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:
Animorphs Chronicles: The Andalite Chronicles
The Hork-Bajir Chronicles was written by K.A. Applegate and first published in 1998. It is the second book of the Animorphs Chronicles, a spin-off of the popular Animorphs series, and focuses on how the Yeerks took control of the Hork-Bajir race. Although this book is technically a prequel, it is intended to be read after book 22 of the main series (The Solution).
Aldrea’s family honour has been tarnished by the well-meaning actions of her father, Prince Seerow. It was Seerow who first reached out to the Yeerks, taking pity on their weakness and teaching them about the stars. Now, the Yeerks are the scourge of the universe, taking over race after race, and the Andalites are struggling to stop them. Unwilling to trust Seerow, the Andalites send him on a mission to study a remote jungle planet. The only known species who live there an unintelligent race of tree-dwelling herbivore known as the Hork-Bajir.
Dak Hamee is different. He is a Hork-Bajir seer – a creature born only once every generation who possesses greater-than-average intelligence. When the Andalite party arrives, he is quick to befriend Aldrea. Seeing that he is special, she teaches him science and mathematics. In return, Dak teaches her to appreciate his forest home and the spiritual peace of Hork-Bajir life.
Yet the peace will not last. The growing Yeerk empire has also discovered the Hork-Bajir homeworld and realises that the powerful Hork-Bajir will make excellent shock troops for their war. Lead by Esplin 9466, the Yeerks invade the planet and kill Aldrea’s family. With nothing left to lose, she encourages Dak to use his influence to train a band of Hork-Bajir into resistance fighters to strike back at the Yeerks. Yet their actions have horrible consequences. As Dak watches his friends become ruthless killing machines, he starts to wonder if resisting the Yeerks is worth the cost to his people…
In case this is the first of my Animorphs reviews that you’ve read, please note that this is more of a retrospective than a true review and so may contain some mild spoilers. Additionally, note that this novel stands alone pretty well. While it ties in most closely with The Alien, The Change and The Andalite Chronicles, it could be largely read and enjoyed by people who are unfamiliar with the Applegate’s world.
If you are already a fan of the Animorphs books, The Hork-Bajir Chronicles is not a necessary read but does do a great job in fleshing out Applegate’s wider universe. While The Andalite Chronicles focused on a young Elfangor, this time the scope of the novel is much wider. However, it still shares many themes with the main series, particularly the effects of war and the loss of innocence. The latter is particularly effective within this story. The toll the war has on the human characters in the main series is tragic but the Hork-Bajir are all childlike and trusting. They are unable to fully comprehend what is happening to them, or fully understand the horrible things that they must do to prevent it.
Despite being a little longer than a normal Animorphs book, the story is fast paced and filled with action. It flows so quickly from event to event that it never felt as though it was dragging. However, it should be noted that there were large time skips between chapters, sometimes covering spans of six months or more, and so the novel felt more like an overview of Aldrea’s time on the planet than a fully detailed account.
I did have a problem with the way in which this novel was presented. The narrative this time is split between four first person perspectives – Aldrea, Dak, Esplin and Tobias. While it was interesting to see a story told from the viewpoint of each of the main races (and containing little human input), it didn’t seem to entirely make sense. In present day, it is Jara Hamee telling the story. As he is a descendant from Dak, how can also speak from the perspective of an Andalite and a Yeerk? Come to think of it, how can he even comprehend and put words to the way they would feel? Jara is not a Seer and, based on what we’ve read, an average Hork-Bajir would not have the intelligence to understand Andalite and Yeerk motives.
Yet each of the protagonists were very unique and brought with them their own goals and aspirations. Aldrea was motivated by revenge, Dak by desire for understanding, Esplin by ambition. Most interesting was the development in the friendship between Aldrea and Dak, both struggling to see things from the perspective of the other. Initially, Aldrea only cares about destroying the Yeerks for her Andalite honour yet, much like Ax in the main series, she begins to change her attitude when she learns that her race is also capable of committing war crimes.
Dak, on the other hand, understands Aldrea perfectly. He can see that he’s being manipulated by her, yet goes with her because he has no choice in the matter. He doesn’t like it but can see that, without intervention, the Yeerks will enslave his people and destroy his planet. However, he doesn’t share Aldrea’s vengeful spirit. The war takes its toll on him and he sinks further and future into depression. Unfortunately, as the main focus of the story is the war, it doesn’t take a lot of time to explore the complexity of Dak’s feelings for Aldrea. I found this to be a bit disappointing, as the attraction was evident from the start but they just kind of fall into a relationship somewhere towards the end.
Yet Esplin’s viewpoint was fascinating to read. Although we discovered how Esplin became Visser Three back in The Andalite Chronicles, it was interesting to see the story of how he gained his first host and grew obsessed with being the first Yeerk to take control of an Andalite body. It didn’t really make him feel sympathetic (unlike Aftran in The Departure, Esplin feels no remorse for enslaving his hosts), but it did make me understand him. He also came across as being far more dangerous and capable than he ever has before, as often Visser Three comes across as being arrogant and largely incompetent in his roll.
All in all, The Hork-Bajir Chronicles isn’t a necessary read but it’s a strong entry to the series and I would recommend it to all fans. I probably enjoyed it a little more than The Andalite Chronicles and felt that it did a great job of adding scale to Applegate’s universe.
The Hork-Bajir Chronicles is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.