Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my review of these novels [here].
I think it’s a good time to continue my retrospective look at K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs books. This science fiction series focused on a group of teenagers who use their ability to turn into animals to protect the world from parasitic aliens. It ran for fifty-four novels, as well as three spin-off series – Megamorphs, The Animorphs Chronicles and Alternamorphs. For the purpose of today’s review, I’m going to be looking at books six to ten – The Capture, The Stranger, The Alien, The Secret and The Android.
Each of the Animorphs has found their own reason to want to battle the Yeerks, yet victory seems far out of their reach. Even their morphing powers seem meagre when compared to Visser Three’s formidable army of Hork Bajir and Taxxons. When raid on a Yeerk base goes horribly wrong, Jake becomes a Controller and learns first-hand how fearsome their enemy is. How can they possibly win against a race that can blend in perfectly and render their hosts powerless?
Their doubts are echoed when they come face to face with an all-powerful being known as an Ellimist. The Ellimist warns them that the Earth is doomed no matter what they attempt. Their only hope lies with him. The Ellimist offers to relocate the Animorphs and a few of their loved ones to a habitable planet where they can live their lives in peace. The temptation leads to a divide in the team, yet they can’t shake the thought that the Ellimist’s offer may not be exactly as it first appears.
Yet not everything seems hopeless. When Marco stalks a friend who he believes to be a Controller, he discovers that they may have allies who hate the Yeerks as much as he does. Yet the Chee are a peaceful race who have spent thousands of years avoiding violence. How can the Animorphs possibly hope to convince them to abandon their beliefs and join the war?
Before I begin, I’d just like to note that I haven’t forgotten about the first Megamorphs book. Technically speaking, this story is set between the events of The Stranger and The Alien and so should really form part of this review. However due to the fact that it largely stands alone and is much longer than a typical Animorphs book, I’ve decided to tackle it separately. Check back next week to find out what I thought about this novel!
With that out the way, on to the review!
Over these five books, we see the Animorphs series take a turn for the dark. The first five books took the time to explore each of the teen’s individual reasons for joining the war, ranging from Marco’s desire to rescue his mother to Cassie’s duty to protect the animals of the planet. Although the Animorphs are frequently in danger in these early books, they still ultimately always escape unscathed. From book six onwards, this is no longer the case. Their nightmarish battles against the Yeerks are already taking their toll, leaving lasting wounds and causing the teenagers to make terrible, life-changing decisions.
The Capture and The Stranger are certainly the bleakest novels in the series so far. While a little slow to begin, The Capture shows that Jake is already developing a zero-tolerance approach to Yeerks. Although he never asked to be the leader of the Animorphs, he can’t escape the fact that the rest of the team look up to him. Because of this he is forced to make the difficult decisions. His choice to murder hundreds of helpless Yeerks is understandable, but there is something undeniably brutal about the thought of a teenage boy boiling his enemies alive (even if his enemies are parasitic slugs).
This is the first of a number of particularly dark scenes in the series. I don’t remember finding any of these so bad when I was a teenager so perhaps this is just the kind of thing that distresses adults more. When Rachel morphs into her grizzly bear for the first time in The Stranger, she goes berserk and rips through a crowd of Controllers. Similarly, Erek’s rampage at the end of The Android is pretty horrific. Although it occurs entirely off page, the reactions of the Animorphs that witnessed it say more than words ever could.
Yet possibly the most terrible sequence so far is when Jake becomes a Controller. This episode takes up about the last fifty pages of The Capture and is surprisingly frightening. As a host to a Yeerk, Jake finds himself totally locked in his own body. He is only able to watch as the Yeerk dupes his friends, knowing that he now has the means to turn them all over to Visser Three. To make matters worse, the Yeerk was previously inside his brother and is able to reveal to Jake how it slowly shattered Tom’s will. It’s a shocking sequence but it’s also very effective. Sure, it makes you really hate the Yeerks but also allows us to understand them a bit better.
This development is followed up nicely in The Alien. I think that both The Capture and The Alien are probably my favourite books in the series to date. The Alien is the first full-length story narrated by Ax and really does help to flesh out our understanding about the Andalites and their relationship with the Yeerks. Previously, the Andalite have been portrayed as being a race of heroes that have devoted their lives to exterminating the Yeerk menace. However, The Alien reveals that there is far more to them than this. The Andalites are motivated more by guilt than altruism, a secret that Ax wishes to keep from the Animorphs for fear that they will hate him if they learn it.
While the series has certainly found its feet, I wouldn’t say that it’s perfect. First off, the repetition is still very much there. It may not be quite as heavy as it once was but I find myself growing increasing tired of sentences beginning “Hi. My name is…”. Really, who starts reading a series at book ten? Do we really need to spend at least a chapter detailing everything that has happened to date at the start of every book? If I have to read another description of what Ax looks like, I’m going to scream!
It’s also true that not all of the books are as strong as The Capture. While I did really enjoy The Stranger (especially the way that it showed Rachel’s increasing taste for violence), I am not sure what to make of the Ellimist. This is a personal thing but I’ve never really been one for all-powerful bystanders – those characters that could save the day in a heartbeat but have sworn “not to interfere”. While the Ellimist does open up the group to some very serious discussions about moral responsibility, I’m wary of where his involvement will go in future instalments.
I also didn’t really enjoy The Secret and it’s mainly down to Cassie’s narration. I touched upon this in the last review but I just don’t find her to be an especially interesting person. Her views, while understandable, seem to always entirely miss the big picture. In The Secret, Cassie is obsessed with saving some orphaned skunk kits. She berates Tobias for eating one of them (despite the fact that he’s a hawk and that’s what hawks do) and almost gets trapped in a skunk morph as she gets too comfortable nursing them. She even manages to coax the other Animorphs into taking shifts to help her, even though it puts them in great danger and distracts them from the more pressing issue of the Yeerks trying to destroy the forest. Cassie’s inability to see the wood for the trees is growing increasingly annoying, making her my least favourite of the narrators.
Conversely, I actually enjoyed reading Marco’s single mindedness in The Android. I think that Marco ties with Ax for being the most interesting narrator. Not only is Marco shrewd and quick witted, he’s also very protective of his father. For him, the war is incredibly personal and he will go to any length to protect the people he loves, even when that length causes him to make very questionable decisions. While other Animorphs try to consider what the greater good would be, Marco’s motivation is very simple and this is why I found him the easiest to relate to.
Argh, this review is getting long again. Sorry, I will try to ramble less next time! These five books were a strong continuation to the series, containing some of my favourite titles to date and marking a definite darker turn. Check back next week to find out what I thought about Megamorphs #1: The Andalite’s Gift.
The Capture can be purchased as a Paperback or eBook from Amazon.co.uk
The Stranger can be purchased as a Paperback or eBook from Amazon.co.uk
The Alien can be purchased as a Paperback or eBook from Amazon.co.uk
The Secret and The Android are currently out of print. If you’d like to read them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.