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:
For today’s review, I’m going to be taking a look back at the third of K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs Chronicles. These books are designed to be read alongside the main Animorphs series as they help to expand on the universe by giving more background to the different alien races. Today’s novel – Visser – focuses on how Visser One first began the invasion of Earth and is designed to be read directly after The Proposal (book thirty-five of the main series).
Edriss 562 has never been in so much danger. Following a string of mistakes in the invasion of Earth, she has found herself stripped of her rank as Visser One and brought before the Council of Thirteen to answer for her crimes. The charges stacked against her carry a dozen different death charges but the worst thing is that Visser Three is her prosecutor. The Andalite Controller has hated Edriss for as long as she can remember and will stop at nothing to see that she is found guilty.
As the trial progresses, Edriss recounts how she and her friend Essam discovered Earth and took the very first Human Controllers. However, as she is subjected to an invasive memory probe, it quickly becomes apparent that her early years on Earth did not go smoothly. Visser One has many secrets, ones that not even her host is aware of. Secrets that are enough to shock even the most hardened of Yeerk generals.
It’s not long before Edriss realises that she has no hope of being found innocent. The only thing that she can do is make Visser Three seem worse. His incompetence in dealing with the Andalite Bandits has made him look a fool time and time again, but Edriss knows something that he doesn’t – the fact that they’re not Andalites at all. Slowly, she begins to form a plan to use this information to her advantage…
Fans of the Animorphs series often site Visser as one of the better spin-offs, and so I am concerned that I may have missed something fundamental. It’s not that it’s terrible – there are certainly far weaker entries in the main series – but it felt to me as though it was still lacking something fundamental.
I think part of this was the way that it was structured. The previous Animorphs Chronicles have been fairly linear. The Andalite Chronicles focused on the moment when Prince Elfangor’s destiny changed, while The Hork-Bajir Chronicles documented the early days of the Yeerk assault on the Hork-Bajir Homeworld. Both of these were just straight stories, focusing on the actions and adventures of characters that weren’t developed within the main series.
Visser is different. In a way, it’s more of a courtroom drama. The novel takes place entirely over Visser One’s trial. It’s mostly split between courtroom debates between the two Vissers and “Memory Transfers” in which the reader gets brief flashbacks into Visser One’s past. These flashbacks are mostly shown in chronological order, though occasionally overwritten with commentary by the present Yeerks and Eva to show their disapproval of Edriss’s actions. This is where things started to get confusing for me, as this made it often difficult to tell who was speaking. Most of the characters communicate in the style of thought-speak, Visser Three’s usual form of communication, to give the impression that they’re speaking from outside of Edriss’s memories, yet this makes it hard to tell if it’s Visser Three, Eva or someone else talking, and how many of the others present are privy to the conversation.
My other issue with the story is that I found it impossible to empathise with Edriss. The purpose of the story is to show the difference between Visser One and Visser Three. Edriss wishes to take the planet bloodlessly, while Visser Three believes it would be more efficient to enslave the human race through brute force. Visser One’s “softer” touch is repeatedly used as a rod to whip her with, showing that she’s dragging her heels because she’s “addicted” to humanity and does not really want to take over them. Only the problem is, she does.
Edriss desires power. Her primary goal has always been to become a Visser. She takes numerous hosts over the course of the novel and kills each of them when they have served their purpose. Even the novel’s use of motherhood, which is purely there to show that Edriss is not wholly evil, fails. She proves more than willing to murder her children to save her own skin, and even in her closing thoughts she contemplates how she could turn her children into Controllers to force them to love her. Edriss is not a nice character. She is very much a villain, and this novel didn’t do much to sway my opinion of that.
Ultimately, I find Visser Three a character that’s a lot easier to understand. We experienced his narration first hand in The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, in which we see how he studied and learned how to manage his first decent host. In this, you did feel for him a little as he expressed his joy in being able to see clearly for the first time. Visser One does not manage to evoke the same feelings. Perhaps it’s because the people that she murders are human and so I’m hardwired to feel more of a kinship for them, or perhaps because she’s the series’s first adult narrator and so I felt that he actions should have had more meaning, but ultimately I found myself only hoping that she survived for Marco’s sake.
Yet the novel did have some good points, focusing on things that have only really been touched upon in earlier novels. For starters, we got a glimpse into Yeerk politics. The scenes in which the two Vissers debate who’s tactics were better are interesting as they show that not all Yeerks are the same. This has been previously seen in Yeerk rebels at various points in the series, but I found it especially curious to see the polar opposite viewpoints of two high-ranking Yeerk generals.
I also liked the part in which Visser One showed the origins of The Sharing. The Sharing has been a fixture of the Animorphs series since the very first book, and I never once questioned its roots. Seeing its beginnings as a New Age cult made a lot of sense, and also helped to give an idea of where the original voluntary hosts came from. It’s a bit of a bleak view of humanity – people who would give up their autonomy for a chance to belong to an inner circle – but at the same time is something that I could imagine happening in the real world.
That’s about all I have to say about this one. In my opinion, Visser has been the weakest of the Chronicles to date. It did have a few interesting scenes, but I didn’t find it to be anywhere near as emotional as it was obviously trying to be as Edriss just isn’t a sympathetic character. It’s good to read for completeness sake, but it isn’t a book that I’d recommend.
Visser is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.