Animorphs 50-53

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 | 38-41 | 42-45 | 46-49

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

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

If this is the first of my retrospective posts that you have seen; welcome. This is where I’ve been gradually taking a look back at one of my childhood obsessions – K.A. Applegate’s epic Animorphs series. This science fiction series ran for fifty-four books (as well as a bunch of specials) and was published between 1996 and 2001. For the purpose of this review, I’m going to be looking at books fifty through fifty-three only – The Ultimate, The Absolute, The Sacrifice and The Answer. Oh, and there will be spoilers

The end that the Animorphs feared has finally come. The Yeerks have discovered their identities and forced them into hiding. Although most of the Animorphs managed to at least save their parents, Jake was not so lucky. Now he struggles with his depression, knowing that his mum and dad could well be Controllers. To make matters worse, Visser One has declared open warfare. There is no hiding now. The Yeerks seem to have won.

Yet the Animorphs will not accept defeat so easily. There is now no time to play fair. Jake and the others know that the only way that they can win is to take risks and do things that they previously would never have dreamed of. They share the morphing technology with others to bolster their ranks, make contact with politicians and members of the military, and even launch a final attempt to destroy the Yeerk Pool beneath the city.

Finally, they find themselves in a unique position to mount an attack on the most valuable ship in the Yeerk armada – the Pool Ship. With the help of unexpected allies, they launch a full-scale assault on the vessel. Their victory could very well save the human race. However, Jake knows that there is a good chance that, this time, they may not all make it out alive…

Animorphs has reached its end-game. Wow, it feels weird to finally say that. While I have told you that novels were gamechangers in the past, we’re now at the stage in the series where every action is a gamechanger. It really is surprising how incredibly tense these four novels are. With the exception of a few comedy instalments, the series has never been greatly optimistic. We’ve seen genocides and the enslavement of entire races. We’ve also tackled a few hard-hitting ethical and environment issues. Yet, in this final run, the gloves are finally off.

I’ll talk a little more about that in a minute as we look at every novel individually, but first let’s just talk about a few things that affect them all. First off, I should probably note that the series now has pretty much shed its episodic feel. While early instalments largely stood alone, the series is now really one continuous story and so, if you’re not familiar with the characters or concepts, it’s not a great place to start.

And yet still – still – every book still takes the time to set the scene. Seriously, why? I thought at this late stage we would stop dedicating precious page space to describing what a Hork-Bajir looks like and how Yeerks control people. I can see now that the series is never going to stop doing this but can someone please explain to me why? Why, when the stories are no longer episodic, would you feel the need to keep expositing everything? It just makes no sense.

I should also probably note that this is the part of the series where everything changes. It is the ultimate culmination of every character arc, showing clearly how three years of guerrilla warfare have changed the teenagers. At the start of this series, you could sum up every character with a word. Jake was brave, Cassie was compassionate, Marco was smart, Rachel was reckless and Tobias was a dreamer. That’s not true anymore. All of the characters have been deeply affected by the things that they have seen and the choices that they have made. They are now all flawed and complex individuals, which becomes very clear in these four novels.

So, with that aside, let’s take a look at each of these books.

The Ultimate is a story that’s designed to mess with the reader’s head. While Animorphs has explored some ethical grey areas in the past, this instalment possibly contains the biggest of them all. Since David, the Animorphs have been reluctant to share their power with others, yet now they realise that they have no choice. Unable to know who is a Controller, they give the power to a group of people who they know that the Yeerks will have no interest in – disabled children.

Yes, you read that correctly. This is the book where the Animorphs bolster their numbers by exploiting an incredibly vulnerable group. They offer the power to temporarily grant them the ability to walk, see and communicate clearly, so long as they use it to risk their lives fighting the Yeerks. While you can see the logic in Jake’s decision, it’s hard to ignore how horrific this plan is. It’s a decision made out of sheer desperation and it’s designed to make the reader question if he has gone too far.

Yet the end of this novel contains a second game-changing moment, and a bonus ethical quandary that will cause readers to either love or hate Cassie. To prevent Jake from having to murder his Controller brother, Tom, she hands over the Escafil Device to the enemy. Consequentially, this ensures that the enemy also now has the ability to morph. On a personal level, the choice seems very natural for Cassie. She is basically a Chee in human form and has always gone out of her way to prevent any deaths. Yet it completely ignores the bigger picture in that she has risked the entirety of humanity for one person. I suppose only time will tell if she truly made the right choice.

The decisions made over the course of The Ultimate only really serve to fracture the team, yet it still all felt a bit sudden for my taste. Since they were discovered by the Yeerks in The Diversion, they have gone for each other’s throats remarkably fast. Even some of the adult characters, such as Rachel’s mother, seem to have completely changed their attitude within a very short time. While, again, I can understand this to degree, I did feel like a bit more of a build up was needed. The Animorphs have lasted this long, just to crumble under pressure. While Jake’s character arc has been building to this for a while now, the others seem to have broken very quickly.

However, my biggest issue with The Ultimate was its lack of plot. Beyond the ethical discussions, there isn’t a lot to this story. It culminates in a brief scuffle with Visser One that just serves to allow the Auxiliary Animorphs to show off some frankly baffling battle morphs. I mean, a bobcat and a bull? James managed to bag himself a lion morph. What were the rest of you thinking? I think that best you can say about The Ultimate is that it’s necessary to set up what will happen next. Beyond its ethics, it’s not the most memorable of the stories.

The Absolute makes up for the introspective nature of The Ultimate with a lot of action. After a run of incredibly serious stories, it provides the last light-hearted entry of the series. While you can still feel the lingering effects of the previous instalments in Jake’s depression and animosity towards Cassie, these are all shoved to the background to make way for a fun little adventure for Marco, Tobias and Ax. Their goal is to gain more support for their army by ensuring that they get their local Governor on side before the Yeerks get hold of her.

While the playful tone of this novel felt a little jarring, especially following the grim ethics of The Ultimate, I still found it to be an utter joy to read. It took me back to a time when the series was much lighter, and therefore was a breeze to read though. However, its flippant tone does conceal the seriousness of the story. Beneath Marco and Ax’s bantering, the focus of this book is to build an army in preparation for the final battle.

I don’t really have a lot to fault with this instalment as I did really enjoy reading it. If I did have to nit-pick something, it is that the ghost-writer didn’t really have Ax’s voice down. He doesn’t sound like himself in this book, using a lot of contractions and generally sounding a lot more like a human kid. While his voice is usually the easiest one to pick out in the stories, this time around he seemed oddly interchangeable with Marco.

While The Absolute does not have the same impact as the previous few books, it gave the reader the necessary space to breathe. Marco’s stories have always been my favourites in the series and his comedic tone was a welcome break from Cassie’s moralising and Jake’s despair. This is the last book to be purely narrated by Marco, but I’m pleased to say that it was a very memorable one.

The Sacrifice very clearly moves the plot into its end-game. Over the course of the series, the Animorphs have tried to destroy the Yeerk Pool several times, from direct assaults to trying to poison the pool itself with oatmeal (which still feels like the plot of a bad fan-fiction to me). It is the one sure-fire way that they know they can hurt the Yeerks. This book features their biggest attack on the pool. The difference this time is that they succeed. And it is dramatic as all Hell. While the actual attack on the Yeerk Pool is relatively brief, the novel spends a lot more time building up to it, focusing on the debates between the Animorphs, Hork-Bajir and their allies as they try to justify the inevitable loss of human life.

Despite that this is an incredibly heavy decision to make, especially noting that Ax baulked when faced with a chance to obliterate the Yeerk Pool back in in The Deception, the novel is a lot more optimistic than you might think. While it’s clear that there are a lot of casualties in the Yeerk Pool, the fact that the Animorphs do manage to destroy it does shine a hopeful light on the series. If, working with their new allies, they can succeed where they have failed in the past, perhaps there is hope for Earth after all.

While this is going on, the story also confronts a couple of painful truths regarding whether or not humans are worth saving. While this isn’t the first time that Ax has addressed this concern, at this late stage in the series it does seem more poignant. He now knows that there is a good chance that the human race could be loosed on the universe and he’s understandably concerned about what they will do. He was previously more concerned about how aggressive and ruthless humans could be (personified by Rachel), yet Cassie’s recent choices have made him see that compassionate humans are arguably more dangerous.

My biggest issue with the story as it doesn’t really spend enough time addressing Ax’s concerns. At the start of the story, Ax learns that the Andalite fleet is approaching Earth but they intend to quarantine and destroy it, rather than liberate it. This should have more of an impact than it does. While we learned long ago that Andalites are not the noble race that like to think they are, this is still a pretty shocking development. Unfortunately, the story never really addresses this. Ax doesn’t even really confront his superiors. It’s just left open, presumably for resolution in a later book.

In terms of characterisation, Ax did feel better written than he was in The Absolute and it was nice to see the conclusion of his arc. Although he’s been torn between his duties and friends since his very first appearance, it does finally feel as though he has chosen a side. However, I do have a small issue in the fact that that the most flawed characters in the series now seem to be its female protagonists. Ax’s decision is not shaped by any of the male characters – it is purely the traits that he perceives in Cassie and Rachel. This isn’t something that had really dawned on me before, but now I can’t unsee it and it does annoy me a little.

And, finally, there is The Answer. As much as I generally hate cliff-hanger endings, it’s impossible for me to not be excited by this book. This is the penultimate instalment of the series, and it’s as exciting as you would hope. It’s fast-paced and dramatic, lining up the Animorphs for an all-or-nothing strike on the Pool Ship. If they succeed, the Yeerks loose access to the Kandrona rays that they need to survive. If they fail, the human race is lost as the Andalites will wipe them out.

The first two thirds of the story go to great lengths to outline the extreme physical and moral risks of the quest. First is their choice of allies. The Animorphs are approached by two unexpected people who will help so long as they are then granted the morphing technology and a means of escape. The first is Tom, whose Yeerk offers to even give Jake his brother back. The other is Arbron – the Taxxon nothlit last seen in The Andalite Chronicles – who will help so long as his fellow Taxxons can be allowed to morph and escape their endless hunger. While the Animorphs are forced to form allegiances, it is clear that there are a million and one ways that things could go wrong and a sense that they could be betrayed at any moment.

Yet the moral risks go deeper than this. To maximise their chances of success, Jake needs to sacrifice everyone and everything. He destroys his friendship with Erek the Chee by forcing him to take an active role in the battle, and makes sure that each of the Auxiliary Animorphs fights on the frontline, even when some are traumatised by the death of a friend.

Its brutal and hard to read at times, but it feels as though Jake has truly embraced his role as a leader. You can almost taste his desperation in this instalment as Jake is forced to shrug off any doubt. He’s not there to make friends – he’s there to see the bigger picture and make sure that everyone does what needs to be done. The scene in which he asks Cassie to marry him was shockingly emotional, yet her reaction really underlines how much Jake has changed. At one time, the two of them seemed perfect together. However, Cassie’s moral code has remained solid throughout the series, while Jake has done some terrible things to try and win the war.

However, much like in the David Trilogy, The Answer does not feel complete on its own. The story breaks off at a dramatic moment, with Jake and Tom preparing to face each other on the battle field, and I suppose we will soon find out if all his sacrifices were worth it. I am now incredibly excited to get stuck into The Beginning, as I can’t wait to see how the series will ultimately conclude. Keep an eye on this blog, as my final instalment of this retrospective series will follow very soon…

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

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Animorphs 54 | Arkham Reviews

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