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:
Welcome again to my retrospective of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, this is my gradual look back over a popular-science fiction series that ran between 1996 and 2001. The series consisted of fifty-four main books and ten spin-offs, though for the purpose of this review I’m only going to be looking at volumes thirty-three to thirty-seven – The Illusion, The Prophecy, The Proposal, The Mutation and The Weakness. Be warned, there will be spoilers below the cut…
Due to Rachel’s struggle against herself, the Animorphs failed to stop the development of the Anti-Morphing Ray. Now that it’s ready to be tested, the team know that it could reveal that they’re really human and put all of their lives in danger. Their only hope is to fool Visser Three into believing that it’s broken and the only way to do this is to use Tobias. The hawk is his true form and so if the ray is turned upon him, nothing would happen. However, tricking the Yeerks requires for him to first become their prisoner.
Following this, the Animorphs are contacted by the last of the Arn. He wishes to breed a new strain of Hork-Bajir to free his plant for the Yeerks, but to do so he needs to find a cask of armaments that was once hidden by Aldrea. To locate this, he needs to transfer Aldrea’s consciousness into a willing host. However, there is no way of knowing if Aldrea will be prepared to give the person their body back.
Yet some of the Animorph’s biggest challenges occur close to home. Marco struggles to control his morphing power when put under stress by the possibility of his father remarrying, and Jake is forced to make difficult decisions when the team are taken captive by a race of aquatic humanoids. Yet the biggest challenge comes when Rachel is left in charge while Jake takes a vacation. Her reckless plan to show up Visser Three puts the lives of her friends in danger. Just how far will she go before she realises that she is in over her head?
Over the course of these reviews, the quality of the books has varied quite wildly. Some of them have been superb – dramatic, moving, and containing surprisingly mature subject matter. Others have been a little more off the wall, featuring space toilets and split-personalities. Yet this selection of books have probably been the worst to date. While they’re not all terrible, it just felt as though there was a distinct lack of care to them all.
While I’d like to blame the ghost writers, we’ve previously seen that some of the best books in the series were not written by Applegate herself. Perhaps the series was beginning to dwindle in popularity at the point but strange errors have begun to slip into the text. The Mutation is probably the worst for this, as I noticed a few places were incorrect punctuation was used around speech, yet continuity errors have also begun to slip in (in The Illusion, Ax displays the ability to use thought-speech in human morph which he has never done before) and sometimes the Animorphs behave in ways that seem completely out of character.
Perhaps it will be easiest to look at these novels one at a time.
First of all was The Illusion. The was certainly the most memorable of the five books, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. This book carried on where The Separation left off, concluding the Anti-Morphing Ray story arc. It’s also probably the hardest of the Animorphs series that I’ve had to review. Part of this was because the story actually had a lot going for it.
Tobias’s Andalite heritage has been mentioned in the past, but the series has never really focused on what this means to him. In the best scenes of this novel, Tobias finally gains an Andalite morph and his uncle – Ax – begins to teach him the rituals that he practices every day. It’s a very touching and heartfelt scene that adds a whole new level to Tobias and Ax’s relationship. Unfortunately, the tone of the novel soon shifts.
People often debate whether the Animorphs series is aimed at teens or younger readers. This book is a great argument for the former. The Illusion has certainly been the grittiest entry to the series to date, feeling a lot more intense and real than the earlier instalments. In the second half of the book, Tobias is subjected to physical torture at the hands of a deranged Yeerk. This torture takes up over thirty pages – around 42% of the novel’s total length. Tobias barely survives this ordeal and the ghost writer goes to great lengths to describe it down to the smallest detail.
Even as an adult reader, I found this hard to read. Too much focus was put onto this protracted sequence, making the rest of the story to feel incredibly rushed to get to this point. Action scenes degenerated into sound effects and short sentences which, added to Tobias’s shaken mental state, made events really hard to follow. The Illusion is certainly an unforgettable entry to the series, yet I never want to read it again.
Following on from this was The Prophecy. To fully appreciate this novel, you really have to have first read The Hork-Bajir Chronicles as it does make heavy reference back to Aldrea and Dak’s story. While I didn’t think that The Prophecy was the strongest “Cassie” story, it was nice to have some closure to Aldrea’s tale. While we don’t truly find out how she met her end, we do learn of some things that happened to her after she became trapped in her Hork-Bajir morph, including the birth of her son (Jara Hamee’s father).
The Prophecy was fast paced, but easy to follow. My problem with it was that it was surprisingly shallow. Cassie stories tend to be the ones with the most heart, as she is by far the most sensitive of the Animorphs. She has both been a Controller and morphed into a Yeerk before. One would have thought that this would have factored more into her feelings, given that Aldrea is an invasive presence in her mind, however the novel barely touches upon this.
There was also a surprising lack of emotion on Aldrea’s behalf. While we do feel her sorrow as she learns that neither Dak or Seerow can be restored in the way she has been, she doesn’t really interact with her surviving descendants at all. Although Toby spends most of the novel at her side, the two never talk and Aldrea simply admires her from afar. However, it was nice to pay a second visit to the Hork-Bajir home world, even if it has been virtually destroyed by the Yeerks. It will be interesting to see if this has any sort of impact on future stories.
It is after The Prophecy that things start to go downhill. The Proposal is a really underwhelming entry to the series. Its primary problem is that it’s just a rehash of book twelve (The Reaction) – the story in which Rachel gains an allergy to her crocodile morph and begins to lose control of her powers. This can be seen down to the focus on preventing a Controller celebrity from endorsing The Sharing on air, making the whole plot seem just a bit too familiar. The only think that really mixed up the story was the sub-plot concerning Marco’s Dad getting engaged. This point really came out of left field, especially as Marco’s Dad hasn’t been mentioned in a long time. I didn’t even know that he was dating, let alone thinking of getting married.
The only real saving grace of this story is Marco’s humour. Although Marco can sometimes come across as cold-hearted, this ghost writer did a really good job of capturing his intelligence and charm. His sharp mind gets him out of several close shaves over the course of the story and I loved his solution to defeating Tennant. Only Marco could use a toy poodle morph to slowly drive an alien parasite to insanity – it’s just perfectly in character for him. After a couple of grim instalments, it made this story feel like a breath of fresh air.
Next up was The Mutation. This book wasn’t exactly space toilet weird, but it was certainly one of the stranger of the Animorphs stories. For the first half, it holds itself together pretty well. The Animorphs band together in a dangerous mission with the goal of destroying the Sea Blade – a new Yeerk ship that can travel under water. The fear is that their enemy will use this to finally get their hands on the sunken Pemalite ship from book 27 (The Exposed). This part of the story is tense and rather dramatic. Unfortunately, it quickly goes off the rails.
The second half of the novel is a horror/adventure, with the Animorphs trying to escape from an amphibious race called the Nartec. The Nartec’s goal is to stuff their bodies and put them on display in a creepy underwater museum. I feel that I should probably also note that the Nartec aren’t aliens – they’re a race of humans that have slowly been mutated into Creatures from the Black Lagoon by exposure to radiation. Yeah, even comic book writers shy away from “radiation gives you superpowers” plots these days…
The Mutation doesn’t even feel like an Animorphs book. There isn’t any character development and the cast barely morph, remaining in their human forms for a large part of the story. While the previous few books had a really personal feel to them, this one is straight action flare without the focus on leadership that Jake’s stories usually have. While the book does have a moral (war is bad) this only shoehorned in over the last few pages for good measure.
And finally, The Weakness. Rachel stories have gotten really bad of late. This one is probably the worst Animorphs story that I have reviewed so far. I disliked it even more than I did The Separation. For one thing, there really is nothing to this story. It’s all constant action with Rachel “leading” the Animorphs into battle after battle. They destroy shops, put Andalites onto live TV (without apparently anyone noticing this) and steal a plane before flying it into a building. You might be thinking that I’m talking about some other series but, nope, that’s all in here.
The point of the Animorphs is that they’re covert. They’re not supposed to draw attention to themselves as they’re trying to fool the Yeerks into thinking that they’re Andalite Bandits. Although Rachel has always been gung-ho, this ghost writer takes it too far. She writes her the way Applegate wrote “Mean Rachel” in The Separation – a cruel and aggressive teenager with a casual disregard for human life. For example, this is Rachel’s response to learning that an elderly man collapsed when he saw her grizzly bear morph tearing up a TV studio:
“Yeah, what if he tripped? Come on, casualties happen,” I said coldly. “We didn’t mean for the guy to get so scared. Besides, for all we know, he’s a Controller too.”
That’s right. Apparently Rachel doesn’t care if she scares an old man to death because there is a chance that he could have been a Controller. You know, an innocent human enslaved by the alien parasite in his brain. Against his will. Dear God, what is wrong with this book?
This ghost writer just doesn’t seem to understand the subtleties of Rachel’s character. Her Rachel bullies her way into leadership, won’t listen to her friends, and berates and insults them when they voice concerns about her plans. And yet, they still follow her. Even when she has them doing stupid and dangerous things like going into battle in unfamiliar morphs. I have no words.
The one good thing about this book was the final chapter. This is where Rachel finally address the fact that she inadvertently caused the death of the old man and talks to Jake about leadership. It’s a decent scene in which she actually shows some remorse for almost getting her friends killed, but unfortunately it only lasts for five pages. After two weak Rachel stories, I really hope the next story to focus on her is stronger.
Anyhow, I guess I’ve said enough. These five books were average at best, awful at worst. I really hope that this isn’t the beginning of the end for the series. There was definite a lack of care in both the editing and plotting of these five novels and, with seventeen books of the main series left to go, that makes me a little worried. Hopefully, the quality will pick up over the next few novels.
These five novels are currently out of print. If you’d like to read them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.