The Great Animorphs Re-Read #28: “The Experiment”

286582Animorphs #28: “The Experiment” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are ready to control humans where it counts — in their DNA. They’re working on a drug that saps humans of their free will. But the Animorphs show them that human free will runs deeper than any drug can reach.

Narrator: Ax

Plot: I have clear memories of the cow portions of this book, but as I discovered reading this again, that’s only, like, that last third of the whole thing! So let’s get started on all the rest of the book that I had somehow completely forgotten!

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“Supernatural” totally stole this plot line with the whole “poison the burgers to make them susceptible” idea. (source)

Ax has built himself a scoop and also managed to get a TV. He and Tobias now have an afternoon ritual of watching some good, old quality “The Young and the Restless.” One afternoon, Marco shows up, bored, looking for mall trip buddies. On the way, they run in to Erek who has a possible mission. Apparently the Yeerks have been involved in some animal testing facility. The Chee don’t know what they’re doing, but with the Yeerks, it’s always safe to say it’s bad.

The group meets up in the barn and decide that yes, of course they must check it out. They all fly over to scout the place out. The building is highly fortified behind an invisible force shield that has been frying any animal that gets too close. But as they scout, they see a van pull up full of chimpanzees. There’s their in. The next day, Ax and Tobias scout out the route that the van with the chimps takes and note that it goes through a very long tunnel. And thus a very insane plan is sprung!

Together, all of the Animorphs in bird morph dive bomb the truck just as it heads into the tunnel. There, they all demorph and form a human chain, lowering Cassie down to open the back of the truck. They all jump in and quickly acquire the chimps. At a stop light, they release the other chimps (this doesn’t go well for some passing cars), and lock themselves in instead. At the facility, they are all carted into another room that is full of other caged chimps. Cassie demorphs to let them out, but just then they hear none other than Visser Three approaching down the hall. She races back to her cage and begins remorphing. To distract Visser Three and the others, they, of course, throw poo at him. Enraged, he leaves and they overhear him saying to release the Taxxons on the chimps, as that stage of testing is finished anyways. In chimp morph, the Animorphs release the others and fight off the Taxxons, making their way out of the facility. However, the mission is a success and they learn that the “next stage” of whatever is going on is taking place a meat packing plant.

Again, the next day Tobias and Ax scout out the plant. Later, in the barn, they report on what they found. While not covered with a force field, the plant is using the same Gleet BioFilters that now guard the entrances to the Yeerk pool, making it impossible to get in as anything but the poor, doomed cattle. The steer, however, are kept in a field some distance away. Cassie, however, comes up with a solution. Two of them morph steer, and the rest hide up in the steer’s nostrils as flies: organisms within other living creatures don’t trigger the BioFilters. Jake decides that Ax and Tobias will morph the steer, as they can demorph without revealing that they’re all humans if things go south.

That night, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax head out to acquire the morphs. While there, they have a close run-in with a few drunken cow tippers. Ax tries to disguise himself as a cow, but they spot him, and it’s only with some quick tail blade action that he able to knock them out.

The next day, they all head back to the field. Tobias and Ax aren’t concerned about the morph, as, obviously, cows are pretty docile. That is until they actually do the morph and realize that while they acquired steer, the DNA was that of bulls, so that’s what they become. Cassie is barely able to stop them from charging each other or her. But they now have a problem: any transport unit will definitely notice the fact that their cargo are bulls, and will call in about it. Jake has another brilliant plan: Marco driving, take two! Gorilla!Marco knocks out the two men when they arrive with the truck. Jake, being fairly tall, puts on the uniform of the passenger with the clipboard to confirm their cargo at the checkpoint. And gorilla!Marco, puts on what clothes he can manage (he’s too short to reach the truck petals in his human form).

What follows is yet another example of Marco’s terrible driving. The truck almost goes over on its side at least once, and several fences are damaged in the process of getting to the plant. Once there, the guards are convinced the driver is drunk, but pass off on letting them in. After they park, they morph flies and join Cassie and Rachel in bull!Ax and bull!Tobias’s noses and are able to successfully get through the Gleet Biofilters.

Once in, the others bail to begin scouting and create a diversion. Ax and Tobias are left in the line, slowly making their way towards execution. Ax is in front. They wait as long as they can, but Ax reaches the front of the line. He tries to avoid the man with the gun, but he gets tasered several times. Just before he’s shot, grizzly!Rachel shows up to rescue them. Controllers and Hork Bajir pour into the room, and Tobias and Ax frantically demorph.

The three of them charge off to find the others, who are not doing well, backed into a corner with a locked door. Visser Three shows up and begins his usual threats. Grizzly!Rachel can’t force the door, but Ax manages to quickly hard wire the key pad, and they flee into the next room. Ax rips out the wires behind him, effectively barricading it.

In the room, there are several cages with humans who look to be in some sort of bio-stasis. A computer screen is open and on it they discover what is going on. The computer, with lots of sucking up to Visser Three included, informs them that this is Project Obedience, a biochemical component that can be injected into the food supply and remove the free will of anyone who eats it. The others are horrified and feel defeated, but Cassie scoffs, saying that it is impossible to remove free will. Even Controllers have free will beneath the Yeerk who is forcing them to do things.

They then notice a lab worker who has been hiding in the corner. He quickly breaks down, saying that they might as well kill him since Visser Three soon will anyways, once he learns that the lab worker lied. He confirms what Cassie said, that the whole project was impossible from the start, but that Visser Three wouldn’t accept failure, so the lab worker has been faking it. Just then, the door begins to give behind them.

They quickly wake up the sleeping humans and get them out of their cages. The lab worker would rather make a run for it than confront Visser Three, so he leads the Animorphs and confused humans out of the plant.

The next day they meet back up at the mall. Cassie is feeling smug that she called it on the free will thing, but Marco says that she’s the only one who could look at the last few days as anything other than a giant waste of time: at least they saved some animals! Other than that, the whole project had been a bust from the start, so all of their work was for nothing. But at least they can enjoy some tasty burgers free of concern! Cassie is horrified, but the others all chow down.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For an Ax book, he doesn’t really have a whole lot as far as character moments in this book. There’s the running gag about various TV shows he’s watching, and his general narrating voice is as great as always. We again get to see his morning rituals, and it’s nice to see that he’s finally built himself a scoop.

Towards the middle of the book, he does reflect on the different challenges that humans face living on a world that still has predators that could kill them and by being omnivores. He reflects on the easy balance on the Andalite homeworld, that they have no natural predators and that they are vegetarian. It’s a nice exploration of the balance that has to be struck between being a human capable of moralizing, but also being a type of being that evolved to supplement its diet by eating meat.

More clearly, he is horrified by the treatment of chimpanzees, especially after they all morph them and he realizes how closely related they are to humans. Cassie, of course, has many strong opinions on this, and Ax becomes equally perturbed by whether they crossed a line morphing them. Towards the end of the book, he asks the scientist whether the free will injections worked on chimpanzees, in an attempt to finally answer the question about their sentience. The scientist says it didn’t work on them either, but wasn’t sure whether that’s because they had free will and it was affected, or whether they didn’t have free will to begin with.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t have a lot in this book, other than the HIGHLY questionable decision of putting gorilla!Marco behind the wheel again. He also quickly picks Ax and Tobias to morph the steer, because they can demorph more easily without giving away their secret. I feel like this same reasoning would come into play more often than it seems to, but it’s a solid choice here as well.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel also doesn’t have much in this book. She comes to the rescue as a grizzly just in time at the meat packing plant. Tobias is fairly sarcastic about this, but she handles it well (aren’t they cute??). She also tells Marco to shut up quite a lot, but nothing new there!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias gets a lot of action and page time in this book. Ax spends a good amount of time discussing his close friendship with Tobias, and the fact that, by earth standards, he is Tobias’s uncle as well. It’s nice to read their little friendship moments. Tobias trying to explain TV and that maybe Ax shouldn’t remove power lines to enhance his TV as it caused a power outage in Jake’s neighborhood. Tobias saying that he sometimes wishes he had a ritual similar to Ax’s that could help him prepare on days where they have dangerous missions. He’s also, notably, the other one to go in with the bull morph.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, of course, has a lot of thoughts about the morality of animal testing, as well as the Animorphs’ own code of not morphing sentient species. Aside from these opinions, she also has a good amount of action in this book. She’s the one who is lowered down to open the door on the moving truck. She stands between two bulls (Ax and Tobias) and manages to get them calmed down. And she also immediately call the bluff on Project Obedience’s supposed success.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, has a decent amount in this book. He’s pretty harsh on Cassie as far as some of her double standards go, and she doesn’t really even deny it. He notes that Cassie seems fine with morphing chimps since their mission will also save animals, but had they been doing it for any other reason (to save humans), she would have been very against it. She doesn’t really defend this point, which is kind of unfortunate for her. There’s also the highly entertaining driving sequence.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Ax first morphs human in the very beginning of the book, there are some overly graphic descriptions of his mouth forming first, but without lips to speak of. Also, when they’re all flies up the nose. As we know with some upcoming Marco book, I think, this “in the body” stuff gets much worse before it gets better!

Couples Watch!: Really, nothing at all. Fly!Rachel hangs out in bull!Tobias’s nostril? Super romantic, that. I guess, also, Ax is very confused by the whole process and point of kissing as he’s seen it on his favorite soap opera. Tobias assures him it has a purpose, but awkwardly evades any further questions on the subject.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m still never a fan of times when these books fall back on the body humor, like the poo throwing at Visser Three. But it did lead to him cutting off some poor Controller’s hand, and Ax commenting that Visser Three was not the type of leader who thinks it’s important to be popular with his subordinates. Also, when Visser Three shows up at the meat packing plant, he makes some pretty great, campy orders to the Controllers to “butcher” the Andalite bandits. Very clever, Visser Three. The best part was probably the sycophantic manner in which the computer program spoke about the Visser’s role in Project Obedience.

“Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This was definitely one of the more comedic books, so there wasn’t that much sadness to go around. As they are running out of the animal testing facility, Ax doesn’t describe what he sees, but that’s because he says it’s too terrible to discuss, likening it to torture. He also mentions that though they all tried, they didn’t have much success leading the freed chimps out, as they were still chimps, and not capable of really understanding what was happening.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:

<How come Marco drives?> Rachel demanded.
<He has experience.>
“Oh man, don’t even mention that,” Cassie said. “My dad cried over the twisted remains of that truck.”

Um, Jake? You do remember Marco’s last experience at “driving”? I mean, technically this plan works, but there is definite damage done. It’s a fun scene and call back to that book though!

Favorite Quote:

Good Rachel snark after they get to the meat packing plant:

<These cows are going to be looking forward to a nice, easy death after this ride,> Rachel said.

And, of course, just Ax’s general way of narrating the story:

[Human humor] is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! Marco says it best (though it was still a fun ride from the reader’s perspective!):

“In the annals of stupid, screwed-up, pointless missions that was the stupidest, most pointless of them all,” Marco said.

Rating: For all that this story does nothing to progress the plot, it’s just a fun ride! Ax is always a great narrator, and his thoughts on TV (and his preference for the show “These Messages”) was a fun running gag throughout the story. There’s also some good action scenes, like the caper getting into the truck through the tunnel, and their various escapes from the facilities. I also enjoyed the trifecta that was Marco, Cassie, and Ax as far as the moral aspects of this story. The three provided a good spectrum of perspectives, and it was particularly interesting seeing much of it through Ax’s point of view, an alien who comes from a world where these challenges don’t exist. So, a pretty solid entry, all told!

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 #27: “The Exposed”

125341Animorphs #27: “The Exposed” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: To rescue their android friends, the Chee, the Animorphs must use a giant squid morph to get to the Chee ship deep in a trench beneath the ocean. And they must reach the ship before Visser Three does.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, another book that I remembered very little about. I mean…like nothing. I remember this cover, and the obvious fact that it has to do with them having to deep dive in the ocean for some reason. But since it’s a Rachel book, I knew going in that somehow things would get tense. Poor Rachel is never left off the hook as far as existential crises go.

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My general feelings towards Rachel and my own protectiveness of her! (source)

Rachel is feeling moody. Not only is she dismayed by her decreasing interest in things that she used to enjoy (like gymnastics), seeing this as further worrying proof of her enjoying battle a bit too much, but a cute guy named T.T. asks her out. And she hesitates. I mean, her current boyfriend is a hawk most of the time…Angry with herself, she turns to her one source of consistent relief: the mall. There, she runs into Cassie (shocking). As they wander, they see Erek. But something’s wrong, they’re seeing the REAL Erek, the android beneath the hologram. Knowing something is wrong, Cassie and Rachel manage to get him into a sci-fi store before he completely breaks down, losing not only the remnants of his hologram but his ability to move. Rachel calls for back up.

Jake and gorilla!Marco show up. They’re quick to claim that it’s just a very realistic gorilla suit as Marco hoists Erek up and hauls him out of the mall, onto a bus, and finally gets him back to his own home. There they discover that this is a world-wide breakdown for the Chee, all losing their holograms and ability to move. Erek and Mr. King theorize that something must have went wrong in the Pemalite ship which they hid at the bottom of the ocean a millennium or so ago. But before they deal with that, there are two Chee who weren’t able to hide themselves well. One is in a high security plant, somewhere the Animorphs will never be able to infiltrate. He will be discovered when the shift changes in 24 hours, giving the entire mission a short timeline. The other Chee was posing as a homeless person and is in an abandoned warehouse that the Chee know will be soon raided by police, some of whom are sure to be Controllers who will then get access to all Chee technology.

Quickly prioritizing things, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie head to the warehouse in various morphs, determined to get the Chee before she’s discovered. When they show up, the raid is just getting started. Rhino!Jake, elephant!Rachel, gorilla!Marco, and wolf!Cassie get to work. Things don’t go their way and they all get incredibly beaten up. Rachel is shot in the head, Cassie is paralyzed, Jake gets surrounded by cop cars. They only escape when Tobias and Ax show up, Tobias nabbing a gun and scaring the cops into hiding. Skunk!Ax cleans up the rest of them. They barely make it out, but do manage to return the Chee to the King household. From there, they begin fretting about reaching the Pemalite ship

They quickly realize that this is the most impossible mission they’ve been up against yet. None of their morphs can dive deep enough to reach the ship. Cassie says that a giant squid would be able to, but there are none in captivity. And to catch one themselves, they would need a sperm whale morph, also none in captivity. Through this all, the Animorphs have also started getting suspicious about the good luck they’ve had so far. Apparently all of the cameras were not functioning in the mall when they hauled Erek out, and there’s no word of anyone seeing them on the bus or walking around either. Defeated, they head home

At home, Rachel and her family are watching the news. They learn that just moments ago a sperm whale beached itself outside of the city. Rachel immediately calls BS on this. But she and the other Animorphs realize they have no choice but to play along with whatever force is aligning things like this. They fly to the beach. There Jake decides they will draw straws for the two will will acquire the whale. Rachel stares down Tobias until he caves and tells her which is the short straw. He then draws one himself and Rachel kicks herself for not realizing that he would do this. And knowing that Tobias is terrified of water, she feels awful for putting him in this position.

She and Cassie head down to the beach to help with the relief effort and Rachel manages to acquire the whale. Tobias swoops down to acquire it, but gets his talon stuck in its skin (a theme for him with aquatic animals, after the whole dolphin incident!). The other Animorphs have to dive bomb him in gull morph to knock him loose. Then they all morph dolphin and head out to sea.

Once they get a ways out, Tobias and Rachel morph the whale and get to work. As awesome as the morph is, they both struggle with the mental aspect of it, being so deep in the water. Just as they’re about to give up, Tobias spots the ship and Rachel spots a giant squid. She almost gets wrestled to her death fighting it, but Tobias shows up in the nick of time and finishes the job, hauling it up to the surface for everyone to acquire.

They all morph giant squid and go a-searching. Even knowing that Tobias found it once, they take a long time finding the ship again, almost running up against the two hour limit. Finally, they locate it, but they see what must be Yeerk submarines moving in quickly too.

The Pemalite ship is very accommodating, granting them entrance in their current forms and creating essentially large bubbles for their squid forms which they can move around the space in. The inside looks similar to the Andalites’ dome ship, with a large meadow full of trees, water, and what must be toys. The bridge is located in a tree, and the Animorphs are able to restore the Chee by typing in the super secret code of “6.” But suddenly the auto destruct is also turned on.

A creature calling itself the Drode steps out and explains all. He works for Crayak, and he has been the one behind all of the happenstances on this adventure. Crayak was displeased by the loss of his Howlers, so he had the Drode set up this confrontation between the Animorphs and the now arriving Yeerk forces, including Visser Three. However, per the rules, there is a way out.

Cassie quickly realizes that they need to shoot their ink and use its cover to demorph and remorph into battle morphs to better be able to fight back against the Yeerks. They do so, and the battle begins. The Animorphs, however, are losing, badly outnumbered by the Yeerks. They are only saved by the arrival of Erek who quickly reprograms the ship. It very politely informs them that it disapproves of violence, and forcibly ejects everyone while preventing them from re-engaging outside. The Animorphs make it back to shore, counting themselves lucky that Erek was able to reach them in the bare few minutes between them restoring the Chee’s functionality and the battle going poorly.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is gaining quite a bit of self-awareness, and with this self-awareness comes concern. In the very beginning of the book, she spends quite a bit of time reflecting and worrying about the fact that she is beginning to lose her interest and joy in things that held her attention before the war with the Yeerks. Like gymnastics. To a certain extent I imagine they all have to deal with this. I mean, yes, after flying, it’s hard to see vaulting in quite the same light. But Rachel knows that it’s not just that, and that she’s beginning to fall into a category that is scarily similar to addiction with regards to her anticipation and joy for battle.

Throughout this story, we see her battle with this aspect of herself, both in her own ability or inability to hold it in, and her continuing dismay at how she is viewed by the others, particularly Jake. Her moment pressuring Tobias into helping her cheat on drawing straws was a big example of this. Even she is scared of this mission and the deep depths of the ocean. But she can’t stop herself from putting herself forward and not allowing it to be left up to fate. She HAS to be the one, and she’s so single-mindedly focused on this part of it that she fails to anticipate the super obvious repercussions, that Tobias would naturally join up next. She kicks herself for it after, but it’s hard to know whether she’d have been able to hold back even if she HAD thought of it ahead of time.

The second ongoing internal struggle for her has to do with T.T. It’s not even the fact that he approaches her, it’s the fact that she hesitates. And for Rachel, who along with Marco probably, values loyalty the most of anyone in the group, this moment of hesitation is damning. This will be an ongoing struggle for them both, but here we see the particular challenges that Rachel faces. She’s still living a human life, surrounded by other humans. The challenges of balancing that with her very real feelings for a boy who is a bird the majority of the time are high. And Rachel already has a lot on her plate.

She’s also particularly disturbed by the Drode’s accusations that she is the only one of the group who might be worth sparing. He says that she’s already close to being one of them as it is, so if she ever wants to join up…I think this is taking it a bit far, but if the Drode’s goal was to take advantage of one of her major insecurities and worries about herself, he hit the bulls eye.

Our Fearless Leader: I’ve found that I have the hardest time with Jake in Rachel POV books. I really like him in all the others, but for some reason the dynamic between him and Rachel, as interesting as it is, can also lead to what I see as some of Jake’s worse moments. Here he has one good moment and one that I think is fairly bad.

He immediately catches on to Rachel using Tobias to cheat at drawing straws and pulls her aside to lecture her. This is a good moment for him, as clearly Rachel needs reminders that her actions have unintended consequences, like pulling water-fearing-Tobias into a underwater mission because he feels the need to look after Rachel. She doesn’t stop to think this through herself or realize that, alongside the bravery of volunteering, there’s also selfishness that hurts others, this time Tobias.

The other less good moment comes early when they are first discussing the ins and outs of this mission and realizing how impossible it will be (before said convenient whale beaching). Rachel says something about it being a suicide mission, since none of their morphs can dive that deep. Jake cuts her off and tells her she’s overreacting. This hurts Rachel, and, I think rightly, she suspects that had Cassie pointed the same thing out, Jake would have seen her as being sensibly cautious. Rachel takes this to mean that because she’s the “brave one,” she’s not allowed to react to terrible odds like the others. As we’ve already seen, and as will become even more apparent, Rachel is already suffering from the feeling that she can’t be vulnerable and look for support like the others. She has to be brave. ALWAYS. So Jake shutting her down here is pretty much just reinforcing an already problematic and unhealthy issue she’s got going on. Not well done, Jake.

A Hawk’s Life: Outside of his own books, it seems like Rachel books are the only ones where he gets significant action, so that’s always fun. His is a particular type of bravery here. He lets Rachel pressure him into telling her which are the short straws, but even as he makes this decision, we know that he is also deciding to go himself, an even more heroic choice given his own particular fear of water. And while they’re on the mission as whales, Tobias is the one to spot the Pemalite ship, save Rachel from the giant squid, and wrangle it to the surface. He makes a passing comment about being a master predator, and I think there might be more to it than is given in this throwaway comment. He IS a master predator. Of them all, this is unique strength from his time living day in and day out as one. Perhaps it’s not surprising that he would do the best in a hunting confrontation like this, regardless of the forms of the combatants involved.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie and Rachel have some nice friendship moments in this book. They first meet up at the mall, and it’s always fun reading about the two of them in this environment: Cassie’s cluelessness and Rachel’s loving exasperation at her. They are the ones to first manage the whole Erek situation, calling in reinforcements with Jake and Marco. Later, in the fight in the warehouse, wolf!Cassie gets shot in the back and paralyzed, and this serves as a huge motivation for elephant!Rachel who becomes particularly enraged by this. Cassie also goes down to the beach with Rachel to help the whale and serve as an excuse for Rachel’s presence when she acquires it. Upon seeing it, Rachel swears that she will kill whomever did this (at this point, it’s pretty clear that someone is setting up the pieces for this entire thing), and Cassie vows to help. No one hurts animals and uses their lives as pawns on Cassie’s watch!

The Comic Relief: Gorilla!Marco does a lot of heavy lifting (ha!) in this one, being the one tasked with hauling both Erek and the homeless Chee to safety. He also has some good lines about the ridiculousness of the Pemalite “safety protocols.”

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have a lot in this book. Early in the story, Rachel internally comments that she’s glad Ax isn’t around when they come up to the warehouse and see the stark poverty and awfulness of it all, saying she doesn’t want to explain it to him. But then he does show up and uses his skunk morph to devastating effect, essentially bailing them all out of the entire disastrous affair. There are also some comparisons to the Andalite Dome Ship with the Pemalites’ ship that is full of meadows, streams, and toys. Though Ax scoffs at the fact that they have their bridge in a tree.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Rachel first morphs the whale, she does so in a very bizarre manner, getting huge but not really changing out of human form. This results in Jake getting stuck in her hair and Marco making some pretty disgusting comments about the size of her pores. Not a mental image I needed, thanks.

Couples Watch!: The T.T. things makes some waves for our favorite couple, outside of just messing with Rachel’s head. In a moment of thoughtlessness, while she and Tobias are searching around as whales, Rachel blurts out that she was asked out. Tobias, like a fool, tries to play it cool and asks when the date is. Rachel then gets all huffy about how she turned him down. And Tobias, like an even BIGGER fool, asks why. Really, Tobias. Get it together. You know why and fishing around like this is never a good idea, especially not with a girl like Rachel who is so frank and upfront about things. He kind of just makes the whole thing even harder on her. But! I will forgive him for his bit of silliness for the huge gesture of his accompanying her on the whale adventure. For the very last lines of the book, we get this:

He really was cute. And so normal. So not Tobias.
He had almost certainly never eaten a mouse. On the other hand, he’d never morphed a sperm whale and gone to the bottom of the ocean while his brain was reeling with barely suppressed terror, just so he could look out for me.
“I’m gonna go get some wings and come on up there. Keep an eye out for me.”
<I always will,> he said.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl:  Visser Three shows up at the underwater Pemalite ship and straight up makes a villain speech.  He literally opens with the lines “So. We meet again. For the last time!” You can’t get more classic villain than that! He then proceeds to morph a terrifying monster and do his usual.

The Drode is the interesting villain of this piece, calling himself a “wildcard.” The Animorphs quickly connect him to Crayak, and he doesn’t bother hiding it. He says that Crayak is pretty upset about his Howlers being ruined, so he sent the Drode. There are a lot of references to the last book, particularly Crayak’s particular hatred of Jake, and it seems like the Drode has similar almost all-powerful abilities, able to put all the piece in place for this showdown. The Drode also seriously messes with Rachel’s mind by saying that, unlike the others, she might be worth while as she’s closer to “their kind of people.” In the end, he leaves with this parting shot:

“If you ever find yourself desperate, Rachel. At an end. In need. Remember this: Your cousin’s life is your passport to salvation in the arms of Crayak.”

DUN DUN DUN.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Two things, the scene when they first come upon the beached whale is super sad. Lots of depressing descriptions of it dying from its own weight, and the hopelessness of all the help that people are trying to do with buckets and such. This works out in the end, as the Drode has to save it since the whale is just over the boundary as a “sentient species” so it’s against Crayak/Ellimist rules to let it die. The other bit is just the general sadness that surrounds the remainders of the Pemalites and their fate. There are a lot of jokes about how simply the “defenses” of the ship are (their singled digit security code and such), but Cassie points out that they were a hopeful species. Rachel brings it down again by saying that’s why they no longer exist. Grim stuff.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It’s not so much a terrible plan, but the fact that the battle in the abandoned warehouse goes so poorly for them is a bit hard to believe. I mean, they regularly go up against massive aliens covered in blades, other aliens shooting laser guns, and a guy who can morph into all kinds of crazy killing machines. And yet somehow a bunch of regular cops pretty much cripple them? I  mean, I get that the book needed another big action scene, but I dunno, maybe have a bunch of Controllers show up wanting to get the Chee, too, or something. Erek says it best:

“No offense,” Erek said, “but how on Earth have you people managed to avoid getting caught for this long?”

Favorite Quote:

Another example of the great hamming it up that Visser Three had in this book:

The Pemalite ship carefully, politely, regretfully, packed the Yeerks, including a furiously enraged Visser Three, back into their modified Bug fighters.
<I’ll kill you all! I’ll take this ship apart, piece by piece! I’ll be back and nothing will stop me! You’ll die, all of you, Andalite and . . . and whoever runs this ship, I’ll kill you all!> Visser Three said. Repeatedly.
<We are so sorry you had a bad time,> the ship said. <Perhaps we can meet again someday and enjoy some pleasant activities together.>

And the always needed Rachel/Marco snark:

<0h, man, if we could take this technology, we could open a water park that would totally rule the world of water parks,> Marco said.
<Yeah, that was my first thought, too,> I said. <Water park dominance.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change to the scorecard! This whole ordeal was brought about in the bigger Crayak villain arc, so yeah, while they kept the Chee and the Pemalites out of the Yeerks’ hands, they didn’t really strike a blow to them either. The lines remain the same!

Rating: I actually really enjoyed this one. Rachel has a good internal arc with her fears of her growing addiction to violence and also her concerns about her relationship with Tobias. The adventure was fun and the stakes nice and high. The fact that they get stomped so thoroughly in the abandoned warehouse was a bit much, but the entire undersea adventure was great. The descriptions of being so deep and the fears this would inspire were particularly good. The Drode was also an interesting new player, and I enjoyed the fact that this story was so closely tied to the events of the last book. It’s always nice to feel like we’re reading a series in a necessary order, rather than just a bunch of standalone adventures.

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 #26: “The Attack”

125335Animorphs #26: “The Attack” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Ellimist has helped the Animorphs many times. He is all-powerful and has only one enemy, the Crayak. In a cosmic showdown, the two enemies choose champions to represent them in a battle to end all battles. The Crayak chooses the dreaded Howlers. The Ellimist chooses the Animorphs.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: I remembered exactly three things about this book:

  1. Crayak shows up
  2. The Howlers have lava skin
  3. JAKE AND CASSIE FINALLY KISS
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Rachel literally says “it’s about time” after it happens. Preach it. (source)

Ever since becoming Controlled way back when and seeing a monstrous eye creature, Jake’s been having recurring dreams with this same eye-force-of-evil that keeps saying “Soon.” Now the answers have came in the form of the always-dreaded Ellimist who shows up at one of their school meetings, freezes times, and tells the Animorphs that he needs their help.

He gives them a brief overview of the state of things. Crayak is a similarly almost all-powerful being with whom the Ellimist has been warring with for forever. Once, they actually had a full on brawl, but after realizing that they took out huge swathes of the galaxy, they both agreed that their conflict needed to be continued in a different way (the Ellimist was upset by the general loss of life, Crayak at the loss of opportunities for continued dominion). Since then, they have been involved in an intergalactic game of chess, essentially. But they’ve come to an impasse. There is one alien species they cannot comprise my on. Crayak wants to destroy this species, the Ellimist can’t allow this to happen. To solve their problem, they’ve decided to host a cage fight, each putting up their seven bets fighters. Winner’s team takes all. The Animorphs are surprised and horrified to learn that the Ellimist has chosen them, plus Erek. Crayak has chosen his Howlers, the alien species that wiped out the Chees’ creators, the Pemalites, so long ago.

The Animorphs debate their options. They all wonder at the Ellimist’s choice: how could they be his best fighters? Knowing him and the tricks he’s pulled in the past, they are suspicious that there is more to the story. On the other hand, the fate of an entire species is on the line, so ultimately, they agree.

In a second’s time, they find themselves smacked down in the middle of an alien city on another planet. The city is made up of a series of buildings, bridges, and stairways all towering miles above the planets surface. It is populate by an alien species that do their best to give the Helmacrons a run for their money as most obnoxious alien species. The Iskyoort are all obsessed with buying and selling random things, up to and including body parts and memories, and continuously badger the Animorphs until they finally decide to sell some of Rachel’s hair to hire a guide…who calls himself Guide.

As they wander, they run into their first Howler. Even with six against one (Erek cannot fight, given his peaceful programming), the battle does not go well. Not only is the Howler vicious and powerful, but he uses his namesake ability to devastating affect, emitting a head piercing howl that cripples most of the Animorphs. Ax, the only one not in morphs, suffers the most and briefly runs away from the battle. He does return, but they all suffer horrific wounds. Tiger!Jake gets stabbed in the neck and passes out. He wakes up in a room somewhere and is informed that they all barely escaped, and only survived by listening closely to Erek’s directions when one of them was about to be attacked. Ax is clearly not dealing well with the fact that he ran away, and is hiding in a corner.

The Animorphs realize there’s no way they will be able to outfight the Howlers, they will have to out think. They ask Guide whether the Iskyoort have any memories purchased from the Howlers that they can review. He says yes, and Erek downloads them all into his memory bank and shows one horrifying scene to the Animorphs, a group of Howlers systematically eliminating a peaceful group of aliens who don’t understand why they’re being attacked. The scene is hard for them all to see. The realize that the Howlers simply kill for the pleasure of killing, something that Cassie is quick to point out doesn’t make any biological sense. Erek reveals that it is becomes Crayak himself created the Howlers with only this purpose in mind.

They sleep in shifts, but are soon attacked again. Jake orders them all to morph small, hoping to outrun the Howlers. Erek manages to block the doorway with his own body to allow them more time to complete their morphs to fly. After they escape, they have Erek find Guide and hide him in his hologram so the Howlers can’t simply follow him to the Animorphs. The others also demorph and hide in the hologram as well. They realize that the rules of the game prohibit the Howlers from attacking the Iskyoorts themselves. Guide leads them to a place he calls the “Servant Guild” where he says they will be taken care of. He then informs them that he needs to leave them for a bit as the Iskyoort are a symbiotic species, and one part, the Yoort, needs to feed every three days in a Yoort pool.

Reality hits: the Iskyoorts are a variation of Yeerks. They force Guide to explain and explain fast. Guide explains that they are not like the Yeerks the Animorphs know. Far, far back in their own history, the Yoorts created the Isk. And to make them true symbiotes, the Isk NEED the Yoorts to live, but the Yoorts also NEED the Isk to live. One cannot survive without the other, thus creating a unified being. Slowly the reality of this sinks in, and with their understanding of the species, they see why this fight is so important to the Ellimist. If the other Yeerks could see this, learn of this alternative, some of them might also see this as a better way of living. If they Iskyoorts are wiped out, however, the Yeerks may continue as they are now forever.

They are then attacked once again by the Howlers, this time they push an airborne poison into the air system, prohibiting the Animorphs from re-using their bug strategy. Jake has Erek project an image of birds flying out one window, drawing the Howlers’ fire, as the rest escape as actual birds through a back window. One Howler, however, spots them and takes off after them, shooting at them with a Dracon beam. Rachel and Cassie both quickly get hit, and Marco a bit later. Jake shouts at the others to use the Iskyoorts as cover. He tries to dive after Cassie, who is stunned on the ground, but realizes that he is simply leading the Howler to her. He is forced to leave her behind.

Jake manages to trick a Howler into chasing him through a hedge that leads to a drop off from one of the bridges. The Howler has miles to fall to his death. Jake manages to drop after him, demorph to human, acquire the Howler, and make it back to peregrine falcon before hitting the ground. On the flight back up, he meets up with Tobias who leads him to the entire group. Everyone is there, including Cassie. THEY KISS. Rachel says “Finally” and all readers agree.

Throughout this all, Jake’s had a series of revelations. First, he realizes that Crayak must have a way of controlling the Howlers, so he can direct them as he chooses. Second, Erek had mentioned that when he downloaded the memories of the Howler, it was ALL of the memories, reaching back millions of years. From this, Jake theorizes that the Howlers have some type of collective memory, and in this collective memory the Howlers have never lost.

Jake then asks for a volunteer to pose as bait to lure the Howlers in. Ax volunteers, and they move to a more populated area, full of Iskyoorts and put the plan in action. Ax wanders out, gets the attention of the Howlers, and then runs, using the crowds of Iskyoorts to prevent them from getting a clear shot at him. Meanwhile, with grizzly!Rachel and gorilla!Marco standing nearby to take him out should things go badly, Jake morphs the Howler. Once morphed, he is bombarded by the same collective memories that Erek saw. Worse, he realizes that the Howlers are children, with lifespans of only three years. To them, they don’t understand anything about killing other than it being a fun game. There are no adult Howlers, and they are all simply created by Crayak, with no reproductive system of their own. Jake is horrified to realize this, but there is still no other choice, so the plan proceeds.

A bleedy Ax barges into the room, followed by the Howlers. The Animorphs grab one, and using the Iskyoort memory device (a headset and a transmitter), Howler!Jake begins to download his own memories into the collective. All of the Howlers pause. Then suddenly they disappear. Seconds later, the Animorphs, too, disappear and find themselves in the presence of Crayak himself. Crayak isn’t pleased, but the Ellimist shows up and confirms that they Animorphs one, the Iskyoort will live. Jake searches his Howler memories. As they planned, Crayak had to kill his own Howlers to prevent Jake’s memories from polluting the entire species, not allowing the childlike Howlers to ever realize that this was more than a game, that their kills were actual beings. But Jake spots one memory that slipped through: his kiss with Cassie.

The Ellimist confirms that this will be problematic for Crayak, as in a future battle, he’s seen the Howlers attempting to kiss the species they were sent to kill. He also confirms that the big win of this entire ordeal was that the odds have now been somewhat increased that 300 years in the future, the Yeerks will meet the Iskyoort and realize that there is another way. The Animorphs are all a bit put out that this is all they will have to show for their work. Jake goes home, and his dreams of Crayak are gone.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s great to finally get the tie-in to Jake’s book #6 when he was a Controller and first saw the super scary red eye. From the very beginning, it’s clear that Jake feels a sense of relief knowing what this is really about, and also understands to a greater degree than the others the power and awfulness of this creature.

As I discuss in the “plans” section below, this book does a lot to highlight Jake’s quick thinking and ability to put together a complex plan using only pieces of knowledge. He also is able to anticipate the needs and actions of his group. He comments early that he’s grown to respect Marco’s suspicions and give them extra weight.  He effectively uses Ax’s adherence to military order to force him not to sacrifice himself when the Howlers attack, saying that he has to follow his Prince’s orders. He anticipates that Rachel will volunteer for the mission to pose as bait and is able to subtly warn her off, allowing Ax to volunteer. When Cassie goes down as a bird, he accepts that he has to leave her behind in order to draw away the Howler to save the entire group, even though this decision tears him apart.

It’s really great stuff all around. And particularly the end, when he has to confront the reality of the Howlers as children, we see the weight these decisions place on Jake and how he leans on his friends to help support him in making these choices.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There are a specific kind of Iskyoort whose who point is to shop (Guide explains that there must be people to buy all of the things they want to sell!). She claims that she has found her people: a species dedicated to shopping. Also, when Jake asks for volunteers for the dangerous mission to lure the Howlers to them, he has to quickly catch Rachel’s eye and subtly shake his head. She already has her mouth open to volunteer, when he spots her, but she quickly understands what he’s doing by giving Ax an opportunity to feel better about himself after running.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book. He’s the most comfortable traveling around the city though, given his ability to fly. The others are quite perturbed by the heights and lack of railings that make up the world.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Besides the BIG KISS, Cassie provides further insights into violence and how out of whack with evolution and biology the Howlers are with their baseless violence. She is also an early “yes” vote in the discussion of whether or not to play the Ellimist’s game, as she sees the potential loss of an entire species as a nonnegotiable factor.

The Comic Relief: Marco suffers quite a bit of damage in this book. He gets hit badly in the first fight, gets a wing blown off in the second, and gets stabbed in the third. Other than that, the struggles to not be bitter and angry about the limitations of Erek’s programming that prohibits him from fighting.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a pretty distinct arc in this book, dealing with the fact that he is forced to run away when they are first attacked by the Howlers. He completely retreats into himself, and when the Howlers attack again, looks to want to go on a suicide mission to attack them, to prove to himself that he is now a coward. For the first time ever, Jake has to pull the “Prince” card out.

<Aximili-Esgarrouth-lsthill, you call me “prince” and you act like you mean it and I am giving you a direct order. Morph. Do. It. NOW!>

Later we see how savvy Jake is when he “offers” the opportunity for someone to take on a super special, super risky mission to serve as bait. Jake also takes the time to have a one-on-one conversation to Ax, telling him to snap out of it and cut himself some slack. The other Animorphs were all in morph and they know that the Howlers’ “howl” is meant to take out sentient species. That being the case, Ax, as the only one in his true form, was the only one hit with the full force of the howl. And given how much it messed up the others, even with their morphs shielding them somewhat, Ax running away was by no means a show of cowardice. Ax is skeptical, but it’s clear that some of this gets through to him, and with the opportunity to lure the Howlers in, by the end of the story, it looks like he makes it through this internal crisis OK.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment:  The gore of the fights with the Howlers was pretty bad. In the first fight, Jake describes gorilla!Marco getting hit by a flechette that pretty punched a hole the size of a pop can through him. Also when Jake is morphing the Howler, there are some lovely descriptions of his being able to see his own spine. Really, the Andalites need to work on this technology a bit more. It seems that morphers have an up-close view of their body without skin WAY too often in the process.

Couples Watch!: Um, obviously the kiss! I do like that the kiss itself played an important role in the story, as the one memory out of millions that slipped through into the Howlers’ group consciousness. This fact did help alleviate the problem that it really did feel like a “Finally!” moment in the the worst way. As I mentioned in a few reviews leading up to this, especially when laid parallel to the pacing and arc of the Tobias/Rachel romance, Jake and Cassie’s relationship has felt oddly lacking. It almost didn’t feel believable that they would have still been caught up in the teenage shyness and silliness after living the very traumatic and adult lives they’ve had to with this war. But, again, by tying the kiss into the actual over-arching theme of the book, Applegate does a good job of justifying the delay. It is implied that Cassie and Jake’s love is the firs step to the ultimate ruin of the Howlers.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I don’t think I made either of these connections as a kid, but re-reading this book now, it was really hard to picture both of the big bads in this without referencing other, similar villains. Crayak might as well BE Sauron for all his descriptions sound exactly the same: big read eye that is on fire. Yep! The Howlers also are very similar to Predator, not so much in how they look (which I still think is super cool, with their dark lava-like skin), but in their general being that is focused on being the most efficient killers in the universe.

I also really loved the late-game reveal about the Howlers being children. For one, they were already awesome villains and were handily beating our heroes throughout most of the book in a way that we’ve never seen before. But then to realize that they are pretty much ignorant of what they’re truly doing? It’s like they think they’re in a very elaborate video game or something. And that they have no life outside of this game and are only kids, just like the Animorphs, but more sad, in that their lives are only 3 years long and they are just tools of this greater evil. It does a lot to “humanize,” as it were, the Howlers, making them not just mindless killing machines, but truly pitiable and almost tragic beings.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Appelgate doesn’t shy away from the reveal around the Howlers being children. Several pages are given to Jake fully coming to grips with what this means, and to Cassie’s horror. And to the fact that they still have no choice but to go through with a plan that’s success lies on Crayak destroying the remaining six Howlers. The very last bit of the book is what really got me though:

Instead I dreamed about Cassie. But in my dreams I also saw that Howler, falling and falling beside me. Falling still, as I spread my wings and split my fate from his.
Marco’s always saying you choose how to see the world. That you can look at what’s funny and cool, or you can focus on all the things that aren’t.
So I tried to follow Marco’s advice. I tried to turn my dreams to Cassie. But even looking into her eyes, I still saw that doomed Howler falling.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: All of their plans are pretty good here! Jake adeptly pivots and shifts as he gains experience with the Howlers’ methods. He quickly understands that simple survival is the key until they work out a better plan of action, coming up with first the fly morph to escape, and then the bait-and-switch with Erek’s hologram as they escape as birds. He also puts quite a few moving pieces together to form the final plan where they essentially hijack the Howler group mind.

Favorite Quote:

Throughout the story, there’s a lot of descriptions of precarious traveling from one level to another level using railing-less stairways miles in the sky, so Marco is a bit upset to learn:

Guide led us to a different level. This time we went up. And this time
we took an elevator.
“Elevators! You have elevators?” Marco raged. “We’re traipsing up and
down stairs and you have elevators?”
<The elevators are much
less scenic,> Guide said. <What value are memories of the inside of an elevator?>

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

A bit point to the Animorphs! Obviously they weren’t up against the Yeerks themselves, but in 300 years…But seriously, the Howlers were probably the toughest guys they gone up against yet, and the Animorphs were quite smart about putting together the one plan that would work to come out with a win.

Rating: I didn’t notice as much as a kid, but man, reading these again as an adult, it is so, so clear when you go from one of the ghost-written books back to one written by Applegate herself. Not only is the plot of this story so much more focused and clear, but the characterization is much more solid, and the series gets back to its roots of tackling the bigger moral and philosophical aspects of their ongoing battle. It’s such a breath of fresh air after the last few books.

Beyond that, this book is a solid installation into the series. We finally get an explanation for the red eye that Jake saw so long ago. The Ellimist shows up again, and we get a better idea of the sheer scale of his ongoing battle with Crayak. AndJake and Cassie finally kiss. FINALLY.

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 #25: “The Extreme”

Animorphs #25: “The Extreme” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It’s time for the Animorphs to acquire some cold-weather morphs. The Yeerks are at it again, and they’re causing trouble near one of the coldest places on earth: The North Pole.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: So, all I remember about this one is that somehow, someway they end up at the north pole. And they were very cold. And that was much of the story.

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The Animorphs in this book. And also me, reading this book. Um, spoilers? It wasn’t my favorite. (source)

The story opens with the usual listing of what’s really happening, we can’t tell you our names, etc etc. But, more importantly, Marco has a date. With Marian. The hottest girl in school. But unfortunately the date is for a trip to the orchestra. Worse, Marco discovers about halfway through that he is thoroughly not  into the orchestra. So much so that he falls asleep and Marian ditches him. At school, as he is regaling Cassie with the tale of his terrible date, when Erek, the friendly Chee, shows up. Never a good sign. He informs them that the Yeerks are trying to set up a Kandrona ray broadcast system using satellites which would allow them to turn any ordinary swimming pool into a  Yeerk pool.

The Animorphs all meet up with Erek at Cassie’s barn to discuss their plan. The Chee don’t know the location of the Yeerk base that is working on this project, but they do know Visser Three plans on visiting it soon and the location of his new feeding pasture. The plan is obvious: they need to hitch a ride with Visser Three from this pasture on the way to the site. But they still don’t know the location of the base, so to deal with what might be a prolonged absence, Erek and three of his Chee friends agree to pose as Marco, Jake, Cassie, and Rachel while they’re gone.

The next day they fly to Visser Three’s meadow, spot him, and one-by-one land in the woods surrounding him. They then morph fly, and Marco notes that they waste half an hour trying to find each other in the meadow cuz fly senses aren’t that great. Per Ax’s knowledge, the decide that the best way to intercept Visser Three without him seeing is to fly up beneath him and try and land on his underbelly. They all manage to land, and Visser Three boards his ship. As they get ready to depart, they overhear some bad news: the flight time will be 3.5 hours long.

As they contemplate what to do, the Bug Fighter lands in the Blade ship. They overhear Visser Three ask if all of the Venbar are on board, and Ax becomes very excited, only to then say he must has misunderstood. Time passes, and they wait, still on Visser Three’s belly while he works on his computer in his personal cabin. Marco passes the time by telling terrible jokes, but eventually they decide they need to do something to allow them to demorph. Ax, using his best Visser Three impression, yells out for guards to come into the cabin. He does this a few times, each time resulting in Visser Three becoming more irate at being interrupted. Finally, he becomes so mad that he charges out of his room and the Animorphs bail off him.  They quickly demorph and try to remorph, but Marco highlights how exhausting the entire process is, comparing it to a 200 yard dash. Everyone gets through but for Ax and Marco when a Taxxon barges into the room. Ax takes it out with his tail blade, but now they have a problem as it will be clear that something else happened here.

All now back to flies, they buzz out of the room. They plan to head to the storage bay, hoping it will be empty, when Visser Three returns, sees the Taxxon, and calls for guards. They manage to make it, but Cassie notes that the Yeerks know about their bug morphs and could flood the place with insecticides, so they all demorph. Marco quickly notices a long line of tall cylinders each containing some type of new alien, ones with silver bodies slashed with streaks of red and blue. They’re all frozen. Hesitantly, Ax says they look like Venbar, but that they have been extinct for thousands of years. The most notable thing about them was the fact that they lived on an ice moon in below freezing temperatures.

They feel the ship landing. Marco wonders why Visser Three would land, knowing the “Andalite bandits” are trapped on his ship. They morph their battle morphs. As they land, three of the bay doors  open: they are surrounded by Hork Bajir warriors and Visser Three himself. Marco realizes that the fourth door hasn’t been opened, and that’s the door to the outdoors. They guess that Visser Three won’t fire lasers in the room for fear of hitting the canisters, so Marco goes for the control panel to the door outside while Rachel slams into the nearest canister. As he frantically tries to pry open the door, tiger!Jake is overwhelmed by Hork Bajir, and wolf!Cassie is thrown past him, obviously injured. Rachel finally mages to break open a canister, releasing the freezing mist that freezes any body part of the Hork Bajir it touches. Marco gets the door open, and they all bail. Visser Three calls for the ship to take off, but the manage to jump out when it is only 20 feet up. The Blade ship, following Visser Three’s orders, continues to rise.

They land on ice in the freezing air. Quickly, those who are injured try to demorph and remorph. Gorilla!Marco’s skin sticks and peels off on the ice. Tobias spots a base or town in the distance, and tries to morph himself, his hawk body not handling the cold. But before he can, he collapses. Rachel grabs him and curls herself around him as she re-morphs grizzly. Above them, the Blade ship heads for the base. Still, they know they need to get out of there. They take off running, but don’t get very far before Ax starts to stumble. Without good cold weather morphs, Jake tells Ax and Tobias to morph fleas and hide in Rachel’s fur. The remaining four continue to run. Throughout it all, the cold bites and hits them all hard. Marco begins to become confused and disoriented.

They find a cave and do an assessment. None of their morphs are equipped for this level of cold, but wolf!Cassie and grizzly!Rachel are managing. Marco slumps to the floor, his thoughts becoming muddled. The others frantically try to get him to demorph, and he only comes to when grizzly!Rachel punches him in the face. They decide that the wolf morph is best, so the other three join Cassie in that form. Cassie says they may be able to use the wolf morph to survive, but they’re barely functional and will need to avoid fights. Looking out of the cave, they spot a pair of the Venbar sliding around on their ski-like feet. They realize that the Venbar are using echo-location to find where they are. The Venbar turn towards them and fire canon like weapons, bringing down the cave walls around them. The Animorphs take off, running along the shoreline of the half-frozen ocean.

After running for almost their allotted two hours, the manage to lose the Venbar and proceed circling each other as they, one-by-one, demorph and remorph. They continue on their way, desperately looking for shelter as it begins to get dark. Behind them, every once in a while, they get a whiff of the Venbar still following them. Suddenly they get a new scent: a polar bear. They continue to run, with the polar bear meandering to their side, but eventually they decide they need to stop for the night and dig themselves a snow lair. Overnight, they continue their miserable rotation of demorphing and remorphing.

As they wait through the night, Ax tells the history of the Venbar, how they were wiped out by another race called The Five, who then also disappeared to history. He theorizes that the  Yeerks have been able to retrieve some frozen DNA from Venbar corpses and combined it with other DNA and used it to grow the Venbar now chasing them. Even more disturbing, Ax suggests that it is likely human DNA that was used as a patch.

The night is terrible, and only the morphing ability which restores them to full health each time, saves them from freezing to death. Morning comes, and outside they spot the polar bear out on the ice fishing for seals. Starving, they do what they have to and gorge themselves on the remainders of the bear’s leftover seal. After eating they spot a pair of baby seals, ideal cold-weather morphs. Cassie and Marco morph dolphin and quickly nab one of the babies for the others to acquire. They all morph seal and relish in finally being warm.

Suddenly the Venbar turn up and start shooting. As they all flop towards the sea, they realize that the Venbar must have seen them morphing and now know the truth about them. They now have two choices, not allow the Venbar to return to the Yeerk base or destroy the Yeerk base itself. As they swim towards the base, a pair of orca whales attack. Chaos ensues, but the Animorphs manage to get back on top of the ice and demoprh into less-appealing meals. But as they’re standing on the ice, they realize that an Inuit man has been watching them from his boat. He asks whether they are animal spirits.

“My grandfather used to talk about animal spirits all the time. I just thought he was crazy.” He spun his finger around his ear in that universal gesture of insanity. “But I always told him, ‘Yeah, that’s right, Grandpa.’ “

What follows is a very bizarre scene with the Inuit guy (Derek) thinking the Animorphs are animal spirits, handing them seal skins to wear, and discussing how mad he is at the “Star Trek guys” who are shooting the seals with lasers. Turns out he knows quite a lot about the Yeerk base and the space ships he’s seen there. Also doesn’t seem to think much of conversing with an alien (Ax) and a talking bird (Tobias.) What’s more, Derek has been following around Nanook (the polar bear) for days and can lead the Animorphs back to him. Grizzly!Rachel and gorilla!Marco go in together to try and subdue the polar bear and manage to pin it to the ice so the others can acquire it. After this action, Derek just takes off and they all morph the polar bear.

They make their way back to the base once again, just as a storm winds up. Darkness begins to fall and they sneak up on the base. The Venbar are working away on building the satellite, but they don’t see Visser Three’s Blade ship anywhere. They slowly sneak towards the base, until a woman finally spots them and raises the alarm. Another Controller shouts to program the Venbar to attack quadrupeds. The Venbar attack, nearly taking out Jake and Tobias, but also opening a convenient “door” in the wall of the hanger that the rest pile through. Ahead of them, they see what remains of the Venbar that went through the wall: it was a biological computer. In the warmth, the Venbar chasing them desolve, but they follow their programming and continue to come in. Boarding a Bug fighter, the Animorphs watch as all of the Venber destroy themselves. They demorph. Ax takes the flight controls and Marco covers the guns. This isn’t the first time they’ve been in a Bug fighter, and it helps them fly this one now. Using the ship, they destroy the satellite and the entire base.

As they turn to fly away, the see the Blade ship moving to intercept. They fly as far as they can south, then set the ship to auto-destruct and fly away as birds. It takes them two more days to finally get home, flying and hiding out on trains and trucks. Back home, Marco luxuriates in a lot of hot showers.

The Comic Relief: Well, this was a dud for a Marco book. Up to this point, Marco books have been some of my favorites. Not only is his internal voice one of the strongest, but he has a good point of sustained drama and emotional tension with the situation with his mother as Visser One. Here, not only did we get none of that, but the story itself didn’t play to Marco’s particular narration strengths. In fact, this book wouldn’t have played well to ANY of their narrative strengths. There was simply no heart to it. Marco’s telling of this story could have been anyone’s telling of this story: it was cold and it sucked. The end. The one real moment of “Marco-ness” we got, other than some of the jokes in the beginning about his date, was when they were realizing they would need to eat a seal to live:

If I had to be the jerk in this situation, that was fine. I was used to it. I was usually the first one to state the obvious, no matter how ugly it was. Just call me Mr. Ruthless.

This was a pretty good character beat, and in line with what we know about Marco. Too bad it came from such a nothing moment.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake comes up with his usual good plans, remains the steady leader they need, and notably has a few self-sacrificial moments. When they first end up in the cold, Jake lasts the longest in his tiger morph, never complaining even though he was suffering as much as the others. When they attack the base in the end, he fights off the Venbar with Tobias as back up telling the other to go on without him. They are small moments, but good ones to show how well Jake holds up even under the most strange of circumstances.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Early in the book, when they’re first escaping the Blade ship amidst all of the freezing gas, grizzly!Rachel walks into the mist to save an unconscious wolf!Cassie, and when she walks out…she leaves a foot behind. First of all, yes, this is another great example of Rachel always being the first to sacrifice herself to save her friends, braving anything to get to them. But also…WHAT IS WITH RACHEL LOSING PAWS IN HER BEAR MORPH! I swear, this is at least the third time it’s happened. First, in book #7 when they attack the skyscraper with the Kandrona. Second, in Megamorphs #1 when she has amnesia. And now again, here!! And I can’t remember if she also lost a paw during the jungle craziness in Jake’s book #11? Either way, this seems to happen to her a lot!

Also, Rachel…and polar bears…and now all of the sobbing.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, with Ax, ends up spending the majority of this book in flea morph. Which just raises the question about why more of them didn’t do this. Have maybe two of them stay as wolves for the two hours, the rest go flea, and then alternate. Seems like this would limit the time each member would actually need to spend in the freezing cold.

In the beginning of the book when they’re all in battle morphs on the Blade ship, it’s starting to feel more and more ridiculous that Tobias’s “battle morph” is his original hawk body. I mean, really? It made sense when he couldn’t morph, but now that he can it’s just crazy that he wouldn’t use something with more fire power in moments like this. Particularly after this book, he’ll have a polar bear morph to use and yet he’ll continue with the hawk. It’s just weird.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Early in the book, when they’re all morphing on the Blade ship, there’s a mention to Cassie demorphing from her fly morph in a matter of seconds. This seems like an error (I’m going to start blaming ghost writers for everything, now that that’s at thing.) Yes, it is referenced that Cassie morphs more quickly, but I don’t think that it went down from 3-4 minutes to her being able to do it in a matter of seconds? But maybe I’m wrong.

She also has this to say in the face of Marco’s skepticism about whether or not she’d be on board for eating seals:

Do you guys think I’d put an animal’s life over yours? Or mine, come to think of it?”
“I don’t know,” I started to say.
“You don’t know? When did you start thinking I was some kind of fanatic? We’re freezing, we’re starving, and I’m going to go all tree-hugging, never-eat-anything-with-a-face on you?”

It is a nice sentiment, and it does make sense for her. But there have been books in the past where she seems to have this EXACT thought! I can never quite get a feel for where her moral lines really are. They seem to change quite a lot from one situation to another with little explanation. It makes her unpredictable and also a bit less real seeming, as if her character is just there to present whatever moral lesson is needed in whatever moment.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax recognizes the name “Venbar” when they hear Visser Three mention it on the Blade ship, but then doesn’t inform the others about it until much later. Presumably to build tension in the story, but it mostly just reads as false. Jake would immediately call him on it and get him to explain. Later, when he does explain, this turns out to be a subject that he did pay attention to in school, and he is able to give a pretty thorough history of the species.

The best part for Ax (and arguably the entire book) is the running gag joke between him and Marco about Ax’s tendency to refer to time as “your minutes.” Two examples:

“Ax, I really think you can just deal with the fact that they aren’t our minutes. They are everyone’s minutes.”

and

“About twenty minutes,” Ax replied. “Of your minutes,” he added, with what I swear was deliberate provocation.

It’s a joke that has come up repeatedly throughout the series, but they really go all-in on it in this book, and it plays pretty well. Especially in a book that really is a snooze fest in most other ways.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment:  There were actually quite a few disgusting moments in this book. Marco’s bird morph early on describes his fingers growing back out of his shoulder blades and twitching around back there. Ick. And then when the Taxxon walks in on them in the Blade ship and Ax swipes it with his tail blade, we get a lovely description of it eating its other half. And then later, the description of the polar bear hunting the seal pulls no punches. It catches the seal through a hole, but the seal won’t fit back up, so…shredded seal. Very gross.

Couples Watch!: At one point, Marco blatantly calls Tobias and Rachel’s relationship out, when flea!Tobias is, according to Marco “all nice and warm in his honey’s back fur.” Rachel is shocked, but Marco shrugs the whole thing off, noting that it’s not like it’s a big secret. More examples of the fact that Tobias and Rachel’s relationship seems to be more of an accepted thing than Cassie and Jake’s ongoing awkward flirt-fest.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl:  First thing of note: when they’re on the Blade ship in Visser Three’s quarter, he has a collection of torture equipment on his walls. Cuz of course he does.

Second, it seems like a huge miss that he let the Blade ship even get close to landing when he was trying to trap the Animorphs in the loading bay. How many times have they escaped him by jumping out of windows? You’d think he’d learn his lesson on this by now.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The baby seals of the dead mommy seal the polar bear kills!! Though the moment does, again, provide Cassie an opportunity to highlight her inconsistencies. Because here she says a very nice bit about how you can’t feel bad for the deaths of baby seals without feeling bad for the deaths of baby polar bears and baby whales who would die without hunting them. Right, yes, that makes sense Cassie! Tell me again about the part where Tobias was terrible for killing a baby skunk? I WILL harp on this until the last! #NeverForget #NeverForgive

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: 

Basically this:

We had a plan. The four fateful words that usually end up meaning a lot of yelling, screaming, mayhem, and madness.

Most of their plans were fine here. I mean, there’s no way they could have known about ending up in the north pole, so I’ll give them a pass on this. I still think they could have managed the cold better with more people going flea, but who knows, the psychological bit about being more alone in the cold for the one or two who had to remain as wolves might have been even harder.

Favorite Quote:

“No, no, no votes,” I said. “Jake decides. Then if it goes bad we can all blame him.”

They’re all pretty good about not blaming Jake for decisions, but as we’ve seen in other books, there is a distinct element of panic when he’s not around to make calls for them.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 11

For all that I thought the book was a dud, and the fact that the majority of their time is spent shivering in caves, they do manage to take out the satellite Kandrona system that would have turned all pools of water in Yeerk pools. This is a pretty major win. Too bad it’s couched within this story.

Rating: Not great. I remember liking this book more the first time around. Probably because as a kid, adventures in the north pole sounded exciting enough for me. In this re-read though, I was majorly bored for much of the time. Which is really surprising for a Marco book, as he is usually able to salvage other duds of story lines purely on his strength as a narrator. But, really, no narrator is going to make hours of sitting around freezing entertaining to read about. Beyond this, I’m more bummed that we didn’t get more pages devoted to their return journey! It took days! They had to have run up against some adventures there, and it’s really the first time we’ve seen them run into a major time issue with their missions. So it seems like a huge missed opportunity. Remember, they’re still kids, for all of this war stuff. And now they have to “Homeward Bound” it all the way back to their city!

I also question the use of the Inuit man who shows up. I don’t quite know how to feel about it. It kind of walks the line on some offensive stereotypes about animal spirits, but I don’t think it crosses it. It also seems strange that the Animorphs wave it off so easily that he knows the truth about them being humans. The guy has clearly been snooping around the Yeerk base since he knows all about it. Chances are good he’s going to get caught one of these days and infested. So it seems like a weird inconsistency that this was swept aside. Further, the whole point of meeting him was so that he could lead them back to the polar bear. As they’ve run into the polar bear multiple times on their own already, there’s absolutely no point of this! They could just run into him again, since he’s nearby. Just remove the guy altogether and you lose any question marks about representation or inconsistencies with their secret.

All in all, this was my least favorite Marco book yet. I did still like some parts of it, but overall, it was pretty boring, giving me too much time to fixate on little things.

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 #24: “The Suspicion”

363350Animorphs #24: “The Suspicion” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are not the only invaders of Earth. Meet the new enemy: the Helmacrons. Cassie finds their miniature spaceship and donates it to a toy drive. Big mistake. The Helmacrons are tiny, but they’re far from helpless. They have the technology to shrink other creatures to their size. And until they get their spaceship back, they’re taking hostages. The Animorphs must find a way to send these pests back into space — before it’s too late.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Oh man, here we go. The first introduction of the Helmacrons. I had totally forgotten that they showed up in a Cassie book, which are already not my favorites of the series.  So…yeah…

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(source)

At the beginning of each chapter, we get an entry from the log of the Helmacron ship, Galaxy Blaster detailing their exploits on planet Earth. Humble these guys are not.

The story opens with Cassie doing chores at home, as always, this time collecting junk to send to Goodwill. And Rachel begging her to do something about her fashion choices, as always. She’s also trying to convince Cassie to join her on a trip to the mall and then the beach, when she notices a toy space ship in Cassie’s junk pile. Cassie says she found it perched on the pump, which, coincidentally, is where she hid the blue box. Tossing it back on the junk pile, she gives in and agrees to join Rachel and enjoy the day.

Cassie hates the beach (seriously, what is wrong with this girl??), but she’s glad that Rachel is having a good time. They walk home in their swimsuits, and Cassie is mortified to see Jake waiting for them. Jake, too, is embarrassed and it’s all very twee. Cassie suddenly notices another toy aircraft perched on the pump. But it’s not the same one. Worse, it suddenly rises and flies away. Jake announces that the weekend has been cancelled, and they need to gather their forces and figure out what’s happening.

Of course, their first plan of action is to ask their resident alien, Ax. Unfortunately, Ax, rather per the usual at this point, has no ideas, so they morph seagulls to try and track down the other ship that Cassie’s dad had toted away to Goodwill. Once there, they convince the Goodwill clerk to let them in the back to search for the ship. They find it, but before they can do much, another small ship zooms into the loading bay and “attacks” Jake with two tiny laser beams. Rachel, typically, gets mad, even more so when they blow off a few strands of her hair, and takes a bat to the ship that’s flying around. But Jake insists they  back off for a bit, and they see the ship link up to the other, presumably giving it a jump start. They then hear a thought-speak voice in their head demanding they hand over the power source and they will then be allowed to live as slaves. Cassie quickly guesses that they must mean the blue box.

Cassie tries to speak to them calmly and peaceably, saying she’s sure they don’t mean to be threatening. They correct her; they very much DO mean to be threatening. They shoot her with their tiny lasers and blow back out of the door. Jake has Tobias follow them, suspecting they are heading back to the farm and the blue box. They morph  birds and discuss the bizarreness of the entire situation as they fly back. On the way, they see Tobias up ahead being attacked by the Helmacron ship. Against Tobias’s much smaller size, the ship could actually do some damage and it looks like they are trying to shoot at his eyes. Rachel is pissed and quickly attacks, followed by the others. They managed to fight them off, but the Helmacrons zip away even faster towards the farm.

They manage to intercept the Helmacrons again just as they are beginning to pull up the blue box with a tractor beam. But their bird morphs aren’t made for endurance flying, and the fight takes it out of them. Cassie demorphs as quickly as she can and chases the Helmacrons and the blue box they are towing into the barn. The Helmacrons issue more threats while Cassie tries to talk them down. Then they shrink her. Tobias flies in after her and they get him too. Marco, too, comes in and gets hit by the ray, but manages to yell over his shoulder to warn the others away before he gets too small. They do, and Jake informs them that the other Helmacron ship took off after Rachel hit it with a brick.

Cassie, Tobias, and Marco stop shrinking, but are now tiny, about the size of a small fly. Strangely, Tobias is still around the same size as each of them, rather than proportionally being smaller. (Part of me feels like this would be just as weird as the rest. From Cassie and Marco’s perspective, Tobias is now a MASSIVE bird.) Ax and Jake try to convince the Helacrons to give back the box and reverse the shrinking, pointing out that as “primitive” as they may think it is, Rachel’s brick did pretty good work of their other ship. They manage to snag the blue box, but both ships still escape, leaving Marco, Tobias, and Cassie in their tiny forms.

Ax theorizes that the Helmacrons used the power of the blue box to shrink the others. Cassie and Marco can’t be heard by the others, their voices too small, but Tobias can still thought-speak with them. Cassie tries to morph to see if that will reverse it, but when she tries to go osprey, she shrinks even further and quickly reverses her morph.

Cassie’s dad shows up and isn’t impressed by Jake and Rachel’s story of looking for Cassie. He’s even less impressed by human!Ax. After kicking them all out of the barn, he begins walking around and manages to bury tiny!Cassie under a tablespoon of dirt he kicks up. Cassie and Marco discover that, similar to ants, they have increased strength for their size, easily moving massive, to them, pieces of dirt. As they debate what to do next, the Helmacrons arrive, and now that they, too, are small, those laser beams are much more of a threat. Luckily, the Helmacrons get caught up in a bit of inter-ship politicking, debating who gets to capture Cassie, Marco, and Tobias, until the other Animrophs show up in towering, gigantic cockroach morphs. Ax has come in a wolf spider morph and is even more terrifying than the others. But they quickly realize the mistake of this when the Helmacrons cripple and seriously injure spider!Ax using the lasers from their ship. Worse, he can’t demorph to heal himself without crushing Marco, Cassie, and Tobias. Cassie insists that they surrender and escape later.

She and Marco let themselves be taken onto the Helmacron ship, and the aliens bring them to their leader. Thing is, the captain is very, very dead. Worse, it looks ritualistic, the Helmacron captain chained to the floor and speared with several swords. Once again Marco puts Cassie to shame in the “make things up” category, reminiscent of their time on the Area 51-like base. Cassie is still a terrible liar. The Helmacrons put a stop to Marco’s display of “groveling” and insist they tell them where the blue box is. They turn on their view screen and Cassie sees the others, safe back in their regular forms, with tiny!Tobias sitting on Rachel’s shoulder. Cassie and Marco claim that none of their friends know where it is, but the “other one” does. The Helmacrons reveal that their sensors can tell who has morphing capabilities, so they will find this “other one.” Cassie quickly comes up with a plan.

“There’s no point trying to hide him from the Helmacrons, Marco,” I said. “There is only one other morph-capable creature on Earth. And the Helmacrons are just going to have to destroy him.”

Suddenly, the light went on in Marco’s head. “Visser Three?”

I nodded, feeling very pleased with myself. “Visser Three.”

It turns out the Helmacrons already know about the Yeerks, and for some reason this causes a division in their ranks, with one group attacking and killing a few of the others. Cassie and Marco also learn that all of the Helmacrons they have met so far have been females when a much smaller, more docile being enters and is addressed as a male. He explains that the captain must be dead because how else could they ensure she would never make any mistakes? He informs them that they are now slaves who must obey the female Helmacrons, and then leaves.

Shortly after, they are lead back to another bridge where the Helmacrons pull up a view screen showing the Blade ship. They can sense Visser Three in a Bug Fighter that is heading back to Earth and follow it. They watch the Bug Fighter descend into an abandoned restaurant that opens its ceiling to let the ship in as a limo pulls up in front of it. Visser Three climbs in in his human morph. The Helmacrons chase after the car, firing at it with their mini lasers. Human!Visser Three roles down the window and spots the tiny ship; it is clear he recognizes what they are. The Helmacrons shoot him in the face with their lasers and another Controller pops out of the sunroof and starts shooting at their ship with a gun, a huge weapon against their small size.

The fighting continues and the Helmacrons veer into the other lane, almost getting hit by on-coming traffic. Cassie and Marco have had enough and decide to get the heck out of there. Their only option is to get even smaller and morph flies. (On this, you’d think they’d have some concerns about their Z-space mass considering what happened in Ax’s book with the mosquito morph. Yes, the passing ship was what pulled them through, but having it happen at all, you’d think it at least would be thought of when they’re now morphing something even tinier.) Once morphed, they are too tiny for the Helmacrons to catch, but they also can’t get anywhere, being too small to cover any distance. As they try to hide, the ship starts to come apart and they realize that a Yeerk Dracon beam must have hit it. Completely disoriented with no way of knowing where they are or how far up they are or anything, they decide to try and slowly demorph and get a sense of things. They find themselves on someone’s head, specifically Chapman’s.

Just then, Tobias shows up. He informs them that Rachel managed to smash the other ship with a tire iron and Jake clamped it in a vice in Cassie’s barn. He says they have things figured out, that the Helmacrons gave them their leaders to hold hostage. Cassie and Marco immediately freak out, knowing that all their friends have are dead Helmacrons. Worse, Tobias tells them that they’re currently at a meeting of the Sharing where Visser Three is doing show and tell with the destroyed Helmacron ship he hit with the Dracon beam. And Ax is there too, outside with the blue box in an attempt to get the Helmacrons to come with them and unshrink the others. Cassie and Marco quickly realize that the Helmacrons are planning on letting the Yeerks and Animorphs duke it out while they escape with the blue box. Just as they think of this, they see the remaining Helmacron ship appear, towing the blue box with them, and aim its lasers at an unhappy Visser Three, shrinking him, too.

Chaos erupts. Visser Three is shrinking, screaming at the Yeerks to grab the blue box. The other Animorphs show up in morph, also trying to get the blue box. And all the while, the Helmacrons blather on about their own power and might. Cassie and Marco can’t tell what’s going except for what they hear through thought-speak. Rachel gets hit by the shrinking ray and the others are still trying to nab the box. Cassie tells Marco to moprh, that they need to get even smaller and have the ability to thought-speak with the others. She calls to Tobias to come pick them up and he nabs skunk!Cassie and mole!Marco in his talons. Cassie has figured out that if, when they morph smaller, they get relatively smaller to their current size, than if they morph bigger, the same thing should apply. They land on the the Helmacron ship, and Cassie has them all morph bigger: Tobias to his human form, and her to her humpback whale form. This way, they will weigh down the ship, essentially disabling it.

Her plan works and the ship begins to sink under her weight, but as it does, a Controller reaches out and grabs the ship. Ax manages to cut off the Controller’s hand with his tale and grab the ship himself. They learn that Jake and Rachel, along with Visser Three and several Controllers, have all been shrunk and are currently having a standoff on one of Ax’s legs. Ax runs away, carrying the ship and blue box. Through this all, they overhear Jake and Rachel fighting Visser Three in some new alien morph along with all of the other shrunken Controllers. Cassie tells Ax to morph a bird, carry the ship and  blue box in his talons, and fly to the Gardens.

But as he morphs, the way his body melds leaves everyone all together: Cassie, Marco and Tobias, but now also tiger!Jake, grizzly!Rachel, Visser Three and the rest of the shrunken Controllers. Quickly, Cassie and Marco morph their battle morphs so the Yeerks don’t see them as humans. They prepare to do battle,  but then the Helmacrons show up and they all unanimously decide that they should be dealt with first. But before they can do anything, Ax informs them that they have arrived at the Gardens and Cassie tells them all to jump off bird!Ax.

They leap and land on something furry. Cassie quickly begins demorphing, explaining that she thought that maybe a newly acquired animal wouldn’t be affected by the shrinking (something something original DNA was shrunk but not new DNA). And for their new morph she’s chosen an anteater. Visser Three shows up and quickly sees what they’re doing, but the Animorphs are all well on their way to becoming regular-sized anteaters. Once morphed, anteater!Cassie quickly nabs a few dozen Helmcrons with her sticky tongue. Cassie begs them to surrender, not wanting to kill them, and Visser Three, who has also morphed an anteater, sneers at her.

<Sentimental Andalite fool,> Visser Three said. He had copied our trick. He had also morphed the anteater. <You can’t kill a Helmacron. They’re a fungible species. Kill one and its mind, if you can call it a mind, is absorbed into another. They never die. Even when they’re dead, they’re not dead. But when it comes to Andalites . . .>

His tongue flits out and nabs tiny!Tobias as he tries to fly away. But before he can do anything, normal-sized!Ax presses his tail blade to anteater!Visser Three’s throat. The three-way stalemate ends with the Animorphs getting control of the shrinking ray and using it to unshrink everyone, letting the Yeerks go. Visser Three is willing to concede that being shrunk again is unappealing, and it’s best to fight another day. They also convince the male Helmacrons that they should fight back against the females, and presumably they all get so caught up in this that they…leave?? The end.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Poor Cassie. It’s really not her fault that she got stuck with this stinker of a book. That said, I don’t think the book is improved by having Cassie as a narrator. For all that I don’t agree with all of Cassie’s approaches to the war, she is at her best when she is given complicated moral plot lines that allow her to fully explore her unique view on conflict. Without that, her voice is probably just the most bland of all the narrators and thus doesn’t add a lot to a story that desperately, DESPERATELY needs a strong narrator to improve it. Further, this is the first book we’ve gotten from Cassie since the whole David ordeal and it’s jarring to have that not really mentioned. Cassie was the mastermind behind that whole plan and also the one, other than Rachel, who presumably would be most broken up by the role she had to play. So it feels like a huge missed opportunity to have her very next book be relegated to, essentially, a filler story. Tobias’s made sense, he had big things of his own to deal with and also was the least involved with the David mess. But Cassie? No way we shouldn’t be hearing all about how conflicted and torn up she is about a plan that she came up with that doomed a human boy to life as a rat.

And beyond that, like I said, Cassie’s voice alone doesn’t have a lot of uniquely interesting aspects to it, other than her POV on moral issues. So when we’re given a bonkers story line like this, Cassie just kind of …goes with it. And it doesn’t help. Sure, she once again comes up with a good animal morph to solve the current problem, but the end of this story was so full of contrivances and wild leaps of logic that it’s hard to even give her much credit for that. It’s all just kind of bad, and Cassie’s narration isn’t strong enough to distract us from that fact.

Our Fearless Leader: Both Cassie and Marco bemoan the loss of Jake’s decision-making skills when they’re on board the Helmacron ship. It’s a good moment to really highlight how dependent the rest of them are on Jake to make important calls in the midst of chaos. But other than that, Jake kind of just does his thing through most of this book. Cassie talks about how cute she thinks he his, and there’s some fun awkwardness at the beginning when Jake sees her in a swimsuit and becomes extremely stammer-y.

Xena, Warrior Princess: As always my favorite parts of Cassie books are the interactions between her and Rachel. Their friendship is awesome, and through Cassie’s books we see a very unique side of Rachel, the more human, normal, teenage girl side that is our best view of what Rachel must have been like before the Yeerk invasion. The story is nicely bookended by Rachel’s teasing Cassie about her changing opinion on whether or not she likes the beach based on whether or not Jake will be there. Rachel also has some pretty funny  moments taking on the Helmacrons with various objects: a brick, a tire iron, a bat. If you need someone to hit things, Rachel’s your girl.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is one of the early ones to be shrunk, which is purely for convenience’s sake since tiny!Cassie and Marco can’t be heard using their regular speaking voices. For all of that, he STILL somehow ends up pushed to the side during the majority of the story. Most notably, he isn’t captured and brought on the Helmacron ship with Cassie and Marco.

The Comic Relief: I found myself wishing that this had been a Marco book throughout the entire read. Not only does Marco share in almost all the action with Cassie, but his is the exact sort of narration style that could have possibly saved this dumper fire of a story line. Sure, we get plenty of quips from him throughout, and that’s a huge saving grace, but it would have been so much better had he just had the narration to himself. If you’re going to do nonsense, put it in the hands of your most smart ass character and call it good. Marco is also probably the smartest of the Animorphs (not including Ax, but even there, it’s mostly book smarts), so he would have also been a good pick to be able to make the same leaps of logic that Cassie does. Give Cassie a book that somehow forces her to address the whole David thing, then give this book to Marco. Done! I fixed it!

E.T./Ax Phone Home: So apparently the Andalites haven’t heard of the Helmacrons but the Yeerks have? This seems suspicious, but I’ll just explain it as Ax having not hearde of the Helmacrons, probably because he was sleeping through class. During their first moments with the shrinking ray in the barn, Ax spends a good amount of time “explaining” the science behind it all. It played for comedic value, but then when the story moved on to Marco and Cassie morphing even smaller, and then morphing bigger, and then morphing regular sized, it all got super confusing. I was both too bored to want to understand the “science” of it, but then also very annoyed and confused whenever they were able to twist the shrinking thing to their advantage. It was just dumb. Also, we get another Ax’s-tailblade-to-Visser-Three’s-throat stand off. I should really have a tally for these.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Right after Cassie is shrunk, Jake ends up on the ground next to her and she gets a close-up view of his face and we have this description:

His eyes were like brown-and-white swimming pools, huge globes that looked as if they might pop and drain down like runny Jell-0. I stared up, transfixed by this face I had always found attractive. And I found myself staring at a zit bigger than I was.

Couples Watch!: Ok, look, this is why I prefer Tobias/Rachel’s romance to Cassie/Jake’s. Remember in the last book where we got that beautiful line from Tobias about the sight of Rachel in the sunlight making his heart ache? Well, here, the first time Cassie sees Jake, we get a line about how she “likes” him, “you know, like.” And sure, this is how kids talk, but the two of them have been saying not only a variation of this, but THIS EXACT LINE, “you know, like,”  for forever now! Given the fact that they’re all living in a constant state of warfare and tragedy, they’ve all matured way past their ages, and this is shown in Rachel and Tobias’s more serious relationship. They simply don’t have the time to be tip-toeing around things. And neither do Jake and Cassie! They might not have the bird problem that Tobias and Rachel do, but they still have the same life or death stakes every day and you’d think that at some point that would push them past some of this silliness. Regardless of what is likely an over-analysis of all of this on my part, I’m simply bored of hearing them say how much they “you know, like” each other. We do get some funny moments with the whole beach/swimsuit thing, but I still enjoyed Tobias and Rachel’s small, but more earnest, moments throughout the book when either of the other ended up in danger.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl:  So Visser Three does appear in this, but we’ve again got the campy, silly Visser Three ala Cassie book #9 when he gets defeated by skunk stink. The last scene where there is a three way standoff was essentially resolved in three sentences, all summarizing what happened but not detailing any actual action. This has to be because it is completely unbelievable that Visser Three would simply walk away in this situation. Especially because the blue box was SITTING RIGHT THERE!. The whole thing was nonsense. And the fact that Visser Three did in fact know about the Helmacrons before all of this and yet was still just as clueless as the Animorphs about how the shrinking thing actually works, etc. was another glaring hole.

The Helmacrons are technically the villains of this piece, but it’s clear that they were mostly written for comedic value. And, on their own, they were pretty amusing. I thought their power structure with the dead captain was pretty interesting, and their on-going infighting and complete delusions about their own abilities played for some good laughs.

<Do you think to terrify us with your pitiful morphs? We are Helmacron warriors!> They were yelling this as they hustled away at top speed.

But, again, that ending. Nothing we’ve seen so far would indicate that the Helmcrons, for all that they get easily caught up in in-fighting, would so easily just wander off, leaving the blue box behind.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Can I cry at the sheer nosedive in quality the books took between the last four and this one? Cuz that’s all I have for this right now.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Everything. It was all bad plans on everyone’s part. The fact that Ax took the blue box to a Sharing meeting and then somehow (off screen notably!) loses it to the tiny Helmacron ship. Cassie and Marco’s completely nonsensical decision making while on board the ship (“We should stay!” “We should leave!” “Morph small!” “Oh no, we’re too small!”). The entire end of the book! Again, the blue box was sitting out in the open, Visser Three and a bunch of Controllers were there, and the Animorphs decided that now was the time to play fair and unshrink them, just trusting that they’d walk away. Sheer stupidity that only succeeds because it has to for the books to continue.

Favorite Quote: Right after Marco, Cassie and Tobias have been shrunk in the barn and the Helmacrons are poised to shrink whomever walks in next:

“I’m coming in,” Jake said decisively. “No!” Marco yelled in a voice that already sounded like someone breathing helium. “No, Jake and Ax, do not come in!” Then, as an afterthought, he said, “Rachel, you could come in.” <Marco!> Tobias chided. “Hey, the Wicked Witch gets to be full size and I’m down here singing, ‘We represent the Lollipop Guild?’ I don’t think so.”

And Rachel gets a similar jab back later:

“Okay, I’ve had enough of this battle of the alien egos here. I’m counting to three. Then I’m throwing this brick. You little insects either fix my friends . . . and Marco, too … or you get bricked.”

And:

Rachel said it first. “Oh, come on. Like we don’t have enough problem aliens?”

Preach it. No one needs any more of the Helmacrons.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m taking away a point from the Animorphs due to the sheer stupidity at the end, bringing Visser Three and a bunch of Controllers back to their real size while the blue box is sitting out in the open.

Rating: I think it’s pretty clear at this point that I didn’t love this book. Cassie books are never my favorites, but this one failed to even play to her strengths and instead left her with a story line that could have only been saved (maybe) if someone like Marco had been narrating it. The Helmacrons had their fun moments, but the whole plot was muddled and confusing, and the end just made me mad. It was lazy writing all around, and it was only made worse for having come right after four of probably the strongest books in the series. Ugh, and now I just have to dread the return of the Helmacrons, because I know it happens, even if I can’t remember the details.

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 #23: “The Pretender”

363421Animorphs #23: “The Pretender” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: To Tobias, no one is who they seem. He has just heard a reading of his father’s last will and testament. That’s how he found out who his father really was: the Andalite Prince Elfangor Tobias is stunned, but can’t show it. Because Visser Three is watching his every move.

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Tobias is having a problem: another red tail hawk is moving into his territory and food is getting scarce. Being Tobias, he’s feeling angsty about this, unwilling to fight the hawk in the usual manner OR the unusual manner (given he can morph other animals an all!) Also, obviously asking for help is out of the question! There is also a family of rabbits in his field that he and the hawk are vying for. Tobias has already ate one of the babies, and knows that humans would have a problem with that. But from his human perspective, sparing the mother gives her a chance to have more babies. And from his hawk perspective, adult rabbits can kick. Just as he’s going in for the kill on one of the babies, he has a flash from the POV of the rabbit, terrified by the shadow swooping in from above. He misses and gets whacked in the head by the mother rabbit for his trouble, while the other hawk gets the baby rabbit anyways.

We learn that this wasn’t the first time that Tobias has had a flash like this; it’s been happening for a few weeks, always just as he’s closing in on his prey. This has messed up more than one of his kills, leaving him almost starving. In a desperate move, he spots a dead racoon on the side of the road, and goes in to eat, hating himself for coming to this. In a terrible moment of timing, Rachel walks up and recognizes him, mid-feast. Humiliated, Tobias flees.

A few days later, Tobias flies to Rachel’s house. She tells him that someone has been asking around about him, a lawyer who is representing a woman named Aria who claims to be Tobias’s cousin. She’s also heard all of this secondhand, through Chapman, who was asking Melissa if she new a kid named Tobias, a conversation that Rachel overheard. Tobias is immediately skeptical. Apparently the woman was in Africa this entire time, but now is back and wants to give Tobias a home.

The next day, the Animorphs take up stations around the strip mall office of the lawyer, DeGroot.

SaulOffice
I was picturing Saul’s office the entire time.

Tobias morphs human behind a dumpster and heads into the office to meet with DeGroot. The lawyer asks where he’s been, and Tobias avoids answering. DeGroot claims that the man who died, Tobias’s “father,” may not have been his real father, and that DeGroot’s own father had an old file stating to contact Tobias on his next birthday to have his real father’s final statement read to him. He then says that this cousin, Aria, wants to meet with Tobias in a hotel the next day.

Back in the sky, Tobias flies away, wanting to be alone, not wanting to deal with the ways that he knows his friends will dissect these events. Wanting the choice, problem, hope, to be his own. Instead, he flies to the Hork Bajir valley where he is surprised to see them waiting for him. Through Toby, their seer, they relay the fact that one of the children, a boy named Bek, has disappeared from the valley. Through this story, Tobias learns more: the Hork Bajir have been raiding a nearby, secret Yeerk facility where they have been freeing more of their kind. Toby explains that this is very important, not only for her people now, but so that there are enough of them that if the world is ever freed from humans, people can’t just overrun them. Toby says that the Hork Bajir trusted the Andalites once, and look where that got them? They will trust the Animorphs, but not all of humanity. They worry that if the Animorphs know about the secret base, they will attack it and thus deprive the Hork Bajir of future opportunities to save more of their kind. Tobais says he will talk to the Animorphs to set up a search party for Bek.

Later, back in the barn,  Marco is ranting, per the usual. Rachel shuts him down, also per the usual. And Tobias feels a flash of jealously at their easy, normal interactions. The Animorphs now have a lot on their plate, and Jake has Marco get on the Internet and see if he can find any mention of a strange creature spotted nearby, hoping to get a lead on Bek.

Tobias is paired with Rachel, and again describes her morph to eagle as her becoming on the outside what she is on the inside. Together, they go to spy on Aria. On the way, Tobias mentions the other hawk, but then immediately feels stupid for letting Rachel know about problems as if he can’t deal with them. They arrive at the hotel and begin spying. Rachel notes that Aria is changing into a dress that is three to four years out of date, cuz of course she knows this. After getting a call, Aria heads out and hails a cab, making it hard for eagle!Rachel and Tobias to keep up.

<Rachel, I have a plan even you will think is insane,> I said. <See that cop car? Going the same general direction as the cab? See the lights on top?>
Rachel laughed. <0kay, that actually is insane. Let’s do it!>

They careen after the cab for a few miles, riding the the police car. But when the police get a call, it begins to veer away. Tobias spots a helicopter and has another brilliant plan.

The helicopter lifted off and headed at right angles to us. It was going
the same direction as the cab.
<l have another really bad idea,> I said.

Tobias manages the crazy stunt, but Rachel misses. Turns out the whole thing was needless, as the cab had stopped just below them. They find themselves at a dumpy little mini gold and zoo advertising a new acquisition: “A deadly midget freak!” Tobias has a sneaking suspicion, and he and Rachel go in as humans. Inside, the place is as sad and pathetic as one would expect. Further in, they spot Bek in a cage. They overhear Aria trying to convince the owner to let her take pictures, but the owner says he already has someone on the way who will pay thousands. Aria berates him a bit for the treatment of the other animals and leaves. A limo pulls up and she climbs in and drives away.

The next day the Animorphs meet in the barn and quickly decide they need to rescue Bek. They morph birds and head to the zoo. The group splits into two, and Tobias morphs Ket Halpak so that Bek will come with them willingly. The others plan to turn of the power and have elephant!Rachel knock down a wall to gain entrance.

“Hey, did Jake say knock down one wall? Or did he say knock down some walls?” Rachel asked, dripping with fake innocence.
<You know perfectly well he just wants you to get us into that place. He did not say you should knock the whole place down just because Frank is a creep and he mistreats animals,> I said sternly. <0n the other hand, it is dark. You might get confused. . . . >

The plan goes well, except that when Tobias gets inside he comes up against three Controllers, also there to nab Bek. Wolf!Cassie attacks, and gorilla!Marco forces the cage door open. A massive fight breaks out between the Animorphs and Controllers, and Tobias ends up shot in the stomach. Jake orders him to take Bek and run, but on the way out he runs into Visser Three who is morphing yet another of his alien monster morphs. Tobias feigns surrender and manages to take out several of alien!Visser Three’s legs, but as Visser Three falls, he shoots Tobias in the back with acid. In a panic of pain, Tobias rushes to a nearby lagoon, but loses Bek in the process.

Later, Tobias blames this on the human part of himself, thinking that the hawk would have been able to ignore the pain. Ax shows up and proposes that he and Tobias continue their investigation of Aria, also theorizing that they found Bek last time by following her as well. They watch her all day and note nothing of interest, other than the fact that she seems to like her hotel, and returns every few hours. Tobias thinks that it might be a “woman thing,” preferring to use the hotel toilet than public ones. On her next trip out, Aria saves a little girl from a bus that is barreling towards her. Tobias sees this as clear proof that Aria is not a Controller. Ax sees this as clear proof, but Tobias is too distracted by his excitement that Aria must not be a Controller to really ask about Ax’s tone.

Later that night, Tobias flies to Rachel’s room. He had missed a meeting of the group, and Rachel tells him they’ve decided that the Yeerks will likely use Bek as bait at their secret facility to try and lure in the other Hork Bajir. Tobias brings up Aria, and he and Rachel discuss the fact that she might be the real deal, and that Tobias could be a human boy again. They get into a fight about the tough life Tobias is leading lately, Rachel accusing him of his rather starving than asking for help. Tobias is defensive, saying that he’s a hawk and that whey they’re weak, they die. Rachel (rightly!) scoffs at this thought. She also mentions their quasi-relationship and how impossible it is now, with Tobias as a hawk the majority of the time. Tobias turns to go, but Rachel stops him, telling him that she and Marco hacked the school records and found out that his birthday is tomorrow. And to come find her after he meets with the lawyers and Aria, regardless of what he decides.

Tobias has a bad night, debating between becoming a human or staying a hawk. He is also weak with hunger, finally giving in and eating his fill of a cat that had been hit by a car earlier. The next day, the Animorphs meet up with the freed Hork Bajir. Toby comes up with the grim plan of attacking the base as a combined force, even if it means killing other Hork Bajir or losing Bek. She states that the Yeerks can’t be allowed to think they can use hostages against them. Jake is surprised by the wisdom of the seer. Ten of the Hork Bajir assemble with the group, and they head out. On the way, one of the Hork Bajir tells Tobias that he fought him once in the Yeerk pool and points to a scar on his head from Tobias’s talons. Tobias apologizes, but the Hork Bajir says he wasn’t free then, but is now, and they are friends.

They approach the base which is located in a valley that is hidden by a hologram. The base is made up of one building with a massive Dracon beam attached to the top, powerful enough, according to Ax, to take out the moon. They come up with a plan to have a handful of Hork Bajir pretend to conduct a raid and let themselves be captured, but they will have Animorphs in various bug morphs hitchhiking along with them. Once they are caught and put in a cage with Bek, Tobias demorphs, hidden in a circle of Hork Bajir.

I looked around and sighed. <No, Jara. You want to turn outward. This way it’s kind of obvious you’re shielding something.>

Tobias walks out of the cage, then hides and morphs Hork Bajir. He gets the keys to the cage and quickly he unlocks frees the others. Everyone morphs battle morphs. They plan on using the massive Dracon beam to blow up the base by aiming it down. They learn that Visser Three is expected at any moment, and soon see a helicopter coming in for a landing. Aria is inside.

Tobias is bereft, furious with himself for hoping, and for not noticing the two hour increments between her convenient “bathroom breaks” at the hotel. He feels that he, especially, should have caught on to this pattern, and retreats into anger, preferring that to the other emotions that are bubbling up. He crashes hard to the ground, completely destroyed by these realizations. Completely out of it, he isn’t able to help his friends who are fighting and is only saved when Toby snatches him off the ground and runs away with him, saying the weapon is about to explode. Toby saves him, then hands him to Rachel when they get away. At the barn, Cassie frantically looks him over, looking for the injury. Only then does Tobias confess what he’s seen and now knows about Aria.

He has no choice but to show up to the appointment, even knowing what he does, that it’s a trap. Not showing up would only confirm Visser Three’s suspicions about him, and then eventually this knowledge would lead him to Tobias’s friends. Tobias goes for a role as a tough street kid when he meets Aria and the lawyer, responding to all of their questions with scorn and indifference. But then they get to a big reveal…

I had forgotten how to use facial expressions. I was used to being a hawk and not a human.
It saved my life.

It is a letter from his real father, Alan Fangor, Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul. Tobias is shocked, but able to maintain his outward indifference and sarcasm, saying it’s just typical that his father shows up and turns out to be a lunatic who didn’t even bother leaving him any money. Aria!Visser Three and Controller!DeGroot are visibly disappointed, and Aria!Visser Three suddenly realizes that she’ll have to delay taking in Tobias because she got a sudden call to go back to Africa to reshoot some lions.

Tobias realizes what had to have happened: DeGroot was a Controller, saw the letter, realized what it meant, and brought in Visser Three. Together they had hatched the plan to try and trick Tobias, hoping that he had some connection to the Andalite bandits, since he is Elfangor’s son. Thinking about Elfangor’s time on Earth, Tobias quickly deduces that the Ellimist must have been responsible for erasing his father’s time on Earth. Tobias wonders if he should be angry, but realizes that Elfangor had to do what he did if he was to be where he needed to be to meet the Animorphs and give them their abilities and maybe save the Earth.

Through this, Tobias realizes that he, too, much do what is right and necessary, and not just what is easier for him. He must stay a hawk and do what hawks do, but he will always be both a hawk and a human. He will have to kill to eat, but he is a human, so he will also regret this. He kills the mother rabbit, but only after acquiring her. He then morphs the rabbit, and vows to keep the babies safe from the other hawk.

Later, he flies to Rachel’s room, waking her up. She’s grumpy, but then shows him the cake she made for him, lights a candle, and wishes him a happy birthday.

A Hawk’s Life:  As always, Tobias books are packed full of the feels. Through all of this, we have a lot of Tobias’s reflection on family, what that means, and the effects of not having this at all his entire childhood. We also see him beginning to lose his memory of what his life was like as a human. In the last book, he was forgetting what he looked like. Now we see him forgetting his own birthday and what his mom looked like.

We also get into the big conflict that he always has about how to balance the parts of him that are a hawk and those that are a boy. This is made worse by the bizarre flashes from the POV of his prey when he’s going in for the attack. It’s never really explained what these are all about, but I guess we’re left to assume it’s just all in his mind and is an extension of this existential crisis he’s having about feeling bad that he has to kill baby rabbits and such to live. But for a series that has so many other supernatural explanations for “visions” and such, it’s a strange leap to just have to assume that this isn’t anything more than Tobias processing his thoughts in a bizarre manner.

We also start getting the repercussions of the fact that he is now choosing to be a hawk. In his last book he received his own human morph, so he could go back to being a boy at any time, but he would lose his morphing abilities. This gets into probably my biggest issue with the whole series: why couldn’t he just get “stuck” as a human, and then they use the morphing cube to give him back his abilities? I can’t remember if this loophole is addressed later, but it always seems completely off that this wouldn’t have occurred to one of them immediately after getting the  blue box back. And then, if it wasn’t possible, that needed to be said right away!

Anyways! He goes on to have a lot of thoughts about where his duty lies vs. his personal preference. The parallels between his choice and Elfangor’s are pretty stark. Elfangor had to leave his life as a human with the woman he loved for the duty of fighting in a war. Tobias is having to choose to remain a hawk, not be a human boy who can be with the girl he loves, because he needs to be able to fight in this war.

Our Fearless Leader: At one point when they are deciding where to look for Bek after Tobias loses him at the zoo, Rachel cynically wonders if Jake’s plan to ask the Hork Bajir for the location of the base is just an excuse to find out where it is so they can destroy it. It’s a small moment, but it speaks to Rachel’s new perspective on Jake and the decisions he makes. She says that he has become more subtle in his decision making, and, from personal experience in the last book, she knows that he is willing to use people and circumstances in whatever way is necessary to win the larger war. We never find out whether this was actually Jake’s reasoning, but you have to think that it was at least part of it.

Xena, Warrior Princess: As we will get into a bit more in the “Couples Watch” section, this is a big book for Tobias/Rachel. For one, when the possibility arises that Tobias could have a home and go back to leading life as a real boy, Rachel has a very vulnerable moment with him:

Then Rachel, in a whisper, said, “What am I supposed to do, Tobias? I’m a girl. You’re a bird. This is way past Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets. This isn’t Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio coming from different social groups or whatever. It’s not like you’re black and I’m white like Cassie and Jake. No one but a moron cares about that. We are … we can’t hold hands, Tobias. We can’t dance. We can’t go to a movie together.”
<l . . . God, Rachel, don’t you think I know all that? Don’t you think I want to have all that? But I can’t keep changing. I can’t keep becoming something different.>

This is the beginning of an ongoing dispute between these two about Tobias’s choice to remain a bird.

Tobias also repeatedly notes the many things that he loves about Rachel. Yes, she’s beautiful. But he also notes that he loves it when she’s cranky about things, says she’s the bravest person he knows, and loves that she’s all-in on his crazy plans, like riding the cop car and trying to snag the helicopter. It is clear that Tobias regularly visits Rachel’s bedroom, and she makes him a birthday cake, regardless of what he chooses about Aria (back before any of them knew Aria was Visser Three).

It’s also noteworthy that Toby, too, recognizes the importance of Rachel in Tobias’s life, choosing to hand him to her when he’s in rough shape after learning the truth about Aria.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have much in this book. When Tobias and Rachel first scope out the zoo, Rachel notes that Cassie would be appalled by the conditions and says that if she, Rachel, doesn’t get to destroy it, she’ll simply tell Cassie about it who will then rope Jake in and that will do the trick. One has to imagine that Cassie was more than happy to see elephant!Rachel stomp the place later during their rescue mission for Bek.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, doesn’t have any of big moments. In the beginning when Tobias first hears about the whole Aria situation, he predicts that Marco will be the most instantly suspicious of it, which he then is. Given that in the end Marco’s completely right about it being a trap, it might be good for the rest of the group to stop categorizing him as the “overly suspicious one” and more as the “one who’s always right so maybe we should just listen to him in the first place.”

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For the book where Tobias finds out that Ax is technically his uncle, we don’t even get a scene between the two of them after this is revealed! It’s kind of a bummer. Also, we never get any follow up on the fact that it is implied that Ax is instantly suspicious of Aria’s convenient save of the little girl from the bus, which is too bad. Why exactly was he so instantly suspicious? Up to this point, we haven’t seen that many elaborate plots by the Yeerks like this, so how did he know?

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The description of Rachel’s elephant morph was particularly bad this go around. Tobias says that her morph presented as sudden lumps of flesh just popping out of various parts of her body, like her thighs and her head. I mean, the thigh thing is every woman’s worst nightmare, and the head thing sounds particularly disgusting looking.

Couples Watch!: This is probably the biggest couples book we’ve had in the regular series so far. Cassie and Jake always seem to be still tip-toing around their feelings for each other. Rachel and Tobias seem to be well past that. In the first few pages, we get this line from Tobias:

Rachel would be beautiful in the middle of mud slides and hailstorms. On a sweet, sunny day, she made my heart ache.

Such a small, beautiful moment. But it goes to show that Tobias is very honest with himself and readers about where he stands with regards to Rachel. Further, as I highlighted in Rachel’s section, these two are even at the point where they talk openly with each other about their situation as a couple. Man, I love all the angsty tragedy of these two, and as a kid, I was always kind of smug about the fact that, in many ways, these two had things figured out way before Cassie/Jake. And, even with all of the bird-related challenges, they kind of turn out to be the most consistent, solid couple of the series.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When Aria!Visser Three sees the non-reaction on Tobias’s part with regards to the Elfangor reveal, he quickly walks back on the offer to take Tobias in, saying that “Aria” needs to go back to Africa on a reshoot of some lions. I take the fact that he chose lions specifically as yet more proof that Visser Three is a closeted cat person and secretly has an entire room full of cats somewhere on his Blade ship.

Right when Tobias goes to leave, he also says this:

“I … I knew your father. We were, shall we say, on the opposite sides of certain issues. But he was no fool.” Suddenly Aria/Visser Three smiled. It was a faraway smile, like she/he was remembering something from long ago. “Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul was no fool. And the galaxy will not soon see his like again.”

Another example that Visser Three not only respects the Andalites to a certain extent (as we saw burgeoning in the “Hork-Bajir Chronicles”) but that he has particular esteem for his once-nemesis, Elfangor. It’s a nice humanizing (?) moment for Visser Three, making him more than the somewhat campy villain he sometimes comes across as, particularly early in the series.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, pretty much the entire book. Tobias books are all particularly rough, not only because of his current circumstances, but by the fact that he was the most messed up before all of this happened anyways. The rest of them were leading normal, mostly happy lives (perhaps with the exception of Marco, but even he had most of his childhood spent with two loving parents). In this book, we see how deep the damage goes for Tobias, having grown up completely uncared for and unwanted by his aunt and uncle. In the beginning, he’s honestly confused by why anyone would want to take care of him.

Also, after learning that Aria is Visser Three in disguise, he goes back down a somewhat-suicidal route, similar to what was going on way back in book #3. He has a mental dialogue running about hating himself and wanting to die. It’s pretty dark stuff. Finding out that his father didn’t abandon him and his mother for nothing hopefully makes a lasting difference for him in this manner. Plus, now he has Ax as family!

But there’s also this bit, right after he left the office knowing that Elfangor was his father. He had to demorph to hawk because time was running short, but then morphed back to human.

See, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry a lot, for a long time. And hawks don’t cry.

For those of you who have read the entire series, omg, the WORST kind of foreshadowing.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, mostly good plans by the Animophs. And a very elaborate plan by our favorite villain. He really committed to playing up his life as Aria, what with the set up with saving the child, and the whole performance  he put on at the zoo when Tobias and Rachel see him interacting with the zoo manager about Bek. For all of that work, it’s kind of surprising that he didn’t take a minute to demorph back to his Andalite form before racing to the complex when it was under attack by the Hork Bajir. Sure, the freed Hork Bajir had mostly attacked alone in the past, but the Yeerks know that the Animorphs have helped them in the past, so there’s always a chance that they would be there too. Kind of a strange misstep in a plot that took so much work to pull off in every other way.

Favorite Quote: Obligatory Marco/Rachel banter quote:

<We need to unlock the lock,> Marco said.
<Do you think?> Rachel mocked. <With your intellect, maybe you could be our “seer.”>
<Hah. Hah. And also, hah,> Marco said.

And a more serious quote having to do with Tobias’ reflections on war and duty:

I guess it’s true what they always say about combat soldiers. They may start out fighting for their country, but they end up fighting for the guy next to them in the foxhole. I didn’t so much care about the fate of the human race at that moment. I wasn’t human. I was a hawk. But I cared about Jake, and Cassie, and Marco, and Ax-man, and Rachel. Always Rachel.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 11

A point for the Animorphs for taking out that base. Between everything else that’s going on, it kind of gets passed right over that they managed to take out a massive laser gun that was capable of BLOWING UP THE MOON.

Rating: I always love the Tobias books. He has so many internal things going on. I also love the romance between him and Rachel, and I think throughout the series, Tobias’s books are the most romantic for our main characters. Rachel is always caught up in some of her own stuff, so while it’s there, we don’t get as much as we do from Tobias. And Cassie and Jake have their own issues. I also love the fact that we finally get the reveal for Tobias about Elfangor being his dad, though I think the book would have benefited from having a scene with Ax about this news.

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: “The Hork-BajirChronicles”

Animorphs 22.5: “The Hork-Bajir Chronicles” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Dak Hamee, born into the Hork-Bajir tribe, is something special from the start. “Strange,” says his mother. “A seer,” says the Old One, Tila Fashat. “A seer is one who is born to show a new way. Many, many seasons pass, then our father, the Deep, and our mother, the Sky, say, ‘Send a seer to the people. The people have need.’ And so one is born who is different.” When strange and different Dak meets Aldrea, the clever Andalite daughter of Prince Seerow, they learn together of the dangerous plot of the Yeerks, and of Esplin 9466, who will stop at nothing to build his empire. Learn more about Prince Seerow’s Kindness, find out how Andalites kiss, and plumb the mysteries of the Deep in this suspense-filled story of good, evil, and interspecies love.

Narrators: Dak Hamee, Aldrea, Esplin 9466

Plot: This story marks a departure from regular Animorphs books in several ways. For one, it is a story being told to Tobias by the freed Hork Bajir. It also features three narrators: Dak Hamee, a seer Hork  Bajir, Aldrea, an young female Andalite and the daughter of the infamous Seerow, and Esplin 9466, an ambitious Yeerk. The story also jumps around through time, starting around 1966 (Earth time) when Seerow first releases the Yeerks onto the galaxy, and ending a few years later.

The story begins with Aldrea describing the moments after the Yeerks first show their true colors and attack the Andalites who have set up a base on their home world. Alloran (yes THAT Alloran) shows up and begins berating Seerow for the mistakes he has made with the Yeerks by giving them technology and a portable Kandrona.

<Stupidity,> Alloran said harshly. <The stupidity of kindness. Charity to potential enemies. You’re a fool, Seerow. A soft, sentimental, well-meaning fool. And now my men are dead and the Yeerks are loose in the galaxy. How many will die before we can bring this contagion under control? How many will die for Seerow’s kindness?>

Two years later!

Aldrea and her family (her father, mother, and brother) are traveling to far away planet that is known to have life to observe and make sure there is no Yeerk presence. It is not an esteemed mission and Aldrea likens it to be ongoing exile due to her father’s actions. The planet they land on is made up of deep valleys full of huge trees and are soon greeted by the Hork Bajir. They send Dak Hamee, a young Hork Bajir who has known he was difference since he was a child. He is what the Hork Bajir call a “seer,” a rare Hork Bajir that is born rarely and who is much more intelligent than the common Hork Bajir. He has been told that he will bring a “new way” to his people. After meeting the Andalites and forming a friendship with Aldrea, he thinks that this “new way” is simply learning the vastness of the universe and all of the secrets of life and technology that Aldrea is showing him.

In the meantime, Esplin 9466 has his first experience outside of the Yeerk pool. He reveals that many Yeerks are perfectly satisfied with their lives in the pool, and that some, even after infesting a host body, find the prefer that life, finding the infestation experience too frightening and overwhelming. Esplin, however, becomes immediately addicted, especially to the sense of sight. He quickly understands that he must make himself useful if he is to earn the privileged of gaining a permanent host body (which are in high demand), so he sets out to become an expert on their enemies, the Andalites, with the hopes that his knowledge will be called upon in the future.

Three months pass.

Aldrea and Dak have become friends, and Aldrea is continuously surprised by how quickly Dak is absorbing all of the information she is presenting him. But she is also beginning to feel bad about spying on the Hork Bajir, having not explained to Dak the truth of why they are on his planet or anything about the Yeerk threat. Her parents are too caught up in their own things to pay much attention to what she is doing. They both question the fact that Dak is truly as intelligent as Aldrea reports.

One day as Aldrea and Dak are exploring (Aldrea has acquired a local animal called a Chadoo that she uses to travel through the trees alongside Dak), Dak hears a message being sent from another valley. The Hork Bajir use the trees and a system of strung vines to communicate across the distances. He says they are confused by a strange new alien creature that has come and taken away some of their own. Aldrea quickly realizes that they are describing the Gedd and that the Yeerks have arrived. Even worse, she realizes that her father will be sending out his nightly report and that the message is sure to be intercepted by the Yeerks in orbit if she doesn’t stop him. She arrives just in time to see her father send the message.

Meanwhile, Esplin has gained a Hork Bajir host body and is reveling in its power and the possibilities that this new species will give the Yeerks in their fight against the Andalites. The Yeerks intercept Seerow’s message and quickly locate the Andalites’ camp, and see three of the four Andalites nearby. Esplin warns them to wait until the fourth Andalite appears before shooting, using his knowledge of Andalites to deduce that the fourth wouldn’t be inside the scoop, as the other Yeerks theorized, as Andalites do not like to be cooped up if they have a choice. The Yeerk leaders ignore him and fire on the camp.

Aldrea watches her family and her home explode. Dak, confused by the violence and what is happening, has to drag her away from the scene. The Yeerks land and Hork Bajir Controllers immediately go after Aldrea. This is the first time Dak sees his own and his people’s blades as weapons, and manages to cripple one of the Controllers before he could kill Aldrea. They flee.

Aldrea swears vengeance for the death of her family and looks to Dak to inspire his people to fight. Suddenly realizes that the Hork Bajir aren’t peaceable by choice but that they literally don’t understand the concepts of fighting and battle. Dak insists that she explain everything; she tells the story of her father’s mistake. Dak quickly realizes the heart of the matter: the Yeerks were content on their own, but once they saw what they didn’t have, they wanted more. Aldrea, in her arrogance, assumes this insight is simply because now, too, the Hork Bajir are going to be jealous of the almighty Andalites.

Aldrea is insistence that the Hork Bajir must become killers to avoid being slaves. Dak sees this for what it is: both a death for his people and their ways. Aldrea sees Dak  begin to look at her in a strange, new way, his face filled with contempt. As the Yeerks continue to chase them, Aldrea and Dak flee to the Deep, one of the deeper crevices on the planet’s surface that is known to contain monsters that have killed all Hork Bajir who have wandered their in the past. They have no choice, however, and run down. The Yeerks follow, but Dak and Aldrea are saved when one of those very monsters, a huge Jubba Jubba creature, attacks them and kills the Yeerks. Aldrea manages to lob off its hand and they flea deeper.

Further down they find a sheer cliff, and in the cliff an intricate city of windows, bridges and balconies. They hide in one of the rooms that has been built into the wall. There they discover a new species, the Arn who look very similar to the Chadoo animal that Aldrea morphed. The Arn, however, are an intelligent species and, while trying to get Dak and Aldrea to leave, they explain their own history and that of the Hork Bajir planet. The Arn had been there first when the planet was lush and beautiful. However, there was an asteroid that had an unstable orbit around them. The Arn know that one day it would hit, however, being biologists, they couldn’t manage to create space ships that could get them past their own moon. Eventually the asteroid did hit, and only a few Arn who had been frozen and left on the moon survived. When the woke up they found their home world much changed, now covered in deep valleys and with an atmosphere that was barely stable. To manage this they created the vast trees. And to manage the trees, the created the Hork Bajir. They also made the monsters to serve as a barrier between the Hork Bajir and their own civilization further below.

The Arn want nothing to do with the war, but Aldrea and Dak manage to convince them that the Yeerks’ threat to the Hork Bajir will result in the Arns’ loss of their gardeners. The Arn teach them how to use the mind control system they have in place for controlling the monsters.

Meanwhile, Esplin and the Yeerks have been busy acquiring more Hork Bajir, around 100 a day. They cut down one of the massive trees and turn it into an impromptu Yeerk pool to aide in the infestation process. However, Esplin knows they must still find the Andalite. But Aldrea and Dak find him first, leading an army of monsters. Aldrea also calls to the Hork Bajir watching saying “Do as he does! Do as he does!” to get them to mimic’s Dak’s fighting. While Dak and the Hork Bajir fight, Aldrea sneaks on one of the Yeerk ships and manages to send out a message to the Andalites, calling for aide and saying the Yeerks have arrived. Hork Bajir!Esplin shows up and tries to capture Aldrea to infest her. She morphs a Jubba Jubba and escapes after using the fighter to blow up the tree  Yeerk pool.

Seven months pass.

Dak and Aldrea lead a guerilla war against the Yeerks, but they are taking huge losses. Aldrea can’t understand why the Andalites haven’t shown up; it should have only taken two months. Finally, they do arrive. Immediately they call Aldrea to come speak with Prince Alloran, but dismiss Dak. Dak insists that this war is taking place on his planet and being fought by his people: Alloran can come to him. Once the Andalite higher ups land, Dak finally manages to get their attention by giving a detailed report on the terrible conditions on the planet. Not only are the Yeerks infesting thousands of Hork Bajir, but they are also building new ships and will soon be able to travel the galaxy in huge numbers. They’re even creating a massive ship called a Blade ship.

They learn that the Andalites only showed up in small numbers, having not taken Aldrea’s warning seriously. After all, she was only a young female and the daughter of Seerow at that. The entire fleet is in another sector altogether and can’t arrive for another year. Dak knows that the Andalites will only use the Hork Bajir in this ongoing war. Aldrea doesn’t want to believe it, saying that Andalites aren’t like that.

We had been created by one brilliant species, invaded and enslaved by another. And now a third was using us. 

Esplin has been promoted to Sub Visser 12. He leads an attack on the newly arrived Andalites and reduces their number substantially.

Six more months pass.

The fight is not going well. Two thousand Andalites have been reduced to four hundred and the Hork Bajir are down to only 12 fighters. There are now one hundred thousand Hork Bajir Controllers. Dak, Aldrea, and the Andalites are holed up alongside the Arn (the Arn have adapted their bodies so that if they are infested they die,  however the Yeerks have simply turned them into slaves in other valleys). Dak notices that there is a section that the Andalites are guarding. He points it out to Aldrea. She is skeptical of it being anything of note, and tried to defend the Andalites. However, the two have grown much closer throughout all of this and she tells Dak that if the choice is between him or her people, she’ll choose him. After all of the Andalite arrogance and even Aldrea’s own lies to him, Dak doesn’t believe this, though he feels good to hear her say it. Aldrea manages to acquire Alloran. When Dak is confused by how she managed to pull this off, she says that morphing is a new technology and acquiring can be quite subtle. She simply took Alloran’s hand and gained his DNA without him noticing the drowsiness. She demonstrates how easy it is by acquiring a nearby female Hork Bajir.

She morphs Alloran and she and Dak gain entrance to the guarded room. There they find a computer lab and learn that Alloran has been creating a virus that is targeted to kill Hork Bajir. Dak is enraged, but not surprised, saying that this is the obvious next step for the ruthless Andalites who know a lost battle when they see one. Aldrea, equally horrified, insists that this is beyond the pale, even for Andalites, and that Alloran has clearly gone insane. They nab the canister containing the virus and destroy the lab. Dak is impressed and touched that Aldrea is willing to stand by her word, choosing him over her own people. Aldrea morphs a Hork Bajir to escape. This draws the attention of the rest of the Andalites. They only manage to escape because the Yeerks choose this very moment to attack the valley.

Dak and Aldrea managed to leap from a high bridge onto the passing Blade ship below. However, when the leap off, they are immediately captured by Yeerk Controllers and Esplin. Esplin immediately announces his plans to infest Aldrea, but Aldrea says that in two hours she will be trapped in this body forever (this is news to the Yeerks who don’t understand morphing technology). To prevent this, Esplin abandons his current Hork Bajir host body and attempts to infest Aldrea. Just before he fully gains control, the now freed Hork Bajir kills the Controllers around them and tugs Esplin back out from Hork Bajir!Aldrea’s ear. However, a nearby Andalite ship attacks the Yeerk ship they are in and they all go down.

Later, they wake up crashed on the valley floor. Aldrea has been trapped in Hork Bajir morph. As they search for Esplin (they theorize that he may have escaped into a nearby stream), the freed Hork Bajir swings down from the tree carrying the canister that he knows must be important. It’s open. The freed Hork Bajir immediately begins showing symptoms. Aldrea and Dak flee, hoping that the fact that the wind is against them will prevent their being infected. Right when they reach the Arn valley, they see the remaining Andalite ships leaving the planet.

They know the fight is lost. The virus is loose. And the Andalites have abandoned the planet. Aldrea and Dak reflect that there are valley far away that won’t be reached by the virus for quite a long time. And at least they have each other.

The book ends with Jara Hamee concluding his tale. Tobias says that now he’s even more depressed. Jara is confused by this and Tobias says he wishes he knew what happened to Aldrea and Dak, and even Esplin. Jara explains, as if to a small child, that Aldrea and Dak had a son whom they named Seerow, who had a son named Jara Hamee. And that Tobias already knows Esplin: Visser Three. As Tobias gets ready to leave, Jara introduces him to his daughter, Toby, named after Tobias. He says that Toby is special, and Tobias realizes that she, too, is a seer.

Dak Hamee & the Hork Bajir: Dak is a great character. I love everything about him. And it is clear that he is set up as the most wise of all the characters in this book, even the almighty Andalites. Really, looking at his character, this is what Cassie should be. He is peaceful by nature, incredibly talented at reading the underlying messages in people’s behavior, easily able to predict how those same people will act, and, importantly, willing to fight, even if he hates it. Yes, Cassie gets there too. But Daks’ anger and sadness never overcome him, he never puts others at risk to save his own conscience. His relationship with Aldrea is also great. Especially given the deeper understanding he has of some of her less positive qualities. But his ability to forgive is probably his strongest asset.

As for the Hork Bajir, I had forgotten much of their history. Especially their creation story, so that was a fun bit to re-experience. And man, the Arn are kind of the worst! I think they rival even the Andalites for arrogance! And are much more self-centered at that. They could care less what happens to everyone else, as long as they’re left alone. Their plan to adapt their bodies so that they’re uninfestable is clever, but they’re so self-focused that they don’t listen to the wisdom of others when they’re warned that the Yeerks won’t care about that and will find a way to destroy them anyways. Which they do by enslaving them and putting them to work mining for resource to be used to build more space ships. However, it’s not quite clear what their ultimate fate would be. After the virus was released, the Yeerks would flea the planet to avoid their hosts dying. But would the virus wouldn’t affect the Arn. So maybe their “outlast” plan worked after all. Even if they were little jerks the entire time.

Aldrea & the Andalites: Aldrea is also a great character. Most importantly because she is by no means a perfect character. Whereas Dak learns technical things about space, science, art, etc., he’s already a wise person. Aldrea is book smart, but she is naive about her own people and  exhibits many of the flaws of her species right from the beginning. She lies to Dak repeatedly; tries to downplay the Yeerk threat as long as she can; after her parents die, she becomes obsessed with revenge, not caring that the people who will be dying in this fight aren’t her own; when the Andalites arrive she fails to anticipate just how badly they will treat the Hork Bajir, and even at the end, struggles to believe Dak when he suggests that they are hiding things. For all of this, however, her arc of growth is clear. In the end, she stands by her statement to support Dak over her own people. And of all the characters we’ve seen become stuck in a morph, Aldrea expresses the least regret. Obviously this allows her to be with Dak, but I have to also think that by this point, she’s not a huge fan of her own species. Her father let loose the Yeerks on the world and then her commander tried to commit mass genocide. Maybe being a Hork Bajir is better, even if it’s short-lived.

As for the Andalites as a whole, you can’t say that Applegate ever gets “precious” about her “hero” alien species. If anything, the Andalites are getting a rougher and rougher history. They’re just kind of…all dicks. And sexist ones at that! Alloran says they pretty much dismissed Aldrea’s first call for help not only because she was Seerow’s daughter, but she was just a young female, so probably just foolish. It looks more and more like Elfangor and Ax are outliers, rather than examples of the Andalites as a whole. Even Ax struggles quite a lot to overcome his people’s arrogance and condescension towards other species. As always, Dak says it best:

I laughed. “You almighty Andalites. There is no limit to your arrogance, is there? Well, let me tell you something: We may be simple people. But we don’t use biology to invent monsters. And we don’t enslave other species. And we don’t unleash a plague of parasites on the galaxy, endangering every other free species, and then go swaggering around like the lords of the universe. No, we’re too simple for all that. We’re too stupid to lie and manipulate. We’re too stupid to be ruthless. We’re too stupid to know how to build powerful weapons designed to annihilate our enemies. Until you came, Andalite, we were too stupid to know how to kill.”

Esplin 9466 & the Yeerks: Esplin’s story was a very interesting one. My first thought as I started reading his chapters was that he sounded nothing like the Visser Three we know and love (?). For one, he seems pretty darn smart. He very quickly understands that he needs to make himself useful to be earn a permanent host body. And he also realizes, more than any of the other Yeerks, that to win they must understand the enemy. In this case, the Andalites. The interesting thing about this is that this plan is ultimately what also becomes his downfall. He learns everything about the Andalites, but then seems to become obsessed with them, and with the idea of infesting one.

In the main books’ arcs, this obsession has become a problem. His obsession with the Andalites has translated into a conclusion that they are the only worthy enemy in the universe. He immediately dismisses humans as a threat, thus leaving him with the inaccurate conclusion that he’s fighting Andalite bandits. Not only does he then misunderstand their tactics, motivations, and methods, but he fails to do the due diligence on the enemy he’s currently facing. The guy knows practically nothing about humans and the Earth, something that Visser One mocks him for. So the guy who began his career because he knew that it was important to fully know those whom you are fighting, is now losing because he got to caught up in his obsession over this first enemy. He’s no longer using what once was his best weapon, and thus losing this fight.

Beyond Esplin, we got some interesting facts about the Yeerks. Most notably, not all Yeerks enjoy infesting a host body. And, as Dak realizes early in the book, the Andalites failed to realize that a species might be content with the lives they lead and that introducing more is not necessarily helping. The Andalites’ huge failure is to under appreciate the difference cultures and priorities of the aliens the encounter. They believe they are the ideal, and therefore either dismiss (the Hork Bajir) or try to “help” (the Yeerks) the “lesser” species they encounter.

We also learn that the Yeerks already had a Council of Thirteen system when they lived in their pools, but the Visser/Sub Visser ranking only came after they attacked the Andalites. Esplin is also one of the first to realize that the type of host body you have reflects your own importance. Another reason for his obsession to become the first Yeerk with an Andalite host body.

A Hawk’s Life: As I’ve said before, a case can definitely be made for Tobias being the main character of this entire series. We now have both Chronicles books tying back to our main characters and storyline through Tobias. In the first, obviously, we learn that he is Elfangor’s son. Here, Toby, the new seer of the Hork Bajir, is named after Tobias in honor of the role he played in helping free the Hork Bajir now living in the hidden valley. For his own bits, the few scenes we have for Tobias are fairly depressing. He ends up at the valley because he’s feeling sad and lonely, and then it’s not like this story is the most uplifting thing ever either, so he’s pretty bummed at the end of it too. Obviously, the pay off and optimism comes with the introduction of Toby.

“I Get that Reference!”:  There were a few bits in this book that clearly touched on information that we as readers can connect to other bits of the story. One of the monsters from the Deep is one of the strange alien morphs that Visser Three uses (the vine-tentacle monster that took out all of the Animorphs back in the alternate timeline jungle story in book #11). There’s a reference to Dak and Aldrea theorizing that Esplin escaped in a nearby creek, something that must be kind of his move, since we saw him pull the same trick on Ax back in book #8.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a lot of body horror in this book. For one, Aldrea is the only one to morph and she doesn’t fixate on the process all that much. It was interesting learning that morphing was a very new technology at this time. Which means that in the grand scheme of things, morphing is very, very new for Andalites, even by the time we get to our main storyline back on Earth. I always thought of it as something the Andalites must have had for quite awhile. Aldrea also mentions that she is more skilled at morphing than others, and theorizes that females might have a better affinity for this technology, which is supported by the fact that Cassie is so good at morphing herself.

Couples Watch!: These Chronicles books are also turning out to be the most romantic of the entire series, and yet again we have a cross-species relationship forming. While I love the sweetness and humor of Elfangor and Lauren’s relationship, their storyline takes place over a short period of time, so it feels a bit less fleshed out. And then we miss the years in between when they truly form a romantic relationship. Here, with Dak and Aldrea, their romantic relationship grows in a much more realistic, and more painful, manner. The differences that they carry with them simply due to their species (Aldrea: arrogant, supremely confident, a tendency to think she knows best and look down on others. Dak: optimistic, has wisdom that could be seen as simplistic, but is actually more honest) are apparent from the beginning and are something they have to spend months working through.

Their relationship also forms through a much harder set of circumstances. Aldrea’s grief and anger over the loss of her family. Dak’s grief and anger over the loss of his entire people. And the fact that 90% of their time together is spent fighting a hopeless war. It’s dark, but it also makes their relationship feel that much more true and earned in the end.

We also get to see a Hork Bajir “kiss” when Dak presses his head blades to Aldrea’s in a moment of tenderness after she’s morphed Hork Bajir. She then compares it to an Andalite “kiss” which is when an Andalite strokes another Andalite’s face with their palm.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the entire book?? While I do love this book, it’s also one of the more challenging reads for me. It’s probably the most serious book in the series so far, and even at the beginning, the reader knows that things aren’t going to end well. We know the outcome of this war. We know the depth of betrayal the Andalites commit. We know that ultimately the Hork Bajir, and Aldrea and Dak, are doomed. So while the story does an excellent job of exploring some really important and challenging stuff (the price of violence on a peaceful people, the value placed on individuals based on intelligence, the lines that can be crossed in warfare), it’s still a tough book to feel pumped about reading from the start.

On a specific note, in this re-read, towards the very end of the book there is this quote:

It was Gah [the recently freed Hork Bajir whom Esplin had abandoned]. He was in the tree above us, in the high branches. He was swinging down to meet us. He was carrying the canister. He had retrieved it from the branches above. He had known that it was important. He was bringing it to us. It was open.

I don’t know why, but the sad, simple, sweetness of this small moment just crushed me. It perfectly illustrates the sadness behind the Hork Bajir people and the loss that was their ultimate fate. Here is Gah, just trying to help his friends, not understanding any of the complexities of the situation. Just bringing something he knows they found important. And dying for it.

Favorite Quote:

This really gets at the heart of the tragedy that is the fate of the Hork Bajir. And Dak understands this really early in the story, after only his fist encounter with the Yeerks:

<We can save your people, if they will learn to fight! They don’t have to be destroyed.>
“Yes, they do,” he said quietly. “Either they will learn to fight and hurt and kill, or they will learn to be slaves. Both will destroy them. Killers or slaves. They will be one or the other. Killers or slaves.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

Rating: As I said above, I think this is one of the more serious books in the series and the one that tackles big topics most head-on. Dak is an incredible character, and Aldrea is a great example of creating a flawed character who experiences a life-changing story arc. It’s also incredibly depressing. Unlike the “Andalite Chronicles,” we know how this story will mostly go. So while there are surprises (most notably the history of the Hork Bajir), it’s hard not to read it with an ever-present sense of dread. I have a hard time with sad stories, so that always make this book one of the ones that I have to talk myself into more when considering a re-read. But I’m also always glad that I did re-read it. After this book, it’s hard to read the battles between the Animorphs and the Yeerks without thinking about the tragedy that are all of the Hork Bajir hosts who are dying in these fights, confused and alone.

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!