Apparently instant oatmeal (maple ginger instant oatmeal, to be precise) is like Yeerk heroin, so the Animorphs decide to run a mission down to the Yeerk pool, and see how many Yeerks they can get addicted to it (a process which eventually drives them mad). Man, just typing it out like that makes me feel like their whole plan was super fucked up, and the fact that no one really put up more than a token resistance to it is NOT a good sign for both the morale and morality of our heroes.
Aside from the oatmeal complication, this is actually a pretty straightforward “break into the Yeerk Pool and cause some havoc” story (which we’ve had several examples of by now). They use mole morphs to dig a tunnel into the Yeerk pool, after new tech at the normal entrances means they have to find another way in. It takes them a week to dig the tunnel, at which point they head down it. This brings them to a bat cave, where they switch morphs and enter the Yeerk pool. Chaos ensues.
There really isn’t much under the surface here. There are two main thematic threads here, and none of them are hit upon all that hard. This is Rachel’s book, and we do get a little insight into her psyche, that even when she seems gung-ho during missions, and is always the person who says “let’s do it”, she isn’t always truly enthusiastic. The warrior persona is a role she lives with now, and she feels pressure to maintain it, even while dealing with the same fears and traumas the others are.
The other thing is something I already mentioned above, and that’s the slippery slope our heroes have most definitely started on. When does an action in war stop being justifiable? How do you balance actions necessary to defeating your enemy, without descending to their level? (Assuming of course that your enemy is at fault, or to blame.) Drugging a thousand Yeerks with oatmeal, condemning their hosts to lives never free of the Yeerk in their heads, most likely spent institutionalized due to the outbursts from the mad Yeerk that can’t be controlled. Even Cassie can’t say for sure whether what they’re doing is right or wrong.
A little thing that bothered me: Rachel saves a man from committing suicide at the beginning of the book, and then she makes some terrible comments about people who commit suicide that at best portray a stunningly immature understand of why people kill themselves, and at worst betrays the author’s own feelings regarding the subject. I know this book was written over twenty years ago now, and we definitely weren’t having discussions in the open about mental illness and depression like we do now (though we still have a LONG way to go), but Rachel’s attitude is never called out, and the other characters make some callous jokes about insanity as well, so the overall impression is that Applegate just didn’t think those comments were a big deal. (This is especially surprising since she’s normally a sensitive writer who gives great consideration to tough topics.)
Overall, this one didn’t work for me that well. The silly premise was not quite overcome, and the books that are just straight up action are never going to be my favorite.
Next up: Ax, mosquitoes, and the mysterious z-space!
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Remember back when Ax warned the other Animorphs that when they morphed smaller animals than their own body mass, all that extra mass was extruded into z-space and just sort of chilled out there until they resumed their human forms? And remember how he also said that spaceships also roam z-space? And that there was an infinitesimally small chance that said spaceships might hit their extruded mass? And that no one knew what would happen if they did? Well.
Turns out what happens is a great story that is one of my favorite yet in this universe. I always love mythology and space-heavy installments anyway, but this one also does a particularly nice job with Ax’s character (his loyalties are tested, as is the faith in his people), along with giving us cool action scenes and intrigue and aliens and space battles. It’s also nice that for a change the Animorphs (and the Andalites, et. al) actually win a pretty big victory in the war against the Yeerks. It’s not just the Animorphs constantly being tested morally and physically and coming away more and more hardened. It’s also that sometimes when you fight, you win.
I only have two complaints about this installment, and they’re pretty minor. The first is that Ax is very bothered by Visser Three having a morph that could only have been acquired on the Andalite homeworld, and this is supposed to be a message to him and us that the Yeerks have made headway onto that homeworld, a hint that maybe not all Andalites are as good and pure as they professed. Only . . . how did no one think the obvious here. Visser Three’s host body is an Andalite. Who grew up on that homeworld. And who had the morphing power long before Visser Three took him for a host. So . . . . I know later some of the Andalites mention that most Andalites don’t actually have that many morphs due to cultural/practical restrictions, but it’s still entirely possible, and the fact that Ax or the others never even point it out as a possibility really bothered me.
Also, it just wasn’t long enough. In scope, this feels similar to the story told in The Andalite Chronicles but is only given 1/3 of the length to flesh it out. I wanted to see more of internal Andalite politics, more of the battles and tactics, more of the Leeran homeworld, more of Ax reconnecting to his people and learning that he’s maybe changed too much to fit in with them the way he had in the past.
Next up, the second Megamorphs. Dinosaurs!