Animorphs 38-41

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:  1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15 | 16-19 | 20-22 | 23-27 | 28-32 | 33-37

Megamorphs: The Andalite’s Gift | In the Time of Dinosaurs | Elfangor’s Secret

Animorphs Chronicles: The Andalite Chronicles | The Hork-Bajir Chronicles | Visser

Wow, it’s been a couple of months since my last retrospective. I think it’s about time that we take another look at K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. As with previous posts, please note that there will be spoilers in this review. In case you’ve never heard of it before, Animorphs was a science fiction series that ran from 1996 to 2001. It consisted of fifty-four novels, as well as eight specials and two choose-your-own-adventure stories. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to be looking at books thirty-eight to forty-one – The Arrival, The Hidden, The Other and The Familiar.

The Animorphs have now been defending Earth for a long time and know that they can’t keep it up forever. There are only six of them and, if the Andalite fleet don’t arrive to help them soon, they know that they will be inevitably overpowered by the Yeerks. However, their hopes rise when they learn that a small team of Andalites have arrived on Earth. They claim that their mission is to assassinate Visser Three but Ax begins to doubt this when cracks in their story start to show.

Yet these four soldiers may not be the only Andalites on Earth. It’s not long before the Animorphs encounter another. Gafinilan is a war hero who claims to be caring for his friend Mertil, who was injured in a crash. Yet, when Jake and Ax go to meet with him, they detect no trace of his supposed friend. Could it be that Gafinilan is lying and, if so, what could he possibly want with them?

Yet not all of the Animorphs missions revolve around the Andalites. When the Yeerks develop a machine that can track the Escafil device, Cassie is forced to keep it moving to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Jake also has a weird experience when he wakes up one morning to find that he has aged ten years. Trapped in a dystopian future where the Yeerks have won, he must find a way to locate his friends and make it back to his own time…

We’re now well and truly into the thick of this series, and the first thing that jumps out at me is that each book still begins with the introductions that I’ve grown to loathe. Yes, I’ve mentioned this many times before but I’m not going to let it drop. Who on Earth starts reading a series at the forty-first volume? At some point, I feel that you really have to assume that your audience is up to speed and therefore there is no need to remind them of what a Yeerk is. While some of the ghost writers are worse for this than others, every single one of them begins their novel with a chapter explaining the basic premise of the series. Seriously, why?

Anyhow, with that little rant out of the way, I feel I am in a better place to continue this review. If I had to describe these four novels in a word, it would be “bleak”. Animorphs has never been the happiest of series, but it’s clear now that the war is beginning to take its toll on the protagonists. These four novels are all surprisingly dark. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how young the Animorphs actually are. They’re child soldiers, forced to risk their lives again and again in the hope that the Andalites will soon arrive to save the planet.

For an added kick in the teeth, the Andalites do actually reach Earth in The Arrival. It’s the moment that we’ve been waiting for since Ax sent the transmission way back in The Alien. However, as this occurs sixteen novels away from the end of the series, this also sounds warning bells. The landing party aren’t the war fleet that we’ve been hoping for, but instead are four very shifty Andalites who claim to be on a secret mission to assassinate Visser Three – a mission that seems to fly in the face of everything we know about Andalite honour.

This is just the start of the soul crushing disappointment that characterises this block. Please be aware that by disappointment I don’t mean that they’re bad. It’s more that it takes your expectations – your blind hope as a reader that maybe everything can still be okay – and dashes it quite spectacularly.

Perhaps it’ll be easier to illustrate this if I talk about one book at a time.

First, there’s The Arrival. As I already mentioned, the Andalite arrival on Earth could have been an enormous game-changer, but this novel cheats the reader out of this catharsis. The plot maintains tension throughout by the way that it makes everything just feel off. Ax is just a bit too quick to trust the incredibly suspicious landing party, and the other Animorphs fall out and disband over seemingly nothing to leave him free to rejoin his kind. It all feels totally unbelievable, which is naturally the point.

While this story never truly hooked me, it did tie in nicely with The Decision and The Hork-Bajir Chronicles in that it painted Andalites in a negative light. In the series, they tend to be portrayed as wise and noble heroes but it’s clear by this stage that this is mainly due to the fact that Ax views his race through rose-tinted glasses. Like his brother Alloran, Arbat is ruthless and prepared to do the unforgivable in order destroy the Yeerks. It’s things like this that make you worry about how expendable humans will seem to the Andalite fleet when they finally arrive.

However, this book does have its lighter moments. I really did like Ax’s brief relationship with Estrid. She’s the first female Andalite that he’s seen in a long time and he’s been so lonely since he arrived on Earth that his crush on her seemed very natural. With the way that this story ends, I’m not sure if we’ll see Estrid again but I kind of hope that we do. It’ll be interesting to see how Ax interacts with her if they meet for a second time.

After this book comes The Hidden, which is one of the shortest and strangest of the Animorphs books so far. And, to be clear, that is coming from the series that brought us the space toilet story. This book takes place entirely over an extended chase sequence, as the Yeerks use the Helmacron ship (disappointingly, without the Helmacrons being present) in order to track Cassie as she tries to keep the Escafil Device away from them.

All sounds pretty normal so far, right? Okay, so then Cassie has an accident with the device and manages to give a cape buffalo the ability to morph. And that buffalo acquires Chapman. And because of this the buffa-human is born. Yeah. I’m not making this up…

Cassie stories can be great – I still think that The Departure and The Sickness are two of the very best novels of the series. However, her faux-moralising got very tiresome in this story. The crux of the novel hinges on the fact that the buffa-human is a massive threat. If it becomes a nothlit, the Yeerks could capture it and teach it how to speak, thus learning the identities of all the Animorphs. Yeah, can you imagine Visser Three having this much patience, because I sure can’t.

Obviously, everyone wants to kill the buffalo except for Cassie. Because it can turn into a human, she believes that it counts as a human and therefore it would be murder. The entirety of humanity is put in danger by the continued existence of this buffalo, yet Cassie will do nothing. I mean, what is the ghostwriter trying to say? The Animorphs can turn into termites, does this mean that they have the rights of a termite?

The plot of The Hidden wraps up rather artlessly, as the joint problem of the buffalo and the Helmacron ship are destroyed by random crazy happenstance. What we’re left with is a story that’s rather pointless and ultimately forgettable. It’s interesting for just how weird it is, but unfortunately nothing more.

The Andalites return in The Other. Well, kind of. The Animorphs discover that Ax wasn’t the only survivor of the Dome Ship. Two pilots – Gafinilan and Mertil – have been living on Earth for some time, although neither are really in any condition to join the fight. Mertil is what is known as a vecol (a derogatory Andalite term that seems to loosely mean cripple) as he cannot morph and has lost his tail in the crash. Gafinilan has a degenerative disease that will kill him in a matter of months. However, the novel is slow to reveal both of these things. After a few lacklustre instalments, I was surprised by how good this book was. After previous encounters with Andalites, I was suspicious about Gafinilan’s intentions, and I was drawn in by my curiosity regarding what he was really up to.

Yet the thing I liked most about this book most was how it addressed the subject of disability. Back when I reviewed The Underground, I talked about how the way that the story treated the mentally ill left a bad taste in my mouth. The Other takes a very different approach which, for once, portrayed Marco in a positive light. It shows that he’s grown and isn’t quite the judgemental git that he once was. His conversation with Mertil in the final chapter was particularly moving and I really hope that Mertil returns in a future instalment.

I also liked how Ax’s attitude towards vecols was treated. It seems characterful for an Andalite to have such prejudice towards disabled – they are all about strength, rank and honour after all. Yet I loved that the other characters were quick to call him on this. While it wasn’t enough to completely flip his attitude, it was nice to see the way that Ax’s vocabulary started to change by the end of the novel. It at least showed that he was starting to rethink his behaviour.

And finally, there is The Familiar. This book marked my biggest disappointment of the series to date. This could have been one of the best books. It was written by the ghostwriter who previously brought us Tobias’s brutal torture scene in The Illusion, and so you really should know what to expect. The book is bleak, powerful and makes a brilliant character study of Jake. It shows how the weight of leadership is finally breaking him as he is forced to make the call that he’s been fearing – sacrificing one of his friends to save the others.

The Familiar is one of the darkest, most depressing instalments to date. It’s filled with truly disturbing imagery throughout, including a graphic “vision” of the decayed corpses of everyone Jake has seen die returning for revenge. You might be wondering why I was so disappointed by this novel if it’s so memorable. Well, unfortunately that’s because it’s entirely pointless.

I was drawn in by this book. I loved the imagery – the glimpses of a tree growing beneath the ruined city and Justice’s explanation as to what makes a hero. I loved that Jake finally got a chance to speak to Elfangor and unload what he really thought about the way that the Andalite forced him to shoulder such a terrible responsibility. I was even curious as to how Jake came to be shunted ten years into the future – what the time slips meant and why reality kept breaking down. And what was the payoff?

It was all a dream.

I could not make this up. It was all a dream. The weakest plot twist in history. The one that every writer knows never to fall back on. Why Animorphs, why? This is even weaker than the ending of Back to Before. It’s just a cop out. This book is just pure filler. While Jake’s character study is interesting, it’s already been the focus of several other stories. Nothing actually happened in The Familiar to make it feel as though it brought something new to the table. The only thing that I was left curious about what who the disembodied voice in the final chapter was, as Jake didn’t recognise it as the Ellimist or Crayak. Hopefully, this is something that will be explained in a future book.

So, in all, we’re getting closer to the end of this series and things are getting really dark. While Animorphs has never been the happiest of series, I was never really expecting it to get this bleak. It doesn’t make me feel optimistic as to how the series will eventually resolve, but I’m certainly curious to find out if Earth can be saved and, if so, at what cost.

These four novels are currently out of print. If you’d like to read them, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Megamorphs #4: Back to Before | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: Animorphs 42-45 | Arkham Reviews
  3. matidangelo
    Nov 27, 2017 @ 01:49:52

    I agree with almost everything you said. I enjoyed them, anyway.
    I just finished The Familiar. It vas VERY depressing and not very well constructed, but it’s not really really bad. Maybe almost bad :p
    I think it’s clear by the end that it wasn’t a dream, but some kind of experiment from some aliens. Buuuuut…. I get it, it feels like a cheap excuse or plot twist for the “it was dream!” thing.
    I hope it gets better in the next books. I’m a huge fan of the series, just got to read the latter books in the last years (they were not easy to get back then and we are talking 54 books plus extras!!)
    Thank you for the review. I needed to read one after finishing The Familiar.
    Love from Buenos Aires, Argentina.


  4. Trackback: Animorphs 46-49 | Arkham Reviews
  5. Trackback: The Ellimist Chronicles | Arkham Reviews
  6. Trackback: Animorphs 50-53 | Arkham Reviews
  7. Trackback: Animorphs 54 | Arkham Reviews

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