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:
It’s been a while since I looked at one of the Megamorphs books, so here’s a little background. This is a spin-off of K.A. Applegate’s popular Animorphs series. There are four Megamorphs books and they’re characterised by being longer and containing more narrators than a typical Animorphs book. For today’s review, I’m going to be looking at the third of these – Elfangor’s Secret – which was first published in 1999. It should also be noted that this book is designed to be read after The Sickness (the 29th instalment of the main series).
When Elfangor tried to escape the war, he did so using the Time Matrix – the most powerful device in the universe. He knew that if the machine fell into the wrong hands it could be used to alter the history of the world, and so he hid it. Unfortunately, things don’t remain hidden forever. The device has fallen into the hands of Visser Four, and he intends to use it to ensure that Yeerks can easily dominate the Earth.
When the Drode is sent to request the Animorphs’ assistance, they know that something is wrong. The Crayak is their most powerful enemy – why ever would he need their help? Yet it quickly becomes clear that neither side wants to see the Yeerks with such power. The Crayak offers to give them the ability to pursue Visser Four across history, but he will only do so for a price. One of the Animorphs must die.
This is naturally not something that they want to agree to, yet they have no choice. They can’t value one of their lives over those of every human on the planet. Therefore, they begin to chase Visser Four in an attempt to stop him from changing history. However, they know that they must be careful. The Yeerk is not the only threat. Any wrong move that they make could also change the future for the worse…
Okay. I’m going to start with voicing my biggest annoyance with the Megamorphs series once more. There are too many narrators. A 208 page book does not need six narrative voices. Indeed, Elfangor’s Secret has been the worst one for this far. The Animorphs don’t even really split up this novel – they always share the same scene – so you don’t need more than one narrator. Because their voices and perspectives are always so similar (other than Ax), it was really hard to remember who was telling the story at any given time. I spent so much time flipping back to the start of chapters to remind myself of who the narrator was!
Elfangor’s Secret was not the first attempt that Applegate made at writing a time travel story. This idea followed closely on the heels of The Forgotten (book 11), In the Time of Dinosaurs (Megamorphs #2) and The Andalite Chronicles. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll remember that I’ve criticised her pretty harshly for this in my earlier reviews. Time travel stories are really difficult to write well, and even though Elfangor’s Secret abandons the concept of the Sario Rip (one of my least favourite plot devices of the series), it still doesn’t entirely work.
The purpose of Visser Four’s actions is to prevent America from forming, therefore giving the Yeerks an easier time in taking over. We see the result of what this would achieve in the Drode’s illusions – a fascist state where slavery is encouraged, women are used for breeding, and people who challenge the status quo are reported to the authorities. Which points in history need to be changed in order for this to occur? If you said preventing Washington crossing the Delaware and allowing Napoleon to win at Trafalgar, you’d be right. Wait, hang on…
That’s right. Although the Animorphs visit several periods in history, these are the two that Visser Four actively manages to change. The results are things like nuclear weapons were never created and the Holocaust did not occur. You could argue that perhaps these events would make these drastic changes to history, but personally these felt like very specific and wide-reaching outcomes. Let’s also note that Visser Four seems to think that this will help both secure Yeerk control of the planet and allow him to become the new Visser Three. This ignores the fact these changes won’t affect the intervention by “Andalite Bandits” (as the Yeerks still don’t know that the Animorphs are human), and the fact that Visser Three received his title prior to the invasion of Earth. I don’t think that changing human history would have any bearing on either of these outcomes.
Ultimately, this made Elfangor’s Secret seem to be a bit of pointless addition to the series. Visser Four’s motivations are rash and poorly thought out, and it’s never revealed how he even managed to get his mitts on the Time Matrix in the first place. It also never really feels as though the Animorphs are in any danger, as the Crayak’s interference makes them functionally immortal. The one thing I did really like was the ending, as it provided a bit of good characterisation for Cassie. While the others try to stop Visser Four with brute force, it’s Cassie’s “bloodless” solution that saves the day. It’s elegant, yet surprisingly brutal, which shows again how Cassie’s pacifist approach to situations often has the most frightening applications. However, her solution also erases their actions from the timeline, therefore (much like The Forgotten) the events of this story never technically occur.
Yet there was things about this novel that I liked. It was fast moving, jumping quickly from one event to another, and visited some time periods that young adult fiction tends to overlook. I’ve read plenty of stories that contain time travel to World War II and prehistory, but this is the first one that featured Agincourt. This is refreshingly different. The focus on major wars in history also gives the Animorphs a chance to reflect on their experiences so far. This is especially poignant during the chapter where they witness the D-Day landings and realise that for all the horrors they’ve experienced fighting the Yeerks, mankind is capable of doing far worse to themselves.
This provides interesting food for thought, adding further to Applegate’s common debate about how war changes people. Marco tries to justify the fighting, while Ax applies his Andalite morality and can’t understand how people could ever be so cruel. More interesting still is the idea of whether it would be ethical to use time travel to prevent the Holocaust, or if saving so many lives could possibly have an adverse effect further down the line. Even though I found the plot of this story to be weak, the ethics are fascinating and it’s worth reading for that alone.
So, unfortunately, this isn’t one of the better books of the series. It’s kind of a shame, as if followed right after The Sickness, which has been one of the best entries to date. In general, the Megamorphs series has been a bit of a disappointment so far. Let’s see if Applegate can turn than around in book four!
Elfangor’s Secret is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.