostly just serves as the eyes in the air and joins in on the group activities, like being a flea biting Tennant’s head.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has quite a lot in this book, mostly utilizing her super power as the group counselor. She is quick to understand why Marco is stressed and suggest that he needs someone to talk to. Right away, on the first scouting trip, she manages to get Marco to open up and vent his frustrations. She’s also the only one to pick up on the fact that he had another morph melt-down while in the kitchen at the banquet. And she then takes it upon herself to come to his house and offer supporting, knowing that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about all of this. She shares some nice philosophies and ways of thinking about the situation with his dad that do seem to help, though Jake’s method, in the end, is the one to break through.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: You’d think they’d learn about Ax and food! I mean, yes, I get the fact that Ax has the only human form that doesn’t put them all at risk, but man, he’s got to win the award for having the least control over any given morph. Any other animal, any other morph, sure they all might struggle here and there, but they usually get the hang of it, especially with morphs they’ve used more often. But man, Ax has zero self-control in that morph. Is it worth the risk having him go in? I mean, I’m finding it hard to believe that had Marco even been there when Ax was clearing tables that it would have made any difference.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s a hard toss between all of the gross morph combinations that Marco experiences and the fleas biting Tennant’s head. I mean, I think I’ve got to go with the second. Sure, they’ve “accidentally” bitten other people as fleas, but the whole goal of this mission was to crawl under some skeevy Controller’s wig and bite away. Even Cassie calls it out:

<This is the grossest thing we have ever done,> Cassie complained.

Couples Watch!: In the very beginning, Rachel is angry at Marco for calling the meeting in the barn because he interrupted her and Tobias watching “Felicity.” Awwww, cute dates! Jake does tell Cassie he loves her….just before he tells her to shut up. So….romantic? They also have a nice little spat after this about how to handle Marco’s ongoing morphing issues. This is one of those small moments that kind of highlights why this relationship was always doomed. They really don’t have that much in common in the way they look at the world and how they make decisions. It’s clear why Jake is attracted to and relies on Cassie, she provides much-needed emotional support and insight into others. And Cassie…thinks Jake’s good looking? But when you get down to it, they have very different philosophies, so while I can see why they end up together throughout the series, you can also see the tension between them, more so than Tobias and Rachel who have some more obvious similarities and mutual supports.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is taking an extended absence! This is how many books in a row now that he hasn’t made an in-person appearance? The phone call doesn’t even include any dialogue from him, though we hear a bit of Tennant’s side of things and apparently part of the discussion is Visser Three ranting about how he looks forward to the day when the Yeerks can wipe out any unnecessary life forms on Earth. Obviously not the cats, though. Visser Three loves cats.

As for Tennant himself, we see yet another crazed Yeerk. It’s kind of hard to believe that this many crazed Yeerks ended up in positions of power. I mean, you have Tobias’s experiences several books ago and now this. You’d think with all the Yeerks available, they’d be able to assign more stable Yeerks to these crucial roles. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another reflection on Visser Three’s own questionable psyche. That maybe, somehow, he gravitates towards Yeerks who are a bit unbalanced, just like himself. Chapman’s Yeerk, for example, seems perfectly steady and unlikely to have been caught up in the nonsense the Animorphs were pulling here. Especially because with all of the poodle-attacking lead-up, trying to catch him on TV was a pretty predictable move by the “Andalite bandits.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Really, nothing. Marco books usually have some good stuff with reflections on his situation with his mother, but there really isn’t much here. From the very sophisticated, cold Marco that we saw only a few books ago, in a lot of ways this doesn’t even feel like the same character. It’s hard to believe that this situation is what would cause the breakdown in stress, and I could just never really buy it. From the big tragedies presented in the past of a son setting up his mother to die, it’s hard to feel much about the struggles of his Dad marrying a lady with a poodle.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, Ax with the food. And along those lines, the whole business at the banquet. With everything that went wrong in the kitchen, it’s hard to understand what exactly their plan had been to ensure that Tennant ended up with the correct plate. It doesn’t seem surprising that this would fail. And then when they morph fleas…there’s literally a line that says “somehow we managed to morph fleas.” Really? “Somehow we managed…” It’s the most cop-out explanation of all cop-out explanations. They would have all had to go through human morphs and Ax had to go through Andalite to get to his human. And there is ZERO explanation for how they manage this in a crowded room. It’s incredibly stupid.

Favorite Quote:

<I am confused,> Ax said. <Are you saying that your father is considering taking this woman as a new mate?>

“You could put it that way,” Cassie said.

“But I’d rather you didn’t,” I added. “He’s just -”

<Ah. Perhaps your father is Young and Restless. Those who are Young and Restless frequently change mates.>

And I couldn’t have put my feelings for this book any better myself:

<Someday when this is all over people will ask us about the war against the Yeerks,> Tobias said. <Let’s leave this part out>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

No score! Sure, the Animorphs technically succeed. But I’m mad at having to read a repeated book essentially, so this is what happens, I take it out on my score sheet.

Rating: I really disliked this book. Not because it’s the dumbest one out there (pretty hard to top the horse!Controllers/Andalite toilet book or the split Rachels), but because I’ve already read this freaking book!!! Whomever was the ghost writer for this thing has to be, up to this point, the laziest of the bunch (just looked it up, this guy also wrote the polar bear!Marco book which I also didn’t love, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). Others have come up with some pretty wacky and questionable bits, but at least those were original. This book is essentially the exact same book as Rachel’s crocodile story. Not only do you have the same morphing problem (though at least Rachel’s allergy made more sense, as Marco’s issue, here, just comes out of nowhere conveniently for plot purposes and then disappears again, also, conveniently for plot purposes), but the Yeerk plot was the same: some famous guy getting on TV and telling people to join The Sharing and the Animorphs breaking it up by crazy shenanigans on a TV studio! I mean, c’mon, at least mix and match your plot points!! Re-use one or the other, but both together just highlights the lack of creative thought in this book. On top of the two major plot points being directly lifted, you have the re-use of jokes (the “minutes” thing) and repetition of Marco’s major philosophy, with nothing added. By the end of the book, I was just mad. The stupidity of other books is frustrating enough, but again, at least those were original. A bit thumbs down for this one. All the more upsetting coming off the rare good Cassie book, only to have the usually good Marco book turn out to be a hot mess. The only good thing about this book, really, is the last paragraph or two that sets up “Visser.”

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!

Kate’s Review: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”

34499251Book: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it’s creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city… whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart!

Review: Rarely can you find an author who can jump from genre to genre with ease. A lot stick within their strengths, which may  be limited to one or two genres. It’s true that sometimes you get some who can shift between them and be strong in all of them (Stephen King and J.K. Rowling come to mind for me), but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it of an author, great ones included. So Marcus Sedgwick just keeps completely surprising me. He has written dark fantasy (“Midwinterblood”), straight up horror (“White Crow”), speculative Science Fiction (“The Ghosts of Heaven”), and realistic crime fiction with a literary zest (“Saint Death”). And he does a good job in all of them. Now we can add children’s graphic fantasy to his already impressive list of genre jumping, with “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”. Given that the last book I read by him was the brutal and violent and depressing “Saint Death”, I thought that he couldn’t POSSIBLY make a realistic shift to a fun fantasy for children.

And yet “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is exactly that. Scarlett is a mix of Anne Shirley and Buffy Summers, as she’s a plucky monster hunter with a lot of heart but also a bit of sad baggage. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her parents, both renowned monster hunters in their own right who died in the line of duty, but is too young according to The Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (T.R.A.P.E.Z.E.). With the help of her guardian/former servant Napoleon White she breaks the rules, wanting to make her parents proud. I loved Scarlett, for her tenacity and her recklessness, and I loved how she and Napoleon banter and work together in their monster hunting. Napoleon himself is a fun stereotype/send up of the stuffy Gilded Age British  butler, with his worry about the state of his car and restrained frustration with Scarlett’s antics. Their interactions are both funny and sweet, and you get a good sense of both their motivations and devotions to her late parents as well as his devotion to her because of a sort of surrogate parental instinct. It’s very Buffy and Giles.

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With all the father/daughter-esque joy and none of the angst. (source)

The monsters themselves are pretty standard villains, but they have some fun tweaks and twists added to them. We’ve all heard of the Hound of the Baskervilles Church Grims, and mummys and gargoyles. But while they are presented as menacing and definitely scary, the tone is lighthearted enough that kids who may not like scary things will probably be able to enjoy the monster hunts themselves. The true villains of this story are Count Stankovic, who was the arch rival of Scarlett’s parents and hates her just as much, and, in some ways, society. T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. is a very strict group, seeming to  be mirrored off of old Victorian secret societies that you might see in other books like this, and one of the rules is that Scarlett is too young to officially hunt, under threat of punishment if she is caught. But given that is her main source of income now that she has been orphaned, she has little choice, especially since women during this time period (Victorian? Edwardian? I’m not totally certain) really didn’t have many options if they were on their own. Seeing her fight against norms of the society she lives in is fun and encouraging, and I think that a lot of people, kids and teens alike, will find a lot to relate to with her.

I also really enjoyed the artwork for this book. It’s cartoony enough to be entertaining to the audience it’s written for, but there is a lot of depth to it as well. I’m not too surprised, given that Thomas Taylor was the original artist for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K. He’s made a career for himself beyond that, but he was the first. And his talents are definitely on display in this book.

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(source)

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is a comic that I think will be perfect for end of summer reading for kids and teens alike. Heck, if stories about spunky orphans getting into some daring do is your thing, you’ll probably like it too! Marcus Sedgwick has now branched his writing talents into the middle grade community, and I think that he is going to fit in just swimmingly!

Rating 8: A fun and sweet romp with good characters and a solid premise, “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is just another example of Marcus Sedgwick’s talent as a writer.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists. But it is included on “Great Graphic Novels for Girls”, and I think it would fit in on “Women Leads: Kids Books and Comics”.

Find “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” at your library using WorldCat!