Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:
Megamorphs: The Andalite’s Gift
Sorry for the delay in these reviews. It’s been a few weeks so I think it’s a good time to get back to my retrospective look at K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. This epic science fiction series focuses on five teenagers and a young alien who use their shape-shifting powers to fight an invasion of extra-terrestrial parasites. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at books eleven to fifteen only – The Forgotten, The Reaction, The Change, The Unknown and The Escape.
The Animorphs have now survived countless battles against Visser Three and the invading Yeerks, but there is still so little they know about the universe and the nature of their powers. When an attempt to seize control of a bug fighter goes horribly wrong, the resulting explosion creates a Sario Rip, shunting the teenagers back in time. Trapped in the Amazon in an unknown time period, they find themselves racing across the jungle to find a way to get back home before time can catch up and erase them from history.
They also discover that morphing carries some horrible side effects when Rachel develops an allergy to her crocodile morph, causing her to uncontrollably change form. The Animorphs struggle to find a way for her to control this for fear that she shifts in public and reveals their secret to the world. Stranger still is when Tobias stumbles across the only two free Hork-Bajir in the universe. The Ellimist charges with him finding a place where they can live safely, promising to grant him what he desires most if he succeeds.
On top of everything the Animorphs are horrified to discover that the Yeerks are extending their reach, looking at the other creatures that inhabit the Earth to see if any would make suitable hosts. The Animorphs are forced to investigate why and put a stop to it before their enemies can grow even more powerful…
In the first ten books, the Animorphs series started to find its feet. It developed the concept of the morphing powers and the Yeerk invasion and explained the stakes that every narrator held in the war. Now that the initial arc is over and the key players have been thoroughly introduced, Applegate spends these five books exploring new ideas. These five books didn’t really carry an overarching theme in the same way that the other did. In fact, The Forgotten, The Reaction and The Unknown were little more than filler stories. More than anything, these books felt like an experiment. A testing of new concepts to see what worked and what didn’t.
Firstly, in The Forgotten, came the Animorphs’s first experience with time travel. Personally, I found this novel to be one of the weakest to date. Time travel is something that is really hard for authors to get right. While the Sario Rip is an interesting concept, its execution is very weak. The science behind the phenomenon is brushed aside (Ax conveniently hadn’t been listening the day that they learned about it in Andalite school). It’s never clear why the time bubble seems to centre on Jake when all of the Animorphs were exposed to it at the same time, and the way the events were erased at the end of the story were just a step away from it being all a dream. I hope that time travel isn’t going to be overused within the series as I have a fear that the Sario Rip may resurface as a handy “get out of gaol” card, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
The second new concept introduced is the focus of The Reaction. Rachel’s Hereth Illint, or “DNA burping”, was a fun idea. While the story didn’t feel as though it contributed to the plot of the series on the whole, it made for a pretty entertaining adventure. Being allergic to an animal’s DNA doesn’t really make a lot of sense but it made for some tense and funny situations, including Rachel trying to hide the fact that she’s growing fur when confronted at school by Chapman. I don’t think that this concept feels like the kind of thing Applegate could use again (one whole story devoted to it was enough) but it was an entertaining little side note that added a whole new level of complexity to Andalite morphing technology.
There has also been a shift in tone in these five books. As I mentioned in my previous review, at times the Animorphs books can be really dark. This is still probably most noticeable in Jake’s hellish experiences in The Capture. If you’re squeamish, rest assured that these five books are a lot less terrifying on the whole. While there are still some very dark scenes (Rachel’s near-death by ants in The Forgotten springs immediately to mind), there are also a lot of funny moments.
The Unknown is probably the best book for light-hearted fun. It’s just plain silly from start to finish – the Animorphs duping military officials with fake names like Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (military officials apparently don’t watch television), Cassie morphing into a racehorse and accidentally finding her riding in a race, the eventual plot twist regarding the alien device that is being held at Zone 91 – none of it is serious at all. While wildly entertaining, it seems a far cry from the horrors that we’ve seen in the series to date.
Yet despite their random moments, there are still parts of these books that are very important to the series on the whole. The Change is a vital read, as well as being one of the better novels to date. This story focuses on Tobias for the first time since book 3 and marks the moment when he gets his morphing power back (care of our omnipotent friend the Ellimist). This power comes at a terrible price, which I’m not going to spoil for you, but it marks an important change in Tobias’s character. For a long time, he’s felt helpless and removed from the war but finally he can help his friends once again.
Added to this is the introduction of Jara Hamee and Ket Halpak, the only two free Hork-Bajir in the universe. These characters are just great. Up until this moment, the Hork-Bajir have just been portrayed as killing machines. The Yeerks use them as soldiers due to their strength, speed and bladed limbs. However, now we see that they’re actually not like this at all. A free Hork-Bajir is gentle and peaceful, eating nothing but tree bark and wanting a simple life in the forest. This makes what the Yeerks have done to their race all the more horrific. I really hope that the free Hork-Bajir play a bigger role in the rest of the series.
In terms of characterisation, these five books don’t do much to flesh out the cast that we didn’t see in previous books, but it does explore their weaknesses a bit further. In The Forgotten, we see the Jake starting to crack under the pressure of being the leader and his inability to understand why he is best suited to this role. In The Reaction, Rachel’s rash behaviour is shown to be growing to the point where she actively endangers her friends to avoid sitting out a battle. She also worryingly never shows remorse for her actions, leaving me to wonder how her bloodlust will grow worse in her next story.
Yet there is far less development for Marco or Cassie. While Marco is still the most entertaining narrator, his personality hasn’t changed since book five. He’s still actively struggling with the knowledge that Visser One has control of his mother. The only difference is that, now the others know that too. I wonder how this will affect things going forward. Cassie, on the other hand, really changes personality. In The Unknown, she doesn’t seem as preachy and highly-strung as she has been in her previous stories. While she is still the most uninteresting Animorph, at least I didn’t hate her this time around.
Finally, these books show an interesting development in the Yeerks plans. While Visser Three seemed to initially be interested in humans only (planning on wiping out any species on Earth that was not useful to him in some way), The Unknown and The Escape show that he’s started to turn other animals into Controllers to achieve specific goals. This raises an interesting new threat for the Animorphs. Previously, they just had to hide their secret from humans but now it’s shown that a number of intelligent animals could also become a threat. I’m very curious to see where Applegate will take this.
Anyway, I think I’ve said enough. Applegate doesn’t really advance the overall plot in these five books by much but they’re still very entertaining to read and raise a few new interesting concepts. I’m still enjoying my reread of the series and look forward to seeing what will happen next.
These five novels are currently out of print. If you’d like to read them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.