The Great Animorphs Re-Read #48: “The Return”

363356Animorphs #48: “The Return”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the “sixth Animorph,” is back. When the Animorphs and Ax decided to give another human being the power to morph, it was one of their biggest mistakes. David tried to destroy all of them–and almost succeeded. Rachel and the others thought they’d seen the last of him.

They were wrong.

Rachel knows what a threat David is. He’s cunning and dangerous. Worst of all, he knows their secrets. Now he’s captured Rachel as part of his plan to take over everything. David wants power. Money. But more than anything, he wants revenge.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, for 90% of this book I was banging my head against a wall at the sheer waste of the very last Rachel book we’re going to get. There’s a strong argument to be made that, other than Jake, Rachel has the most interesting over-arching story line throughout the series. And then, in the last book before we lose her for good, we get this. Dream sequences within dream sequences. A return to the crazy Rachel who wants to fight Jake for leadership. A bizarre Crayak appearance that comes with the worst “morph” (and cover art) ever. And then, at the very end, some truly good stuff about Rachel’s role on the team and how the others view (and use) her. But we’ll save that for just a few throwaway pages at the very end, just to really rub it in your face that there was in fact good stuff to be had here. But we had to get those dream sequences in, you know?! Priorities.

It was trash. Then it was even worse trash. Then it…made some super strong points?? Then it ended on a cliffhanger…

Rachel and the other Animorphs are on a school field trip to the White House when the Yeerks attack, leading with a shot that takes out Tobias. Enraged and assuming that the Yeerks are now going on the open offensive, so they might as well too, Rachel and the others go into their battle morphs. Grizzly!Rachel begins taking out Hork Bajir, but takes a lot of hits while she’s at it. Gorilla!Marco pulls her back and tiger!Jake orders her to stand down; that she’s taken too much damage and is out of control. This enrages Rachel and she decides that she’s done taking orders from Jake and it’s time for them to fight it out for leadership of the group. They fight, but Rachel continues to take too much damage, slowly bleeding out in front of the White House, only to wake up, drenched in sweat in her bed.

Later, Rachel is visiting Ax and Marco in Ax’s scoop in the woods after failing to find Cassie in her barn. Rachel is concerned about the repeated nightmares she’s been having of fighting Jake, one-on-one. On the Internet, the discover a first hand account of the attack on the battle carrier. Rachel expresses her excitement that the war will finally be out in the open. Marco and Ax are both concerned about this level of enthusiasm from Rachel, and she begins to feel ashamed herself. Marco goes on to explain that if the war does come out into the open, the Animorphs are finished.

Eagle!Rachel flies back towards home with Tobias. On the way, they get into another discussion about Rachel’s enthusiasm about the war, with Tobias pointing out that she was beginning to disturb everyone with her attitude. Rachel once again starts down the “Jake is threatened by me” mentality that we are all so familiar with and loved back in the “Rachel is the leader” book.  As she ponders this, she almost hits an electrical wire before, again, waking from her dream.

Awake, Rachel is disturbed by her dreams and reflects on the David incident, one of the most extreme examples of her past ruthlessness, but also an example of when the hard thing had to be done and the fact that while the plan ad been Cassie’s, Rachel was the one who had to actually follow through with it.

At school, she sees Jake in the halls and feels that his nod of greeting is more cold than usual. She worries that she is still in another dream, feeling disturbed and as if something is wrong with the world. In class, she begins to see red flashes and thinks she hears rats in the wall, crying out for help. She skips the rest of school and sends a note to Cassie to meet her at Cassie’s barn. When she arrives, she sees Cassie run out, pursued by a mass of rats that being attacking her as she tries to morph. The rats come after Rachel too and she tries to escape them by jumping in a pond. But once there, she is grabbed by something beneath and almost drowns.

She wakes up in some type of dungeon/sewer location, trapped within a hard, plastic cube. Two thugs show up and one pulls out rat!David. David tells her of the horrors of living on the rock island, but explains that, because he’s so smart, he was able to recruit a few of the “smarter” rats as lieutenants and then sneak off the island on a boat brought in by a group of naturalists. Once on the mainland, he was able to recruit another 200 or so rats to his “cause” and, being able to get into small places, like banks, gather the funds to pay off thugs like the two in the sewer with them.

The two get into a conversation where David tries to manipulate Rachel into taking all of the blame for what happened to him and gas-lighting her into thinking he was an innocent victim. For his revenge, he wants to force Rachel to morph rat and become stuck, like him. The red light returns and reveals another corner of the room where Cassie is being held prisoner in  similar cube. David says he’ll let her suffocate in the cube if Rachel doesn’t morph. To buy time, Rachel does as he asks, hoping to still find an out. As she tries to think of a way out of the situation, David continues to prod at her about her role on the team. He also reveals that he has a solution to the Yeerk problem: wipe out the humans on Earth with a plague, then the Yeerks have no reason to be here anymore. As David talks, his voice starts to sound strange. He continues to manipulate her, almost hypnotizing her into agreeing that without Jake, Rachel could be in charge and wouldn’t that just be better?

The red glow returns and reveals itself to be an eye. Rachel snaps out of it and realizes that David can’t have an army of rats, they aren’t smart enough for that. And thus nothing that has happened can be real, like her and Cassie being attacked by rats. In the cube, “Cassie” turns into the Drode, and Rachel realizes that the red haze/eye is Crayak. She also realizes that Crayak’s hatred of Jake has been behind her strange dreams, setting Rachel up to hurt him. David, it turns out, is also only working for Crayak.

Crayak tells Rachel that she needs to free herself from herself and magically pops her out of her cage and into a giant, warrior version of herself with claws for fingernails. She is able to transform to and from this form at will, and begins to revel in the power it offers. She tries to attack the Drode, but everything is an illusion. Crayak transforms her back into a rat, now trapped in her cube with David. She gets in a fight with David, but he has more experience as a rat. Just when she is beginning to lose, Crayak pops her back out and into human form. She transforms back into Super-Rachel. He tempts her with thoughts of the power she could have in this form, able to take out the Yeerk force all on her own. Then pops her back into the cage with David, a rat again. The contrast starts to drive Rachel crazy.

Back in Super-Rachel form, Crayak lays out what he wants: she can retain this form and power if she kills Jake. Rachel refuses, telling herself that she is one of the good guys. To push Rachel further, Crayak somehow snaps Visser One/Three into the room. Crayak tells Visser One that he is now involved in a fight to the death with Rachel. If Visser One wins, he gets Earth; if he loses, he and the Yeerks must retreat.

They fight. Rachel is able to instantly morph to any of her forms, including Super-Rachel. When Visser One morphs some type of sentient goo that Rachel can’t fight, she discovers that she can create morphs, essentially, turning into a killer plant of her own imagination. Even after Visser One beheads her, Rachel is able to quickly reform herself. Rachel prepares to kill Visser One. But as Crayak urges her onward, she begins to reflect on Super-Rachel and how the world and the other Animorphs would see her: not as a someone to be honored and respected, but someone to be feared and hated. She releases Visser One, repeating that she is one of the good guys.

Back in the cube, back as a rat, Rachel begins to despair, not sure what is real and what is not. Crayak and the Drode disappear, leaving rat!Rachel with minutes before she is trapped as a rat and with Cassie, back trapped in her airless cube. She remembers the two thugs, and quickly calls out to them, highlighting the crappy situation of working for a talking rat like David. She promises that if they let her out, she will find the money David had promised them and they’ll be free of him. They let her out and she morphs grizzly and scares them off while David scampers away. As they run off, Rachel realizes that eventually they’ll talk and a Controller will realize that there’s a rat out there who knows all about the “Andalite bandits.”  She releases Cassie and tells her to go on ahead, that she still has something to do, to return David to the island. Cassie tries to stop her, and Rachel gets angry, saying that Cassie knows what needs to be done, and can she do it herself? When Cassie hesitates and says she doesn’t know, the matter is settled.

She catches up with David, who is sitting staring at the sun; he doesn’t run when she approaches. He tells her he’d rather die than go back to the island. When she tells him that she can’t kill him, that she’s one of the good guys, he replies that she should do the “good thing” and put him out of his misery. Horrified, Rachel tries to tell him to just run away and promise never to tell anyone about them. David laughs a manic laugh and calls her a fool. Despite herself, she feels sorry for him and sorry for herself that they are in this situation. Rachel sets him down and cries, half hoping that he’ll just run away and spare her the decision. But he doesn’t. He repeats that if she is one of the good guys, she’ll do the right thing and kill him. But Rachel doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, so she sits there, a teenage girl in an alley staring at a white rat.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  As far as Rachel’s character goes, I feel like we only really get into it towards the last third of this book. There’s a horrible return to the power-hungry Rachel who has some type of grudge against Jake for the first half to two-thirds and I don’t really want to even bother going into my feelings on that yet again (instead I’ll do it in the Jake section next!)

Instead, I wish the story had focused on the David stuff the entire time as there is plenty of character stuff to mine there. Not only do Rachel’s actions in the David trilogy play a big role in her relationship with Jake, but we also see how Rachel’s view of Cassie has been affected by that group of books as well.

I really liked effect had by the repeated mantra of “I’m one of the good guys” and then the heart-braking pay off for that phrase in the end when David asks her to kill him, saying that that would be the “good” thing to do. Crayak mentions that good and evil are only simple to the small-minded (deep burn to Cassie!) and it’s another great payoff that we see that thought in action with Rachel’s decisions at the end of this book. What is the good ting to do?

I also really liked her reflections on her role in the team, once she settles upon the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

I  looked  at  Cassie’s  face.  It  was  a  sweet  face.  It  was  wise,  too.  But  still…I  don’t know…oddly innocent somehow.

I’d been protecting her. Them. Jake.  Cassie.  Tobias.  Even  Marco  and  Ax.  Helping  to  protect  their  innocence. Letting them see themselves as the good guys. It was a symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent, whatever. They needed me to be the bad guy.

And I needed them to be the good guys. See, if they were good guys, and I was on their team, then that automatically made me a good guy, too. Even if I was different.

For all of the book’s flaws, I’m really glad that this part came out of this story. It’s essentially the conclusion and thesis to Rachel as a character throughout the entire series. It’s just excellent all around. If only it had come in a book that didn’t have a god awful cover of Rachel morphing some mutated version of herself. *sigh*

Our Fearless Leader: It’s unfortunate to see a return to the “Rachel is jealous of Jake’s leadership role” take again in  a Rachel book. While the later explanation by Crayak that his goal in recruiting Rachel is to take out Jake, it still seems to play off the idea that Rachel, on her own, still covets the leadership role and harbors some type of violent inclinations towards Jake. It was hard to swallow this the first time and having it reappear doesn’t really improve things. Since that book, again, we’ve seen no evidence that Rachel covets the leadership role, that the other Animorphs would ever accept her as the next in line for leadership, or that any of this type of tension lies at the heart of Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Given where the book ends up in the last third, with Rachel’s realization/acceptance of the role she plays in the team, especially when connected to David, there were a lot more interesting routes that could have been taken with her relationship with Jake given his and Rachel’s interactions back during the David trilogy. And when you know where the series is headed with Jake’s use of Rachel…I just feel like there were a lot better options to explore there than some weird jealously/leadership angle that has never made sense.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias isn’t even in this book in reality, only in a dream sequence.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  You have to wonder whether Rachel and Cassie talk more about this after the fact. And, as I’ll get to in the “crazy plans” section, like David, I’m not sure why real Cassie had to be involved in any of this either. But it’s good that she was, because, again, the end of the book had some good stuff between her and Rachel as Rachel is understand truly where she stands. Rachel thinks repeatedly about the fact that Cassie was the one who came up with the plan to trap David (ironic, since earlier in this book, David mentions that he would have picked Cassie as a companion because she was nice to him, but he didn’t want to torture her with being a rat, so he chose Rachel. If only he had know who the ultimate mastermind of his fate had been!) but how Rachel was the one who had to suffer actually executing it. There’s also this great interaction at the very end when Rachel is having to go after David once again to return him to the island:

“I don’t think you can do it a second time,” Cassie said quietly.

I felt all the old anger bubbling up. Why was she arguing? She knew what had to be done. Why was she pretending not to understand what had to be done? So  she  could  sleep  at  night?  So  she  could  say  “I  tried  to  stop  her,  so  it’s  not  my fault?” so she could say “I didn’t know.”

I looked her in the eye. <I’m not sure I can, either. So will you do it?>

Cassie’s face creased. Her mouth opened and closed. Her eyes flickered.“I don’t know,” she whispered finally.

<I didn’t think so.>

It really highlights how even Rachel’s best friend is willing to let Rachel suffer the brunt of these kinds of things. And Rachel’s right, it’s worse because Cassie and the others often do things like this, use Rachel to do the dirty work and then judge her for it. The symbiotic relationship Rachel references feels a bit uneven at that point. It’s one thing for Rachel to do the dirty work to be one of the good guys, and the others to let her, so that she’s the bad guy. But then taking the extra time/breath to judge her for it, that’s tipping the balance towards the others being in the wrong ultimately. Rachel’s essentially paying a double price at that point.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, isn’t in this, other than the dream sequence. Though his contributions in the dream conversation hold pretty true to the Marco we know. He’s also the example Rachel uses in her discussion with Tobias about why one bad behavior in the group (Marco’s whining) is tolerated but her gung-ho-ness is not. I’m not sure about this comparison, but, again, it’s a dream sequence so probably not worth over-analyzing it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is only in this in the dream sequence, and even there he doesn’t contribute much.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the most horrifying part of this book is the cover. Full stop. Super!Rachel is such a stupid idea. She ends up having unlimited morphing abilities as it is in the fight with Visser One, able to morph instantly and create imaginary morphs. There’s no reason to have some steroid version of herself included too. It’s just stupid and a truly unfortunate choice to include as the cover. If readers weren’t already jumping ship off this series at this point, I’m pretty sure showing up at the bookstore and seeing this cover might have been the death knell for a good number of people.

Couples Watch!: Man, I can’t emphasize enough just how disappointing this book is on this front, considering it’s the last Rachel book we have in the series. The past few Rachel books have been disappointing in this arena for the most part too, and it’s really unfortunate as it felt like at one point about halfway through the series this relationship was going somewhere interesting with the whole “Rachel is frustrated with Tobias’s choice to remain a hawk” thing. But then that whole plot point was just dropped all together pretty much. And the only interactions we get in this book are during a dream sequence that Crayak creates and in which Tobias is again mostly a jerk towards Rachel. What made them an interesting pair was their ability to understand the choices the other made, choices that were often hard for the main group to understand. Rachel can appreciate Tobias’s commitment to the war, and Tobias has his own ruthless streak to match Rachel’s (again, remember that he is ultimately the decider behind the destruction of an entire alien race back in Megamorphs #2). So yeah, it’s a bummer that we’re left out in the cold here. There’s some good David stuff in this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that in Rachel’s last book we get more on her relationship with psycho David than with Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There are essentially three villains in this book: Visser One, Crayak, and David. Visser One only shows up for the brief battle royale and you have to imagine how confusing this whole thing is to him. He tries to get arrogant/snippy with Crayak initially but quickly seems to realize he’s outmatched. And then he lucks out that Rachel has a crisis of conscience at the very end or he would have been a goner.

As for Crayak, he’s again kind of just a nebulous, Sauron-like bad guy with a fixation on Jake. Frankly, other than the “Ellimist” book, the Drode has been the more interesting villain from this group and I think the story might have read better with him and his snark taking point, rather than the pretty cheesy “master villain” vibe that Crayak had going for him.

David is by far the most interesting villain in this story. I’ll get into why it’s weird that he’s here at all a bit later, but regardless of whether it makes sense, I’m glad they included him since the best parts of the book were at the end when Rachel was having to deal with him. He’s pretty interesting throughout this story. We see the full scope of crazy!David, from his extreme egomania, to his the cowardice at the heart of him, to his deranged sense of being wronged and the extremes that he will go to to fight back, to the part that is still a human boy who is living through hell. I’m not convinced that David ever had to come back, but since he did, I would have rather had the entire book deal with him and the fallout from the events back in the David trilogy. Crayak and Visser One just seem kind of ridiculous in comparison to some of the pretty heavy stuff that comes to play with the David sections of the story.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The end of the book definitely got to me. Not only does Rachel begin to feel bad for David, but the reader does too. There are just some really powerful lines and images dropped in there. Like when Rachel first comes across David again after chasing him down and she describes him as standing up on this back legs, facing the sun and delicately waving his paws around to appreciate his freedom and the world. And his pleas that Rachel kill him, that ultimately that is what a “good” person would do, all things considered. And the line, of a girl crying in an alley, staring at a white rat. It really hits home how terrible this situation is and that, regardless of all of this, Rachel is still a teenage girl faced with terrible choices. And choices that her friends have left her to make on her own.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Crayak’s plan to try and turn Rachel on Jake seems overly complex. I’m not sure why David had to be involved at all really? The threat to trap her as a rat with references to her past ruthlessness with David would probably have been just as effective without him. Or, as we see throughout this book, Crayak is perfectly able to create illusions, so the real David was never necessary to the actual plan. And then why David had to have a plan of his own with two actual human thugs to carry it out? What benefit did this have for Crayak other than introducing points of failure to his plan which then…did fail because of them! If those thugs hadn’t been there, and David hadn’t been there, Rachel and Cassie would be done for. I guess maybe this would have been against the “rules” in Crayak and the Ellimist’s game. But the rules are pretty hard to really understand as it is, so I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason for the overly complex nature of this all.

Favorite Quote:

This is a long quote, but it sums up a lot of good stuff from this book and Rachel’s realizations about where she fits in the team. The biggest frustration for me, the reader, a Rachel fan, is the fact that Rachel has realized things like this a few times, but the other members of the group never seem to realize the same thing: that they need Rachel to do these things and that they are foisting a burden on her and the least they could do is keep quiet instead of shaming her further.

I looked into Cassie’s eyes. Did she want to know? Did she really want to know? No. she didn’t. That’s why I’d been so angry. Not just at Jake. At all of them. Because they had kept their hands clean. They had pretended they didn’t know I’d done something extreme like threaten to kill David. And his parents.And when David had confronted them with the truth, they’d made their disapproval known.  Separated  themselves  from  me.  Made  it  clear  I  was  deranged  and  out  of control and so, so unlike them.

And  then,  Cassie had  come  up  with the  plan to  trap  David  in  morph. But  only  I’d had the nerve to endure the two gut-wrenching hours of David’s misery.Why  hadn’t  I  fought  back?  Defended  myself  against  accusations,  insinuations  of craziness? Okay, I’d confronted Jake. But had anything really changed between us since then? Did  he  generally  approve  of  my  actions?  No.  Only  of  their  results.  He  needed  my results.

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

No change! Nothing really happens in this book and there aren’t any long-standing changes to the overall war effort on either side.

Rating: So, as evidenced by the gif at the beginning and my thoughts throughout, I had a very mixed response to this book. I think the inclusion of Crayak was questionable (and his plan was idiotic), and that the dream sequences were a waste of precious page space in Rachel’s last book. But I also think that the last third of the book dealing with David and Rachel’s realizations about her role on the team and how the others have treated her is crucial character development for her before the final chapter in the series. Other than the obvious end of the series, I think this book highlights why Rachel is one of the more tragic characters in the series. Tobias obviously has the roughest go of it, but I think Rachel might even beat out Jake. Jake at least gets some of the respect that comes with being a leader and the hard choices that come with that. We see in every other Animorphs book how much the others respect and recognize the burden Jake takes on in this role. Rachel, on the other hand, plays an equally important role, and the others use her for it knowingly, but she also gets only derision and shame for doing these hard things.

I also have mixed feelings on the end. I’m not sure if I like or dislike the fact that it doesn’t resolve Rachel’s choice about David. In some ways, it feels like the same type of cop-out that the Animorphs themselves take: leave it up to Rachel. But here, the author just side-steps the whole terrible choice by leaving it unanswered. So yes, on one hand you have the interesting situation where each reader can decide for themselves what Rachel did (or they would do in her place). But it also seems to avoid answering the main question of the entire book and Rachel’s arc throughout the series: what is the “good” thing to do vs. the necessary? And the fact that there really isn’t an answer to that question doesn’t mean that people/characters don’t still have to ultimately decide. Rachel can’t sit in the alley forever.

I do think the last lines of the book is one of the more beautiful endings of any book in the series, however. So I’m torn on whether I’d want to lose that in exchange for some more resolution.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.  And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.

A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.

It would be hard to believe the entire fat of the planet depended on that girl.

A girl who wanted to do the right thing.

But who had no idea at all what that was…

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Serena’s Review: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe”

36039614Book: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” by Lauren James

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

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

Book Description: The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on the Infinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.

Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.

Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of the Eternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….

Review: I had heard great things about this book both from the general online book community, as well as from some of my friends in person. And the fact that when I went to request it from the library list I found myself at the back of a very long waiting list also spoke to the general popularity of this title. So, patiently, I waited. A few weeks ago, my name finally came around and I immediately checked out the audiobook and dove in. Sadly, this entire story ends with the fact that I once again fell victim to a combination of over-hyped books and, probably, my own science fiction snobbery, resulting in me not loving this book.

For the past several years, teenage Romy has lived alone on her spaceshift. Born aboard to the two astronauts originally selected for this first mission to a far off planet, Romy has known nothing but life in space. Her only connections to humanity have been through media and communications with a NASA councelor who has helped her manage her anxiety. With years still ahead of her before she reaches her destination, Romy’s life is one of boredom and loneliness. That is until she hears that another, faster ship is coming. Aboard is J, her first contact with humanity. But their close friendship, developed through messaging back and forth, quickly begins to highlight questions about Romy’s own time on her ship and J’s ultimate mission.

I really, really wanted to love this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a really good science fiction story, and the premise of this one sounds fantastic. Seriously, full marks to whomever wrote the book description and designed the cover art: this book has serious “hook” value. But then I started reading it and pretty much had immediate problems.

First things first, as I said above, some of this comes down purely to my own science fiction snobbery. I think that perhaps general YA fiction fans would have a lot fewer issues with this book than I did, especially if science fiction isn’t a go-to genre for them. But if I’m going to read a science fiction/space novel, I want that: science fiction. The story starts out with a bang, and after a short action scene, we’re immediately into a character introspection from Romy herself and her thoughts on anxiety. As a discussion on mental health, sure this is good. But there simply wasn’t enough about the science/space angle of things for me. We barely hear anything about the ship itself, or how it was set up to complete its mission, or what specific skills Romy has developed having lived her entire life on this ship. Instead, again, in that very first scene, we see Romy barely avoiding a disaster and then setting out to “read the manual” on the ship so she knows better what to do next time. What? You’re telling me this girl has lived her entire life on this ship, the last several years all alone, and she’s somehow not a complete expert on everything going on here? This starts to get into my character problems, but to summarize this section, this book simply didn’t have enough of the details about life in space and the ship itself to meet my higher expectations for science fiction. There were also a few things that legitimately don’t make any sense for space travel which left me questioning how much research the author really put into this (Romy uses scissors to open food…pretty sure they have tear-off packets of food rather than packing scissors into space for stuff like this).

Now, the characters. As I alluded to in the previous bit, I had some immediate issues with Romy right from the get go. For one thing, I had very mixed feelings about the discussions about Romy’s anxiety and mental health. I get that these are important topics, and it’s great representation to have them included. However, sometimes it starts to feel like these aspects of a character/story are added simply to check some nebulous box, and this works to the detriment of the story. I wanted a science fiction action/thriller story, and instead was getting a lot of character details that were both too much and yet also never quite enough to carry my interest. Beyond that, I found Romy to be very hard to find believable as a character who has grown up in such a unique environment.

We have the weird lack of knowledge of her own ship, yes. But on top of that, she reads just like your average, every day teenage girl. And I just couldn’t get on board with that type of characterization for a protagonist whose entire existence would be shaped by events so out of the ordinary. She hasn’t had human contact in years, and before that, only ever her parents. She’s lived her entire life on a very small ship. And yet she reads like “Jane Doe Teenager” in almost every way. Not only did this not make her interesting, but it actively rubbed wrong against what we know about her life experience. It felt like such a missed opportunity, really.

As for the story itself, I also had a few problems. Romy writes fanfiction as a pastime. Sure, this makes sense for the character. But that doesn’t mean I want to read pages of said fanfiction. It honestly felt like the author was essentially trying to recreate Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” but in space! And that didn’t work for me. Especially when I couldn’t help but mourn the page time devoted to this aspect of the story in place of more science fiction details.

I will say that the twists of the story were interesting. But interesting in the way that they read as exciting, but if you stop and think about them very hard, they also start to fall apart pretty quickly. J’s backstory, motivation, and actions never made much real sense to me, and some of the twists required huge portions of the book to read as strange before the answers are revealed. I spent a good portion of the book questioning the basic premise of the entire mission in a way that was ultimately more distracting than beneficial when the reveal finally put together the pieces in the end.

So, sadly, in the end this book wasn’t for me. I think general YA fiction fans would quite enjoy it (indeed, obviously they  have!). But if you like science fiction in particular, I think there are a lot of elements of this story that will read as more frustrating than intriguing. I also feel like the character work was lacking throughout. It’s no fault of the book’s, but when you have similar titles like “The Martian” hanging around out there, that succeeded so well based on the great scientific aspects and, more importantly, incredible main character at its heart, this book feels even more flat than it would in a vacuum.

Rating 5: Some science fiction snobbery on my part, and I think a legitimately weak main character left this book not quite hitting the mark for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “YA Space Operas.”

Find “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #47: “The Resistance”

363349Animorphs #47: “The Resistance”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have to make the most important decision they’ve ever had to make: Do they continue to fight the Yeerks in secret, or is it time to let everyone know there is a resistance? That the Animorphs exist. And that Earth does stand a small chance against the invasion.

Jake knows that either choice is a major one. Not one that some kid should be responsible for. But he’s getting tired of the pressure. So, even though he realizes the other Animorphs need him to be strong, he doesn’t feel that way. In fact, he feels just the opposite. And Jake knows if he starts to lose it the Animorphs are done…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Why. Why would we waste one of the Jake’s last precious books on this steaming pile? It’s only half a Jake book at best, and even that half is so, so not awesome. I think I could have resigned myself to this kind of nonsense if we were still in the doldrums that was much of the books in the 30-range, but here?? Now?! No.

This is the perfect image of rage and sadness at the same time. My feelings for this book so well expressed.

Look, I’m too mad to even detail the Civil War plot. Let’s be honest, I skim read all of these sections. Not only did I not care one bit, but the parallels that were being drawn were so on the nose that it was just uncomfortable at times. And also unnecessary. The series as a whole has always done an excellent job of presenting complicated wartime decisions without the need to prop those conversations up against some historical event. So, here is the plot description for the half of the book that was, you know, actually an Animorphs book.

Jake returns home, exhausted from yet another mission. On top of that, after Marco’s exposure and their exploits on the military ship, the team is in the middle of a serious debate about how/when/or if they should make their war public. Everyone is grumpy, and Jake doesn’t know what is the right choice. His mom greets him with a chores list to clear out the basement. Trudging down, he begins going through boxes and discovers a journal from a past relative who served in the Union during the Civil War. [Here enters the alternating storyline that I will actively try to forget even happened.]

Cassie calls and through code informs Jake that he’s needed at the free Hork Bajir valley. Once he and the others arrive, they are told that the worst has happened: a couple of Hork Bajir warriors have been captured and will have been infested by now, exposing the location of the valley to the Yeerks. Jake and the Animorphs immediately insist that the Hork Bajir must flee the valley, but Toby insists that they want to stay and fight, even in the face of what has to be insurmountable odds. Once it becomes clear that they will not be moved from this position, the Animorphs get down to trying to plan their defense.

As they explore around the valley, they come across a beaver dam and pond. From there, Jake gets an idea: if they build up the dam even further, they can use the pooled water as a timed released to flood out the invading Yeerk forces. The team also discovers a group of campers in the area. The team split up to get to work with several of them morphing beavers and starting to build up the dam. Tobias and Jake head out to try and get the campers to move out.

They decide to approach the campers in their human form with some lame stories about incoming weather. Not surprisingly, the campers don’t believe them. They then decide to just forget it all and morph in front of them. Luckily for them, the campers turn out to be huge Stark Trek nerds and are immediately down with the idea of believing a wild story about invading aliens. Some of them take off, but a small group (a father and his two teenage kids) decide they want to fight alongside the Animorphs and head back to the Hork Bajir valley. There, they join in an assembly line where the Hork Bajir are building spears to fight against the Yeerks.

Finally, the attack comes. They manage to hold back the first line of Hork Bajir, but shortly follows Visser One (Three) himself, in the morph he used in the first book when he chased the Animorphs out of the Yeerk pool, along with a group of Taxxons. Jake frantically signals for the dam to be released as free Hork Bajir fall all around the fighting Animorphs. Tiger!Jake ends up in a one-on-one fight with Visser One, but luckily the flood of water hits right when things start looking bad for him. He manages to swim his way out, and Visser One and the remaining Taxxons retreat.

Knowing that the Yeerks will likely try again, Toby prepares the remaining Hork Bajir to flee into the woods where they will remain until the end of the war. Marco’s parents will accompany them. As for the campers, the dad died in the attack and the two teenage children are shell-shocked. Jake and the Animorphs head home, with Jake reflecting that all they can ever do is what they think is best in the moment.

Our Fearless Leader: The beginning of this book is really great for highlighting just how exhausted Jake has become at this point. He mentions the fact that the group is barely making it through school and are all running on empty. To then get home and be presented with a list of chores…you can see how it would almost be enough to break him. Especially on top of the looming debate about going public.

There are some good moments between him and Tom. Tom even slips up a few times, making comments under his breath that would be suspicious if Jake wasn’t already in the know. It goes to show that the war is beginning to take a toll on the Yeerks as well; everyone’s guard is beginning to fall as things start to come to a head.

As for the rest of the book, we see a few good leadership moments from Jake, especially with his idea about the beaver dam. But we also see a lot of moments where things and people are definitely out of his control. He reflects on the choices that Ax made in the last book and has to come up against Toby and the Hork Bajir when they refuse to follow his direction to flee the valley.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is, of course, pro to the idea of the team going more public. She also uses her grizzly morph to help get the dam built more quickly when the beavers have a hard time moving some of the bigger logs. Not much else, other than that.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is with Jake when they confront the campers, so I equally blame him for the sheer stupidity of this move. I will detail my feelings on this whole “plan” later, but essentially I think it was a pretty terrible choice on both of their parts. I also wish we had gotten more from Tobias with the debate with Toby and the other Hork Bajir about the future of their life in the valley. He’s the closest to this group, so it always feels like a missed opportunity when he’s not more at the center of any discussion or interaction with them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is the one to wade into the beaver pond and captures a beaver for them to acquire. Not sure how believable her method is, but if anyone was going to do it, it would be her.

The Comic Relief: Marco, as usual, is the only reasonable one in the group when it comes to the nonsense that is the idea that the Hork Bajir want to stay and fight and the fact that Tobias and Jake revealed themselves to the campers. The entire time, he repeatedly points out that they have no chance of winning and fighting simply for pride or something is just a way to die more quickly.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I have to say, one of the bigger disappointments of this book is the way that we get very little follow-up on the monumental decisions that Ax made in the last book. Jake pretty much says that they’ve both kind of silently agreed to just not talk about it. Jake admits that he is secretly glad that Ax took the decision out of his hands, but he’s also still mad that Ax would disobey him so directly. For his part, we see that Ax won’t meet Jake’s eyes and clearly still has strong feelings about the entire experience. And that’s about all we get. There is zero reference to the fact that Tobias, Rachel, and Marco all agreed with Ax’s plan and helped him execute it as well, which has to be almost as notable to Jake.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not really a lot. The beaver morph was pretty straightforward, as far as morphing mechanics go. The fight between tiger!Jake and Visser One is pretty  brutal, however. Poor tiger!Jake, always with the neck injuries!

Couples Watch!: Really nothing at all. There were a few nice references to how well Marco’s parents are doing with their life in the valley, but Jake and Cassie don’t have much and neither do Rachel and Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: It’s a cool call-back to have Visser One come after them in the same morph he used in book #1. I think this may be one of the first times we’ve ever seen him re-use a morph? I’ve always thought it was strange that he didn’t have preferred battle morphs in the past, but if he was going to have one, this one seems like a solid choice. The only reason it didn’t work way back in the first book was due to its size and the small tunnels in the Yeerk Pool. Out in the open, it seems like a powerful choice. He gets in his usual corny lines, so it’s nice to know that the promotion has done nothing to improve (?) his campy villain mode.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The whole decision with the campers, especially when you look at the end result which is two teenagers who are now orphans. There was absolutely zero reason this had to go down the way it did. It’s one thing to reveal themselves to military personal on the ship, individuals who have signed on and trained for battle. It’s completely another to involve unprepared civilians. Not only  have we seen the Animorphs deal with scenarios exactly like this in the past super easily (just send in grizzly!Rachel and the problem is solved), but they only make the barest attempts to convince the campers to leave before just jumping to “let’s reveal all of our secrets to a group of complete strangers!”

Then, to make matters worse, it becomes immediately clear that the campers are in no way tracking with the seriousness of the issue, making tons of references to Star Trek and such (these were fun for laughs, but should have been seriously worrying for Jake and Tobias). So what do Jake and Tobias do? Agree that sure, it’s fine if some of them want to join in the fight. And sure, it’s fine if the others want to head out, now knowing all of their secrets. Jake and Tobias even make some passing reference to the fact that no one will believe them because they’re Trekkies. Do you know who will believe them? The Yeerks, that’s who!! They’ve known this for literally years now, which is why it’s always been so important to not reveal their human forms. It’s just insane that they now hand-wave it away or “forget” this part of it.

And then what happens? The dad and teenagers get there and then the dad realizes that wait, yes, this is real and death is on the line. But, oops, it’s too late, and now the Animorphs have civilians who all they can do to protect is to tell them to hide. Which they do, and the dad still ends up dead. There’s no reference to what happens to the kids past this point. But there is zero excuse for any of this nonsense. Jake and the others essentially just exposed their whole operation for no reason and got two kids’ dad killed for nothing. It has to go down as one of the worst things they’ve done in the entire series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole idea that the Hork Bajir wanted to stay and fight. This falls largely on Toby’s shoulders, but also on the rest of the Animorphs for giving in as easily as they do. I get that they couldn’t force the issue, but Toby really has no excuse. There were a lot of pretty lines about freedom and defending one’s home, but all of this is completely pointless in the situation they were in here. Freedom is meaningless if you’re dead. Not to mention, in the middle of battle preparations Toby is also preparing her people for the necessary retreat at the end of it. What the hell?! It’s bad enough to be naive enough to think they could win the battle, but the fact that they know and acknowledge the fact that they’ll need to retreat at the end of it anyways? Then you are literally just throwing your life away for pride or some nonsense. And asking others to do it too by involving the Animorphs. It’s pure stupidity for nothing. They still suffer huge losses, and somehow we’re supposed to believe that this counts as a “win” because now they’ve “protected their home” or some such nonsense? You’re still retreating to life in exile in the woods!! Nothing changed from this other than the fact that you lost a lot of your people for nothing and had the same end result.

I will say that the beaver/dam issue was rather clever. I’m not sure about the mechanics of how this would work (how fast would water really build up?), but it’s a cool idea nonetheless.

Favorite Quote:

A good comical line from Marco. The same could be said about the cover. Here we are, getting close to the end, and we have…a beaver morph.

<You know, this mission is seriously important. I’m thinking the morph should be a little more, I don’t know, glamorous. I mean, going beaver to save an entire colony of aliens is like putting James Bond behind the wheel of a minivan. With a bumper sticker that says, “World’s Greatest Mom.” No offense.>

Marco, again, calling it like it is. Jake’s rebuttal is completely weak, too. Marco legitimately did have to do what he did. Jake absolutely did not. If they had to reveal themselves to every person who’s been in the way on one of these missions, they would have shown themselves to people in almost every book.

<Exactly the problem!> Marco said angrily.<Jake, who decided it was okay to make public appearances?>

“Well, you, actually,” I said. “And that’s not an accusation. It’s a fact. When you told your dad about us. You did what you had to do and so did I.”

<That was different with my dad,> he said forcefully. <Maybe even with those sailors and marines on the aircraft carrier. I don’t know. But come on, Jake. You don’t even know these campers. Who they work for, who they’re related to, where they’re from.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

A point for the  Yeerks! Not only did the Animorphs/Hork Bajir make terrible decisions throughout this all, but the Yeerks successfully flushed out the Hork Bajir and took one of the Animorphs’ main bases of operation off the table.

Rating: This book was infuriating. I only covered the half that had to do with the Animorphs and as you can see from my multiple rants above, even that part was incredibly angering. And that’s not counting the fact that a full half of the book was wasted on a Civil War plot line that was completely unnecessary. Look, I get that in long-running book series or show, you reach a point where this type of experimentation with storytelling comes to play simply due to ideas running dry. But we were at that point books and books ago. Now, things are actually ramping up! The series is clearly building towards an ultimate conflict. This is absolutely NOT the time to waste an entire half of an already short book on stupidity like this. And really, it’s not like the Civil War story added anything to this. I skim read it, but I could have literally read zero of it and missed nothing. Like I said above, any parallels that were drawn were so on the nose as to seem comical. And Jake’s not even reading this story or anything where he could be making these connections himself as his own story plays out. It’s just two completely seperate stories running next to each other. I’m not here for the Civil War; I’m here for Animorphs, and there’s so little of it left that it’s almost insulting to read a book like this where half the page count is essentially just thrown out on a pointless side story.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #46: “The Deception”

363401Animorphs #46: “The Deception”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have managed to contact the Andalite home world. But the battle is far from over. Visser Two has arrived on earth, and he’s not happy about the state of things. He decides the best way to take over Earth is to have the humans destroy the people and the land the Yeerk’s don’t need. He decides to start World War III.

Ax and his friends know that Visser Two means business and there will probably only be two ways to keep him from destroying everything they know: Find a way to stop the war. Or, find away to stop him …forever..

Narrator: Ax

Plot: Another “beginning of the end” book where we see the start of the expansion of what, to this point, has been a very small war up on to a much larger, global scale. And poor Ax really embraces his role as being of two people and what that means, and it’s just rough.

Poor Ax, with the worst choices of all.

The story picks up right off the back of the last with the Animorphs reaching out to the Andalites. In no surprise to anyone, even, notably, Ax himself at this point, the Andalites are huge dicks and immediately question the validity of the information the Animorphs are providing about the Yeerks preparation for the Andalite fleet. They accuse the Animorphs of potentially just trying to make things up to re-direct the Andalite fleet back towards helping Earth. Ax even gets on at one point and they say that while they’ll take what he says “under consideration,” he “might have confused his loyalties” by all of this time on Earth at this point, so they can’t completely trust him. Again, Andalites, showing their true colors as just the worst (all the more so for always strutting around claiming to be the best).

Later, Ax, Marco and Tobias overhear a garble report from the Yeerks on the transmitter. Ax manages to hack the transmitter into the NSA computer system and with its greater power is able to more fully receive the full Yeerk report: Visser Two is on his way to Earth to begin to put Visser Three’s (now Visser One) more grand plans into action. They overhear a set of coordinates and immediately need to make a plan.

They discover that the location is far out over the Pacific Ocean, and with the short amount of time before the plan, whatever it may be, is set to be put in motion, they won’t have time to make it out there using any of their morphs. This sets off the moral debate about whether or not they’ve finally reached the point where they will need to compromise on their general practice of not morphing humans. Cassie protests, but Jake is able to convince her that by this point in the war, they have to make these tough choices.

They make their way to an air force base and there Rachel and Ax knock out two pilots, morph them, and commandeer a fighter jet. The other morph flea and hang on for the ride, their small bodies able to survive the increased pressure from the incredible speeds the jet reaches. They make their way out to a large nuclear carrier ship in the middle of the ocean. But by the time they’ve gotten there, the original pilots have been discovered and everyone is on high alert. Ax manages to execute a controlled crash into the ocean and they all morph seagulls and make their way to the ship.

Jake, it turns out, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of huge military ships like this, and using this information, they infiltrate the ship with Ax morphing another human sailor and making his way around. The problem is: they don’t know what they’re looking for! Until they spot some new arrivals who include a familiar face: Chapman. Alongside an officer called Admiral Carrington who they quickly discover is Visser Two, Chapman approaches the ship’s captain and says they have a special delivery for him. Ax slips two of the roach!Animorphs into the captain’s pocket and they are able to get in the room with him, but they are too late and the captain is infested. Ax and the others go to battle morphs to try and help, witnessed by several sailors around them. They barge in and Ax upends the portable Yeerk pool. In the madness, human soldiers barge in and the Animorphs have to bail to avoid hurting innocents.

Cassie and Ax end up together and Ax once more morphs his human sailor morph and, with Cassie on board, makes his way through the ship to an information deck that Jake had mentioned. There, they overhear an announcement of an incoming Chinese missile which shortly after hits with a massive explosion. Ax is quick to put together the Yeerk plot: they are planning on setting off WWIII by instigating a war between the Chinese and the U.S. Ax frantically calls out to Jake who orders him to do whatever he has to to reverse the admiral and captain’s orders to retaliate. Ax shoots the admiral/Visser Two in the leg. When the medics arrive to take him to medical bay, Ax follows them and quickly knocks them out when they are in a private room. He acquires the admiral and returns to the control center where he orders the captain to reverse the order for a counter attack.

Chapman and the captain return to the room where Visser Two is lying, but the room is now also full of the rest of the Animorphs in their battle morphs. They demand to know what the rest of the plan is. In the way of any true villain, Visser Two immediately spills the rest of the plan: in a few hours, the US will hear that the ship has been attacked by the Chinese, and a specific sub, manned by Yeerks, will set out with a nuclear weapon to attack China. They try to threaten Visser Two into telling them which sub is the one controlled, but Visser Two is a true believer and zealously wackadoodle with his visions of Yeerk glory and refuses to tell them.

They are interrupted by the arrival of a bunch of Bug Fighters carrying Hork Bajir. Pandemonium breaks out on the ship with the human crew fighting against the Controlled crew and the alien invaders. Several members of the crew begin to recognize that the Earth animals that have suddenly appeared on the ship are fighting on their side and try to team up with the Animorphs. However, they are all badly outnumbered and it is hard to tell which humans are Controlled and which aren’t in the madness. In the madness, Visser Two escapes.

Ax sets off through the battle to track him down. To do so, he decides to follow Chapman and to do that, he gets another human morph, this time asking the individual in question who quickly agrees. He tracks down Chapman and, holding him at gun point, tries to get him to reveal the location of Visser Two. But before he can make much progress, he gets knocked out. He comes to, returns to his Andalite body, and makes his way back through the ship where he discovers the dying Captain. The Yeerk slithers out, but Ax knows it won’t make it far. The Captain says he tried to fight it, and Ax reassures him that he did all he could and stays with him until he dies.

Ax meets up with Tobias who has also acquired another human morph. All around them, the battle is being lost, with more and more of the ship falling under Yeerk control and the real humans being massacred. They meet up with the others and debate what to do, knowing that Visser Two, in his mania, can’t be threatened into revealing the Yeerk-controlled sub.

It’s at this point that Ax realizes the only way forward and privately thought speaks Jake. He tells him that in this situation, they only threat that could work against Visser Two is  a threat against the Yeerk pool itself. And fighter jets on the ship has some pretty strong bombs…Jake is horrified, knowing that they’d have to kill thousands of humans to drop a bomb through the middle of their city to reach the Yeerk pool. Ax realizes that Jake can’t make this decision, but he, Ax, the alien and outsider, can. He knocks Jake out and tells Cassie that he’s been injured.

He spots Visser Two and calls out to Rachel, Tobias and Marco that he needs there help; he needs to steal a plane and Visser Two needs to be one it with him. Tobias and Rachel don’t stop to question him, but Marco is suspicious asking not only where Jake is but what Ax plans on doing once he’s in a plane with Visser Two.

<You Andalites. You people have a tendency to destroy what you want to preserve.
And that plane is carrying a nuke. I saw it being fitted up by some of the visser’s
men.>

Ax acknowledges that he and Marco have not always trusted each other, but that he, Ax, knows that Marco has always been one to put the mission first, to do what needs to be done in the face of horrible choices. Rachel looks to Marco, and Tobias looks away. Marco finally agrees to help, asking whether they ever really had any choices in this war.

With Marco, Tobias and Rachel’s help, Ax manages to get Visser Two on a plane and take off, right as Cassie and Jake run up. In the plane, Ax lays out the situation for Visser Two: either contact the submarine and have it stand down, or he will drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. At the very last moment, Visser Two agrees and Ax lets him use the radio to contact the submarine. He releases Visser Two and makes his way home, wondering how he will be received by his friends.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax, with a lot of important notes for his character. One of the smallest ones, but one I still found interesting, was seeing just how far Ax has come in his understanding of human behavior. Throughout this story, instead of the general confusion and bewilderment at “strange humans” like we’ve seen in past books, instead we saw more and more evidence of how thoroughly Ax has come to understand humanity. From little things like know what rhetorical questions are and even using them himself, to larger things like being able to imagine facial expressions alongside comments made by his friends while in morph, thus increasing his knowledge of what is truly being communicated beyond the words themselves.

We also see in the very beginning of the book how much Ax has had to readjust his perceptions of his own people. He’s no longer completely surprised by the Andalites’ poor response to pleas for help from him and his friends. And, when asked by Jake later, he admits to not knowing whether the Andalites will ultimately listen to their warning.

Throughout the story, we hear more and more about how much Ax now sees himself as both Andalite and human. He is horrified by the evils of each race, but also loyal and and values them both as well. The destruction on the ship and loss of human life hurts him just as much as it does the others. But then, in the end, he also realizes the unique role he has come to inhabit on the team. He has adopted humanity as his own, but he is also still an alien, still the only one capable of making a decision such as the one to drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. That being the case, however, we see how much this decision tears him apart. Marco accuses him of perhaps doing it for Andalite glory, but as a reader, inside of Ax’s head, we see how terrible this decision weighs on him the entire time. And, given that Marco, Rachel, and Tobias ultimately agree to help him, we have to imagine they sense that his real reasons are still in the right place: trying to avoid WWIII.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s pretty lucky/convenient that Jake has so much knowledge of the layout and organization of a massive battleship like the one they end up on. But on the other hand, as someone who has been leading an underground war for years now, it’s also probably not surprising that he may have spent his down time researching other military avenues.

The moment between Ax and Jake where Ax brings up the suggestion to bomb the Yeerk Pool is exceptionally good. We see that while Jake has come far in his ruthlessness and willingness to bend moral lines to do what needs to be done, he still has a pretty hard and fast line with regards to the loss of human life. Ax, to his credit, is quick to realize this as well and to even conclude that it hadn’t been right of him to even ask or expect Jake to be able to grapple with a decision like this. This is pretty close to the end of the series, and I think from here on out, Jake’s progress down this ruthless path goes faster and faster.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot in this one. Of course, she’s in on the action the entire time and is chosen to be the other Animorph to morph another person to operate the fighter jet with Ax in the beginning. Ax mentions that she was elected to this role for her “nerves of steel,” since the incredible speeds of the plane would be pretty intimidating to most. It’s also worth noting that in the end, when confronted with Ax’s plan, she looks to Marco to make the ultimate decision about whether they will help Ax.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, too, doesn’t have much other than his involvement in Ax’s plan in the end. Looking at the three who end up involved in this, I think it makes a lot of sense. Of the entire team, Rachel, Tobias and Marco have a pretty solid history of making big, often ruthless decisions. Let it not be forgotten that Tobias and Ax were the ones to ultimately decide the fate of an entire alien species back in Megamorphs #2.

Peace, Love, and Animals: One of the more notable moments for Cassie came with the discussion about morphing humans. She immediately resists the idea, but Jake is able to convince her that it has to be done (though, notably, she doesn’t do it herself). She also says that Jake is the only one she would trust to know if the time has come where this type of moral compromise is truly necessary.

The Comic Relief: As I said, it makes sense that Marco, Tobias, and Rachel end up being the three to ultimately decide to go with Ax’s plan. It’s also great seeing just how quickly Marco figures out what is going on. Ax even notes that he had prepped for Marco to ask where Jake was, but even with that prep, Marco jumps immediately to the correct conclusion about Ax’s use of the plane as well. It’s interesting to see Marco accuse Ax of potentially doing this for Andalite glory. Being in Ax’s head, especially in this book, we’ve seen the transformation he’s underwent with regards to the naivety he used to have about his own people. We see how much he values Earth and sees the Animorphs as his family. But from an outsider’s perspective, especially someone as naturally cynical and suspicious as Marco, it’s interesting to note that a motivation like this could still be assigned to him. But Ax’s direct reasoning, that WWIII can not be allowed to happen, is exactly the sort of Point A to Point B line of thinking that would resonate with someone like Marco.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a whole lot as far as body horror goes in this one, other than your usual morph descriptions. I will say that it’s interesting to see just how “all-in” they went on the morphing humans thing once they decided that was the way to go. Ax ends up acquiring something like three human morphs over this entire book, and he’s the one of them that even has a human morph already that couldn’t be traced (though, of course, the fact that he’s a kid would stand out). And then Tobias and Rachel each morph people. Rachel’s makes sense, but I’m not sure that Tobias really had to. It almost seems a bit too easy, morally speaking. Like once they got the go-ahead, any moral qualms were immediately out of the window, making it seem like the only one who truly cared about this particular issue was Cassie herself. The others just start morphing people willy-nilly.
Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot in this one, unsurprisingly given it’s an Ax book. Marco notes at one point, after riling Rachel up, that he doesn’t know how Tobias does it. And, of course, we see Cassie’s trust in Jake’s judgement when he gets her to agree to them using human morphs.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Whelp, it has happened: Visser Three has become Visser One. And we get the introduction of yet another Visser, Visser Two. For the most part, he’s played for pretty comical effect. I mean, the title of this topic area pretty much fits him perfectly. He immediately reveals the Yeerks’ entire plan under very little pressure. And he randomly starts saluting and genuflecting throughout his various speeches about the coming glory. For all of this, he’s also set up as a pretty unmovable foe as far as being threatened into giving up any real advantages. Unlike Visser Three who values his own life above anything, it’s made pretty clear that Visser Two would die before giving up the submarine, which ultimately forces Ax’s hand at the end to take things to a much more extreme level.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There are a handful of pretty sad scenes in the last third of the book when we see the poor human sailors fighting against the Hork Bajir. Ax’s own encounter with the dying captain, and his last words essentially trying to apologize for everything, was pretty heart breaking. But there’s also another scene where at one point a sailor solutes gorilla!Marco, having noted that the Earth animals seem to be on their side. And later in the battle, Ax spots Marco kneeling over the body of this same soldier. Scenes like these also prompt Ax further into action, as well as the others, who all see how badly this individual battle is being lost and are, for the first time, losing fellow human fighters alongside them.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: A lot of people see them morph in this book. Like…a lot. Pretty much immediately it seems they all throw caution to the wind and start morphing/demoprhing in front of pretty much anyone. I don’t get this! For one, it’s pretty well established that they don’t know who is Controlled and who is not. And for two, it’s also pretty well assumed that almost everyone will be eventually Controlled once the Yeerks show up and start laying the smack down. So all of those people who saw kids morphing…not only is now really obvious that its humans morphing, but after the close call with Marco in the last book, it’d be really easy to figure out the exact identity of these kids. Obviously, the whole secrecy thing is going to go out the window pretty quickly now, but the Animorphs themselves have no reason to assume this, so their lack of caution is pretty strange.

The other really strange thing is the idea that somehow preventing the Yeerk-staffed sub from launching an counter attack will do much to stop a domino fall that’s already been started. I mean, it would already be communicated back to who knows how many bases that the Chinese attacked this ship. So…isn’t the mission already successful for the Yeerks? Theoretically, the US on its own would launch a counter attack, no need for a Yeerks-only sub at all!

Favorite Quote:

This line from Jake to Cassie when they are discussing the morality of morphing humans is a pretty good summation of the general thought-process/experience of every one of the Animorphs that we witness playing out in each of their books in the entire series:

“But…doesn’t it always come down to each one of us, all alone, asking ourselves: Am I right in doing whatever it takes for the greater good? And, do I trust myself enough to know I won’t become evil in the process? It always comes down to something that personal.”

There are so many good lines from Ax as he reflects on his choices at the end of the book, but he concludes with this simple, but sad, realization.

I would accept the consequences of my actions. I would accept full responsibility. I was the alien.

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 16

I’m going to give this one to the Animorphs, since preventing WWIII is a pretty big win (regardless of whether or not it’s believable that they actually accomplished this.)

Rating: This was a really good book. It reads a lot differently than other Ax books, which, at this point in the series, is pretty great to see. We see how fully he’s come to embrace his role as belonging to both species and how that effects the way he thinks and interacts with each.

The story does drag a bit in the middle when it feels like they just spend a lot of time running around a huge ship with no real idea of what to do. But then it concludes with a massive battle on the ship, with humans teaming up with the Animorphs for the first time really. And then the excellent, huge moral dilemma that Ax finds himself in at the end of the book.

I didn’t remember that this one ended without really resolving how Ax’s return to the group plays out. I’m not sure I like the cliff-hanger like ending here, though. I get that there’s potentially a lot that would need to be gone through with that reunion, but it also feels wrong to not get that scene from Ax’s perspective in particular, after spending so much time in his head for the rest of it. Oh well, still a great book!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Ellimist Chronicles”

363351Animorphs #45.5: “The Ellimist Chronicles”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: He is called the Ellimist. A being with the ability to alter space and time. A being with a power that will never be fully understood. He is the reason Elfangor came to Earth. He is the reason the Earth now has a fighting chance. And though his actions never seem quite right or wrong, you can be certain they are never, ever what anyone expects.

This is the beginning and the middle of the story. A story that needs to be told in order to understand what might happen to the future. The future of the Animorphs. The future of humanity. The future of Earth.

He is called the Ellimist. And this is his story…

Narrator: Toomin/Ellimist

Plot: I only read this one once as a kid, and now I remember why…

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That prologue! That epilogue! Just..nooooo!

There will be spoilers for the end of the series in this one for sure! You have been warned.

Bam. An Animorph will die. Just right there, in your face in the first few sentences of this book. I can’t remember my reaction as a kid, but it had to have been terrible. Especially since at that point the books were still being released so I didn’t know how many were left, whether it would happen in the last book itself or the very next one or when at all! Now, having a firm grasp on the few precious books we have left with dear Rachel, it’s not much better. And I had completely forgotten that these small bookend scenes were even part of this story, so that was sure a joy to discover when I picked this one up!

The story starts out in the nebulous unknown with a recently killed, unnamed Animorph questioning the Ellimist about the meaning of it all. Not having a succinct answer, the Ellimist lays out his story.

Long ago, he was born a member of the Ket race, an advanced alien life form that lived on crystal formations that the winged Ket kept in the air through shared lift duting. A young Toomin has lead a happy life of community and, importantly, gaming, where he goes by the gamer tag “Ellimist.” He and his friends regularly participate in a complicated game called “Alien Civilizations” which has complicated scenarios in which players try to control the outcome of alien races throughout time. In the midst of all of this, the Ket are preparing to launch their first Z-space ship to explore the greater galaxy. Toomin is lucky enough to be sponsored and drafted as non-essential crew for this ship.

In the months leading up to its launch, Toomin and his friends (he’s especially pleased to hang around more with the attractive female Aguella) visit another crystal colony where he meets another gamer named Menno. Menno describes how their crystal has recently adapted a democratic system of governance, doing away with the traditional form of following the leadership of an older member of the Ket. His mentality of chasing change crosses over to his approach to gamesmanship. Toomin is both fascinated and distrubed by Menno’s attitude.

As Toomin continues to learn about the ship and his impending trip into space, he and Aquella (also drafted to the crew) are brought into the secret that the Ket race had recently discovered a new species and part of their mission will be to reach out this new race. A few days before the launch, however, a mysterious ship shows. With brutal efficiency, it uses a host of weapons to take out Toomin’s home crystal, killing thousands. Toomin and about one hundred others happen to be on the ship at the time and so escape immediate death. Using a crystal shard, Toomin is able to take out the small alien ship, but as the Ket ship makes its final escape, they trap the now disabled alien ship in their force field. Out in Z-space, Toomin and the others discover that the alien is a member of the race that they had been planning to visit. They know they must head back to their planet to see if they can find any other survivors.

But when they get back, all they find are empty skies. They do manage to find one crystal however: Menno’s crystal that is using cloud cover to run away from the chasing alien ships that are leisurely hunting it. Toomin and the others land and meet up with Menno and the leadership of this crystal. They discover that Menno and the others, so proud of their embrace of change, sent out videos of themselves playing games in “Alien Civilization.” But the real disaster is they sent no explanation for what is being shown in the videos, leaving it to look like the Ket are a race of beings that simply play with the fates of others species for the fun of it. Menno and a few others make it onto the ship before the other aliens blow up that crystal as well.

Over the next 60 some years, Toomin and his crew scour the galaxy for a new home world. Menno, who Toomin makes his second in command to appease the Ket from the other crystal, pushes for them to accept their reality and adapt their own biology to become a land-based species. Toomin, Aguella (the two have now bonded into a pair but are waiting to have children until they can find a home), and the others resist this idea, insisting that they are beings of the air. As they continue their search, they discover a blue moon. Toomin heads up a crew of a handful of Ket who pilot a smaller ship into the ocean that makes up much of the moon. Once there, the ship is quickly destroyed.

Toomin “awakes” to find that he is the only member of his crew that is still alive (Menno and the original ship tried to save them after seeing the exploratory ship being attacked). He has been assimilated, essentially, into the living being that essentially makes up the entire moon and calls itself Father. Using plant-like tentacles, Father attaches himself to the bodies of all the beings trapped on his planet, using their knowledge to build himself up. Over the course of a century, Father insists that Toomin play games with him as a form of entertainment. Toomin continuously loses (something that he was also famous for doing back on his home world when he tried to play there, often focusing on trying to find the most moral route through scenarios). But at one point, Father introduces a new game that involves something called music. This new art form opens Toomin’s mind in a completely new way and he begins to win. As he wins more and more, Father retreats in a huff. While he’s away, Toomin reaches out and begins “downloading” the essences of all the trapped,dead beings around him, including his former Ket crew. When Father finally notices, Toomin has grown strong enough to over throw him and he does so, finally killing his captor.

With all the knowledge and power that Father had now in his control, Toomin “downloads” everything into his own mind and builds himself an advanced ship that incorporates his physical Ket body into it as well as creates a massive “brain” of sorts for his greater being to reside. He destroys the dying moon that was Father and takes off into the world. He wanders for a long time before finding his calling as an all-mighty do-gooder, interceding in the affairs of various civilizations throughout the universe to establish peace and order. After centuries of doing this, he returns to the site of his first “intercession” where he prevented two warring planets from continuing their conflict. He discovers that the change he caused to stop the war inspired one side to discover a new method of warfare that allowed them to completely destroy the species on the other planet. And then, without that conflict driving them, the winning species slipped backwards in technological advancement and is living a primitive life. As the Ellimist watches on in dismay, another all powerful being arrives who calls himself Crayak.

Crayak says he has been searching for this inter-galactic do-gooder and is pleased to finally meet the Ellimist. Crayak shares that he has an opposing goal: where the Ellimist wants to bring order and prosperity, Crayak simply wants to exterminate. And so begins another game, with Crayak racing ahead creating manipulative and cruel “games” with the lives of entire species and forcing the Ellimist to always play what turns out to be a losing hand. Slowly, Crayak begins winning and more and more life begins to disappear from the universe. Eventually, the Ellimist despairs and races away to a far corner of the universe.

There he discovers a primitive race of grass-eaters and he creates a body for himself and goes down to live among them. He calls these aliens Andalites and throws himself into his new life there. He marries a female Andalite and has a child, but is devastated when that child dies from a disease that he knows he could have prevented (though he has learned caution about how far he can/should intercede with the lives of species.) He is shocked when his wife comes to him later saying she wants to have another child. Over time, they have 5 children, two of whom live. It is through his wife’s vision of hope that he finally discovers a way to beat Crayak: where Crayak destroys, the Ellimist will create. Some may die, but others will live. He leaves the Andalites and goes about doing this, spreading life amount the stars. One of his favorite creations is a species called the Pemalites who he sets out to spread life as well.

Eventually, Crayak catches up to him, but by this point the Ellimist is even more powerful. As centuries go by, the Ellimist begins to win their battle of extinction and creation, with more of his lifeforms thriving than Crayak can exterminate. On this high of success, the Ellimist finally confronts Crayak himself. The two engage in a massive battle that takes place across the entire universe, crushing planets and civilizations in their wake. The Ellimist slowly gains on Crayak until, in a bout of over-confidence, he is lead into a trap and is sucked into a black hole. There, somehow, while his entire “body” is destroyed, the vast being that is now the Ellimist survives, even managing to gain control of new abilities like managing time itself. He continues his work against Crayak subtly but is eventually discovered. Now past the point of being able to be physically destroyed by each other, Crayak and the Ellimist strike a deal for one last game with a final winner and loser. It will be the last game and it will need to have rules. And so it has been playing out for millennia.

Back with the dying Animorph, the Ellimist ends his story. The Animorph knows that they cannot ask whether they will ultimately win or lose and the Ellimist agrees that even he does not know that. But the Animorph has one last question: did they matter. And the Ellimist says yes, yes they did.

Ellimist/Toomin: Oof, as per the usual for our “chronicles” characters, Toomin leads a rough life. He essentially has a few happy years as a child and then is thrown into a millennia of existential horror. From the loss of his entire home world, to a few short years (relatively speaking) of aimlessly wandering the galaxy looking for a new home, to witnessing the ultimate destruction of the sole survivors of his race, to being trapped in some mind game scenario surrounded by his dead friends for centuries, to getting caught up in another horror scenario with some random force of evil that tracks him down, to ultimately getting sucked into a black hole during his one brief moment of almost-triumph, to finally, another game that he’s been stuck playing for who knows how long. I mean, what part of any of that sounds like a good time?

In this light, we see how important it must have been for him to have that brief life span as an Andalite where he married and had kids. And even that was tragic, with the loss of his kids, while knowing that he could have saved them!

Of course, the running theme of the book is around his being a brilliant loser, so we have to see him do a lot of just that. And the story does do a good job of highlighting the importance of those few relationships he had to building up his identity and giving him enough strength to persist in what can often feel like foolish optimism in the face of impossible odds. It’s also interesting see all of this “losses” in the light that, from our perspective, we’ve only seen the Ellimist come out ahead, winning all of the smaller skirmishes that he’s been involved in with the Animorphs.

Poor, doomed Animorph: In the prologue, there’s really no clues as to who this Animorph could be. I’d say be the way he/she is written to speak, we can pretty easily write off Ax and Cassie, but other than that, the remaining four would all work. But then once you get to the epilogue, it gets narrowed down quite a bit. The Ellimist refers to the fact that this Animorph wasn’t one of the one he’s selected, but a lucky addition. From what we know from the fourth Megamorphs book, that leaves us with either Rachel or Jake. And, I guess, you could probably make a reasonable guess that Jake wouldn’t be the one to be killed off since that would essentially end the series in a lot of ways. So, without being told as much, by the end of the book, I think it would be fairly reasonable to be confident that Rachel is the going to be the one to go. And, obviously, we know that’s the case. I don’t remember making this connection as a kid, but I think I was so busy being in denial about the whole thing that I didn’t spend much time really thinking about it and putting the pieces together.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There are quite a few bad body horror moments in this book, really. But the worst has to be Father and the way that he is essentially a living graveyard, with his tentacles twisting in and out of the millions of dead beings trapped on his surface. Toomin’s brief looks into reality (when he’s not pulled in the gaming mind zone with Father) are pretty stark. He’s surrounded by his dead friends, some of whom are torn up by their deaths, and he can see the tentacles going through his own original body as well. Pulling himself out of all this when he finally escapes is pretty gross, too.

Couples Watch!: We see Toomin/Ellimist form two major relation
If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Crayak is obviously the primary villain in this book, but in some ways I feel like we almost got more from Father than from him. At least with Father, by the end, we understood what he was: essentially a moon-sized sponge the built itself off everything that was caught in it. His motivations were also clear. Crayak…is just kind of evil for evil’s sake? And the main problem in creating an entire book that gives a backstory to an all-powerful, godlike character is that it raises a lot of questions about how another can also exist. There were millions upon millions upon millions of odds that had to play out just right to end up with the Ellimist gaining the abilities he had by the end. It’s hard to imagine a similar order of events playing out for the creation of Crayak. And, if so, I’m just as curious about those as I was am about the Ellimist, if not more so. Not only how did he become as powerful as he was, but why does he have the destructive goals that he does? It all just raises more questions than it answers, ultimately, and Crayak really exemplifies the worst part of this.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Like I said, the “chronicles” characters always have a tragic story it seems, and the same goes for this. I mean, it’s pretty hard to choose a crying moment when you have genocide and then the loss of not one but two spouses. I think though that the saddest part has to go to the loss of his first Andalite child. Not only is the loss of a child horribly tragic, but you have to add that on to the fact that the Ellimist knows that he could have easily prevented the disease that killed his child. And he’s having to choose not to do this. And, of course, this tragedy leads to his greatest realization about how to beat Crayak, by putting his weight behind creation in the face of destruction.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, the worst plan has to be Menno’s. I have to think that Applegate pulled inspiration from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” with the whole misunderstanding of aggression between alien species and how that leads to a war.

We had lost our world because the Capasins thought we were aggressors when we were not.

But man, isn’t it fairly obvious that blasting out videos of your species essentially playing god with entire civilizations and worlds without any explanation that it’s just a game is just a terrible idea?? And it’s definitely interesting that more aliens than just the ones that conquered the Kets must have seen these videos, because this is the exact perception that Ax has about the “Ellimists” as a species when they first encounter the Ellimist: that they’re all-powerful gods that play with other species just for the fun of it.

Favorite Quote:

This quote highlights both the arrogance at the heart of what gets the Ellimist in trouble at various points throughout the story, but still, even at the end, the driving force that moves him as he plays out his “game” with Crayak.

Boldness allied with restraint and a minimalist aesthetic, all in the service of moral certainties: that peace was better than war, that freedom was better than slavery, that knowledge was better than ignorance. Oh, yes, the galaxy would be a wonderful place under my guidance.

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 15

No change!

Rating: I really liked re-reading this book. Mostly because it read so differently this time around as it did as a kid. When I read it the first time, I was pretty not into it to be honest. So much so, that I was actually dreading reading it this go around, as all I could remember was being extremely bored. And really, I can see why I didn’t love it as a kid. This is the most “hard sci-fi” book in the entire series. Not only do we have a ton of alien species thrown at us, with very little explanation for them all, but there are a lot of “high concept” theories being tossed around throughout the story. It’s less one of action and what happens, and more the slow moral development of this godlike character’s approach to creation, destruction, and balance. Expand this book out a bit more, and it would fit in perfectly in the adult science fiction section at the bookstore. But as a kid, there was not enough from our main characters and much of the greater questions and theories either went over my head or were simply not interesting to me at that point.

I do still question whether it really adds something to the Animorphs series as a whole. Like I said, it’s only a few steps away from being a good stand-alone science fiction novel on its own. But as part of this series? I’m not convinced. In many ways, I think it introduces more questions than it answers and there’s almost too much “neatness” in the way that other aspects of the series are all tied together with the Ellimist’s journey (his creation of the Pemalites, his time as an Andalite, etc.). Bitter moment: the fact that this book exists makes me even more angry about the introduction of “the One” in the final book and the weirdness of whatever other godlike creature was at work in Jake’s book a few books back during his period spent in an alternate universe where the Yeerks had won. If you’re going to have a bunch of unexplained god-like creatures, don’t bother explaining any of them. Because all this did was highlight how very much the odds are against any being like this existing, given all of the things that had to play out just so for the Ellimist to end up how he does. And now we have not only the Ellimist, but Crayak (unexplained), the One (unexplained), and the nameless one from Jake’s book that has been noted by the authors to not be the One either (also unexplained). It’s just too much, and while I still would never love that number of god-like characters in a series like this, it would be easier to swallow if we were just given them all on equal footing. The explanation of the Ellimist just highlights the problems with the others.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #45: “The Revelation”

343179Animorphs #45: “The Revelation”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Things were already really weird. Fighting aliens. Battling to save Earth. And still trying to be normal. Marco, the other Animorphs, and Ax are almost used to it. Almost. But things are changing. The Yeerk invastion of Earth started out passively. Secretly. But now, everything seems to be stepped up. Even Marco’s father is talking about some top secret project at his job. Something about developing Zero-space…

Marco doesn’t even know whether his father is a Controller. But he does know he’s not going to let the Yeerks win this one. They’ve already got his mother. And Marco will do anything it takes to save his father. Anything…

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I had honestly forgotten that this was one of the first big game changer books in the end game line up of this series. For one, I think the previous Cassie book being so incredibly not relevant to the overarching plot serves as a pretty big distraction. You read that one and are left feeling like “yep, here we are, still in the middle of filler land!” Then you pick up this one and…

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It’s just an average evening at home for Marco: making frozen pizza for the family, accepting Nora as part of said family, avoiding any and all views of displays of affection between Nora and his father. Then his father starts up on the dinner conversation and low and behold, his company is just a few short steps away from creating a zero space communicator. Marco recognizes this for the potential disaster it is. He immediately calls Jake and the group meets up at Cassie’s barn.

At the barn, Marco says that he tested his father and doesn’t believe him to be a Controller yet, but that they’ll need to keep him under surveillance. The group agrees, and Jake sends Tobias and Ax out on first watch: it is clear that Jake thinks Marco is too invested. Back home, in the middle of the night, Marco wakes up to a phone call. He picks it up and overhears a man from his Dad’s work saying that a co-worker’s wife has died and that he should come in for some support. Marco is quick to realize that this is a ploy, calls Rachel for back-up, and sets off after his father.

He barely makes it in time, seeing through a window that his father is bound and held by two Hork Bajir who are preparing to dunk him into a mini Yeerk pool. Without thinking, Marco barges in to save his father. Rachel shows up as back up and they make their escape. Rachel retreats to tell the others what has happened and gorilla!Marco and his father speed away in a car. After they get a ways away, Marco’s dad begins questioning everything and Marco reveals who he is and what he can do with morphing. They stop at a run-down diner and Marco tells him everything.

He allows his dad to call home, but when his dad almost reveals to Nora where they are, Marco disconnects the call, angry that his father clearly hasn’t listened to anything he said. Marco does a quick breeze through of his morphs to finally convince his dad that what he’s said is true. He also reveals that his mom is alive and is Visser One. Marco’s dad struggles not only to accept that his son is now giving him orders (like the fact that Marco has decided to stow him away with the Chee for now) and with the fact that his first wife is alive, but he also loves Nora.

Marco takes him to the King’s house where his Dad gets even more of an eye-opener on just how weird Marco’s world is. But he’s also distracted by the amazing technology on display. Erek and the other Chee go out in disguise as Marco and his dad, knowing that if they both are seen as missing that Marco will be under suspicion and through him, all of his friends. Marco takes off back to the barn to meet up with the rest of the Animorphs.

Once there, it is clear that none of them technically approve of what he’s done, but they also know that they wouldn’t have done anything differently had they been in that position. They also realize that the fact that Marco’s dad knows how to build a zero space communicator is a huge win. Marco and Ax return to the Chee and recruit Marco’s dad into helping Ax build it.

The next day, cockroach!Marco watches himself die. Erek and Mr. King, posing as Marco and his dad, are “killed” by a force of Yeerks who storm Marco’s home. Nora, now clearly infested, stands outside and watches. Once it is done, Marco realizes that life as he knew it is over, not stopping to even take anything from his room.

Back with the Chee, Ax and Marco’s dad have made progress on the communicator, enough to have discovered that Visser One has been convicted of treason and is being held in the Yeerk Pool for execution by starvation. Visser Three will be promoted to Visser One and his plans for all out destruction are imminent. They decide to rescue Marco’s mom and eventually set up his mother and father for life in the free Hork Bajir valley.

To get into the Yeerk Pool, the Animorphs need to steal a Bug fighter. The security has been upped once again and no living thing can make it through the entrance tunnel, but the shields of a Bug fighter will do the trick. They lure a ship into the forest claiming to be a forest service worker who “captured a strange, bladed monster” and quickly take over the ship. But the ship is a new version and one that Ax has trouble handling. Luckily, there is an auto pilot system installed that can take over if the pilot seems “erratic.” After a bumpy ride, the team, now all in Hork Bajir morphs, find themselves in the Yeerk Pool entrance tunnel that is accessed through a holographic sunken ship under the ocean.

They make their way to the Yeerk Pool only to discover that Visser One has been tied to a pier in the middle of the pool and is clearly at the last stages of her starvation. They head back to the ship, thinking to use it to grab Visser One. On the way, things go sideways and they are discovered. They rush back to the ship and end up having to blast their way back into the Yeerk Pool. Marco and Rachel jump out to grab Visser One, but the others are forced to retreat in the ship, leaving them exposed.

An elite force of Hork Bajir show up who are clearly more skilled at fighting. They manage to grab Eva and make their way back to the edge of the pool. Rachel is badly injured in the fight and Visser One makes a break for it, escaping out of Eva’s ear. Marco is left trying to save his mother (who is violently struggling to kill Visser One before she makes it to the pool) and helping Rachel. Eva manages to nab Visser One and with the help of Marco, they kill her. Visser Three shows up and morphs a huge, fanged winged alien that comes after them. But the other Animorphs in the Bug fighter are able to badly injure him and rescue Marco, Cassie, and Eva. However, the ship is shot and lands in the pool.

With Eva’s extra knowledge of how the ship operates, they manage to overhear the engine corp enough to get the ship up again, boiling a large portion of the Yeerk pool in the process. They finally manage to escape.

Marco sets up his mother and father at the free Hork Bajir colony. They have a happy reunion though later Marco’s father approaches him about Nora’s fate. Marco plants the suspicion that Nora was always a Controller and had been put in his path to monitor his work. Marco himself sets up camp living with the Chee at the Kings’ household, making trips to the Hork Bajir colony every once in a while.

Later, on the beach, the team finally use the zero space communicator they made to contact the Andalites. Jake is the one to speak and when asked who is on the other line, he says “This is Earth.”

The Comic Relief: This is a huge book for Marco. Everything kind of comes to a head all at once and he ends up being the first one of the group to have his cover blown. The speed at which it all falls apart is also a great example of how precariously balanced their charade has been this entire time. One little event and BAM! Marco’s entire life is up-ended and he has to fake his own death, and his father’s, and let his step mom get infested.

Obviously Marco struggles a lot with the action at the heart of the story. But on the emotional side of things, he is most struck by the realization that his dad truly loves Nora and what that means for his father to go through all of this. It’s a hard hit for Marco who, up to this point, it seems, always believed that while his dad cared for Nora, what he felt for her wasn’t the same as what he felt for Marco’s mother. To realize that one can feel that kind of love more than once and that a parent has moved on to another, it’s a hard hit for Marco.

He also questions whether he could have done more to save her and whether his own shock at his father’s feelings at all impacted his decision to not try to get back to their house to rescue her.

In the end, when he finally has his family reunited at the free Hork Bajir valley, we see that this joy, what he always wished for, has been tinged by the realities of adulthood, time, and what love looks like. His father is happy to be with his mother, but he’s also going to grieve Nora.

Our Fearless Leader: Early in the book, Marco notes that Jake is a fair leader when he asks for Marco’s input on the situation with his father. But at the same time, he catches himself wishing that Jake would just make the call, taking the weight of the decision off of Marco. It’s a nice moment to highlight how much the team members depend on Jake to shoulder this weight. Throughout the rest of the book, Jake pretty effectively highlights his hard-won ability to calmly and effectively roll with all of the punches that are thrown at them.

He’s also the one at the end to speak via the zero space communicator. He initially waves towards Ax to do it, but Ax rightly recognizes that Jake needs to be seen as the leader from the very beginning, so Jake ends up with the great closing line.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel ends up teaming up with Marco several times in this book. She’s the one he calls when he sees his dad taking off in the middle of the night, and she’s also the one to end up on the pier with him at the end. Some of it is necessity (she’s the one available by phone and the one with the power morph at the pool), but at this point it’s also clearly more than coincidence that these two work well together.

We also get a great moment from her that highlights that she’s more than just the tank of the team. When they’re in the barn discussing how useful (or not) the zero space communicator would be (especially considering how often the Andalites have ignored the plight of Earth in the past, so who’s to say contacting them again is even worth it), she’s the one to draw their attention to its abilities to spy on Yeerk communications. Marco is frustrated that he didn’t see this himself. And as a reader, it is surprising, as this is exactly the kind of thing that we expect to see from his character. But it’s a nice reminder that Rachel has brains, too, and Marco isn’t the only one who can evaluate situations effectively.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. But he does contribute when it comes to Eva/Visser One’s experience with torture. The others all say that she will gain nothing from revealing their secrets, but Tobias is quick to correct them that, when under extreme suffering, one will do almost anything if they think there’s a chance to stop the pain. Another lovely reminder of poor Tobias’s sucky life. This is what he gets to be now: the guy with all the insights into torture experiences!

Peace, Love, and Animals: There are few quick moments from Cassie that are all kind of neat for her character. In the beginning, Marco notices Jake shooting a quick glance to Cassie before assigning Ax and Tobias to watch Marco’s dad. Marco realizes that in that quick look, Cassie was able to convey to Jake that she thought Marco was too close to it and shouldn’t be trusted to guard his own father.

Later, she’s also the one to quickly speak up for saving Marco’s mom. She knows that after everything the team went through for his dad, that Marco can’t ask them to take on a suicide mission back into the pool for his mom. So she does it for him, coming up with a good excuse for why it’s necessary. Marco is incredibly thankful for this.

And then, towards the end, when they end up boiling the Yeerk pool, we see her turn away from the window and the destruction, another reminder that, of them all, she struggles the most with moments like this where the destruction doesn’t come from battles, but from other choices.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some definite struggles coming to grips with the fact that humanity might have figured out zero space, and way faster than the Andalites did, relatively speaking to their own technological time lines. He also proves himself capable of giving Marco a run for his money on the bad driving front. Though, to be fair, the Bug fighter seems pretty advanced and Marco should have at least gone through driver’s ed at this point…It did lead to some fairly comical lines from Ax though:

<You should always wear the safety restraints,> Ax scolded, struggling futilely to get four humans and an angry bird off him.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco definitely knew the right morph to effectively traumatize his father quickly: always, always go ant, if your goal is utter horror. Marco’s poor father, to see that, then followed by the bird, and then have your son threaten lobster morph on you…yikes. But, I have to say, of all the ridiculous cover morphs we’ve seen, it’s pretty dumb that the one that ended up using the ant morph was from the book where this morph literally gets about two sentences. Marco doesn’t even make it fully ant! It’s pretty silly.

Couples Watch!: Man, you really have to feel for Marco’s dad in this one. His wife who died years ago, who he mourned, is now back in his life. His new wife, who he legitimately loved, is now essentially dead in her own way. What’s more, his son has now planted the idea that the woman he loved may have never even been real in the first place. I don’t think relationship drama gets worse than this.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only makes a brief appearance with yet another of his super sweet alien morphs that lasts a hot second before immediately getting taken down by the Animorphs. You’d think he’d at least learn to stop per-emptively bragging about his morphs’ badass abilities every time he tries out a new one, given his past failure rate. More importantly, the fact that Visser Three will now be Visser One is the crucial news of this story. After “Visser,” the Animorphs have a much clearer idea of what Visser Three’s vision of the Earth invasion looks like, and it’s a lot less of the subtlety and a lot more of this:

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Towards the very end of the book, Marco makes the decision to plant the idea that Nora was maybe always a Controller and had been put in his dad’s life to spy on his work. It’s a really dark moment, more so for the fact that’s it’s not clear whether this was the right or wrong call, to either Marco or the reader. Marco’s thought is that this idea will give his dad a sense of peace, that he didn’t simply abandon his wife to a life of infestation or that he cheated in some way on Eva, since Nora was a spy all along. But…is that really a comfort? His feelings for Nora were real, and with this idea, he’s now left with the thought that their whole relationship was a sham. And Eva is going to tell him, too, about the fact that that one “blissful year” that he remembers with her before she died, yeah, she was Controlled then too. So now poor Marco’s dad has two wives, both of whom were creating sham relationships with him for some portion of their time together. I kind of think this lie is just easier for Marco than for his dad. It’s a rough little moment, but I can’t also say he was completely wrong to have thought it might help.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: As you’ll see with my scorecard below, given the Animorphs’ past experiences with the Andalites, being able to contact them doesn’t seem like that great of a thing. They’ve been routinely dismissed by the Andaites and have heard through enough grapevines for it to be pretty believable that the Andalite fleet isn’t anywhere nearby and doesn’t even think of Earth as a priority. So, it’s not that it’s a bad plan to contact them, but all of the past stuff does kind of undercut what could have been a really cool moment at the end of the book.

Favorite Quote: There’s a great moment between Marco and his dad right after Marco has told him the truth, where it really gets hit home how swapped their roles now are:

“Dad, of course you’re my father,” I said, fighting an onslaught of emotion. And it would be so nice to have someone make decisions for me again, I added silently. “I love you. I respect you. But I’ve been fighting this war for a long time. I’ve been on more missions, in more fights, and seen more terrible things than you can imagine. This is my fight. My war. Me and my friends, we know what’s going on. You don’t.”

And with that, the son will now be the one making the decisions and fighting the battles. What’s always been is now just in the open. And for a more humorous addition to Marco’s dad’s life lessons:

“Dad, just a suggestion, but when you’re dealing with the Animorphs, never say it can’t get any weirder. It always does.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 15

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks. Not only was this the first time they successfully flushed out one of our main characters into having to fake his own death and go into hiding, but Visser Three somehow at last maneuvered Visser One into death penalty for treason and is about to get a big promotion and his all-out invasion protocol approved. The Animorphs do make contact with the Andalites in the end, but they’ve manged that before to rather disappointing results. So at this point, the Yeerks are making much more progress towards their own agenda while the Animorphs are forced to go into partial hiding and react.

Rating: This book is excellent. It’s truly the beginning of the end and it kind of just hits you out of nowhere. Like I said earlier, the fact that Cassie’s previous book was such a nothing story, really works in the series’ favor at this point, since you never see any of this coming. And then, I imagine for first time readers, as the story is going along, you just kind of keep waiting for the magical reset button that we’ve seen so often in the past to come into play and put everything back in place by the end. There have been some pretty crazy plots and ploys used to do this in the past, so it’s hard to believe as the story keeps going and going that yes, this is really going to end in a completely different place than any of the other books: Marco is in hiding, his dad knows about them, his mother has been saved, Visser Three is going to become Visser One, and the Animorphs reach out to the Andalites. It’s a lot to take in! But it definitely serves as a much-needed jump start to a series that was starting to feel like it was floundering for the last…many books now.

I also can’t leave this without noting the fact that they make a reference to “Independence Day” early in the book and then proceed to essentially rip off the entire third act of that movie with the Bug fighter/auto pilot charade. There’s even a line in this portion that is the Animorphs commenting on just how big the invasion force looks, exactly like Jeff Goldblum’s line about the aliens in that movie. I love that movie and I love these books, so I’m not mad about it. If only Jake’s epic last line had been more of a speech. You know the kind. Made to rousing music? In the misty night? Via a megaphone?

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Serena’s Review: “Markswoman”

35008759Book: “Markswoman” by Rati Mehrotra

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, January 2018

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

Book Description: Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

Review: As I was scrolling through upcoming releases, I happened upon a book that seemed intriguing. Once I looked into it a bit further, I realized that it was in fact a sequel to this book that came out last year and somehow missed my radar. Mission in hand, I set off to the library and was able to snag an aubiobook version of the story. I knew from a few other book reviewers I follow that this was a fairly popular title last year, so I had high hopes. Sadly, the hype machine let me down once again.

Ever since tragedy struck her village and family when she was young, Kyra has been raised by an order of all-female assassins, training to become a Markswoman herself. In this land, Markswomen (and the one order of men to also take on this calling, though there is much controversy over the legitimacy of their claim) are the sole arbitrators of justice, doling out death sentences when crimes have been committed. To do this, they use specially crafted blades that they have bonded with and hold unique powers. But soon after Kyra gains her role as  Markswoman, things go wrong in her order and she finds herself alone in the world and on the run from her own kind. She meets up with a young man from the male version of the assassin order, and together they must face the growing strife overtaking the land.

There is a lot to like about this story, and I can understand why it was popular for so many readers. Most notably, the world-building is incredibly unique. The story appears to be set in some version of India and there are various references to gods that come from the Hindu religion, most notably, Kali, the Markswoman’s patron goddess of death. But on top of this fantasy version of the region, we’re also quickly given hints to an even greater past. There are references to ancient beings who once walked the earth but retreated to the skies long ago. However, they left a series of doorways that operate using some type of technology that is not understood and that can quickly transport an individual from one place to another. This science fiction element was completely unexpected and probably one of the most intriguing aspects of the entire series. I was much more interested in the history of this world and this technology than in Kyra’s story itself, which, of course, is ultimately one of my problems with the book.

Frankly, I didn’t much care for Kyra or Rustan, each coming with their own unique frustrations. We’ll start with Kyra. We meet her during her first assignment that marks her as a fully-fledged Markswoman. She immediately hits with the expected hesitation and moral questioning I’ve now come to (sadly) expect from many assassin stories. Once back at the Order, she continues to flounder in her role, being easily provoked by another girl who is still at an apprentice level to the point where Kyra walks right up to a line of behavior that would see her immediately expelled. Lastly, in a discussion with her mentor, she seems to still be confused by her own order’s purpose, wishing to use her newly-gained role to go on a revenge quest against the people who attacked her family all those years ago. All together, only a few chapters in, we’ve seen literally ZERO evidence that Kyra has the maturity, responsibility, or thoughtfulness to have earned her this promotion. She doesn’t seem to have engaged at all with the greater meaning and purpose behind her own order; she questions authority at every opportunity; she is easily pushed into poor decision making by peers who are now her lessers; she’s not even particularly skilled in any of her lessons. I came away from these chapters with literally no idea what had made Kyra special enough to have been granted an early promotion other than, of course, the necessity of it for plot purposes, the WORST kind of story structure. I found it incredibly frustrating and it ultimately irreparably damaged the character in my mind early in the book. Even when the action picks up to the point that some of these flaws fade into the background, the damage was done.

Rustan, too, has similar character issues. He’s given fewer chapters than Kyra from the get-go, leaving the character with an uphill battle. And, again, we see another assassin who is really pretty terrible at being an assassin. He ultimately spends much of the first half of the book fretting over events in a way that was both repetitive and useless. Not to mention, again, at odds with the basic concepts of any assassin order that one could imagine.

Then the two get together and the inevitable romance begins. Here, too, the book flounders and this element of the story falls into many tropes and pitfalls. We’re never given any solid reasons why these two are drawn together and really, it seems to happen over night and out of nowhere. What starts as an antagonistic relationship literally upends itself for no good reason. I’d be more mad about it if I wasn’t quite so bored by how predictable it all was.

Ultimately, I was pretty disappointed by this book. The world-building and story at the heart of it had so much potential. But this just made it all the more frustrating to see those things being squandered and buried beneath poor characterization and an aggressively trope-ridden romance. I had already requested the sequel book for review when I picked up this one (this is what I get for blindly trusting in the hype machine), so we’ll see how that one turns out. Hopefully improvements will be made!

Rating 5: Having a lot of good things going for it just made it all the more painful to watch this one stumble its way through.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Markswoman” is on these Goodreads lists: “South Asian YA/MG” and “Indian Science Fiction and Fantasy.”

Find “Markswoman” at your library using WorldCat!