Line by Line

The Animorphs Reread Begins


Tags: Animorphs, morals and ethics, rereads and rewatches

Not long ago, I posted a (spoiler-laden) blog post about what I felt was wrong with the ending of the Animorphs series and with the (also spoiler-laden) open letter the author wrote defending the ending against complaints from disappointed fans.

That post had a little problem: It was based on memories of reading the series many years ago. Truth be told, I honestly don't remember how long ago it's been since I read the books. I know my last attempt, which had to be at least fifteen years ago, only made it as far as #6. So maybe my memories of the series itself are tied up in my memories of how I felt about it at the time. Maybe my current feelings are tied up with things I'm remembering incorrectly. Maybe I'll reach a different conclusion if I reread the series as an adult.

That's what we're here to find out.

Quick content warning: Violence, obviously. It's surprisingly tame in the first two books compared to, say #4 and #10, but it's there. More pressingly, when I cover the second book, there's going to be a mention of sexual violence. I'll point it out beforehand.

Also, here's your spoiler warning: From here on out, spoilers for the first two books. I'll try to keep spoilers for later books to a minimum in case any new readers want to read along with me.

The List

Here's the complete series in release order, which is more or less what I'll be using:

  1. Animorphs #1: The Invasion
  2. Animorphs #2: The Visitor
  3. Animorphs #3: The Encounter
  4. Animorphs #4: The Message
  5. Animorphs #5: The Predator
  6. Animorphs #6: The Capture
  7. Animorphs #7: The Stranger
  8. Megamorphs #1: The Andalite's Gift
  9. Animorphs #8: The Alien
  10. Animorphs 9: The Secret
  11. Animorphs #10: The Android
  12. Animorphs #11: The Forgotten
  13. Animorphs #12: The Reaction
  14. Animorphs #13: The Change
  15. The Andalite Chronicles
  16. Animorphs #14: The Unknown
  17. Animorphs #15: The Escape
  18. Animorphs #16: The Warning
  19. Animorphs #17: The Underground
  20. Animorphs #18: The Decision
  21. Megamorphs #2: In the Time of Dinosaurs
  22. Animorphs #19: The Departure
  23. Animorphs #20: The Discovery
  24. Animorphs #21: The Threat
  25. Animorphs #22: The Solution
  26. Animorphs #23: The Pretender
  27. The Hork-Bajir Chronicles
  28. Animorphs #24: The Suspicion
  29. Animorphs #25: The Extreme
  30. Animorphs #26: The Attack
  31. Animorphs #27: The Exposed
  32. Animorphs #28: The Experiment
  33. Animorphs #29: The Sickness
  34. Megamorphs #3: Elfangor's Secret
  35. Animorphs #30: The Reunion
  36. Animorphs #31: The Conspiracy
  37. Animorphs #32: The Separation
  38. Animorphs #33: The Illusion
  39. Animorphs #34: The Prophecy
  40. Animorphs #35: The Proposal
  41. Visser
  42. Animorphs #36: The Mutation
  43. Animorphs #37: The Weakness
  44. Animorphs #38: The Arrival
  45. Animorphs #39: The Hidden
  46. Animorphs #40: The Other
  47. Animorphs #41: The Familiar
  48. Megamorphs #4: Back to Before
  49. Animorphs #42: The Journey
  50. Animorphs #43: The Test
  51. Animorphs #44: The Unexpected
  52. Animorphs #45: The Revelation
  53. Animorphs #46: The Deception
  54. Animorphs #47: The Resistance
  55. The Ellimist Chronicles
  56. Animorphs #48: The Return
  57. Animorphs #49: The Diversion
  58. Animorphs #50: The Ultimate
  59. Animorphs #51: The Absolute
  60. Animorphs #52: The Sacrifice
  61. Animorphs #53: The Answer
  62. Animorphs #54: The Beginning

There are some arguments against this order. For instance, The Ellimist Chronicles spoils something that happens in the finale, but not whom it happens to, so people often read it either after or immediately before the finale. It's been argued that the other two books with “Chronicles” in the title should be swapped, as The Hork-Bajir Chronicles seems more pertinent to #13, while The Andalite Chronicles reveals something that isn't revealed to the Animorphs until #23. (Visser, also a Chronicles book in all but name, cements its place in the reading order by following directly from a cliffhanger in #35.) The fan wiki's chronological list claims that The Hork-Bajir Chronicles can't go between #23 and #24 because the last gap before #23 was before #20 at the latest, but even ignoring that Hork-Bajir comes after #23, what's one more minor continuity error in a series full of them?

I'm honestly not sure if I'll read The Ellimist Chronicles at all. I never read it before, and this project is about whether my opinions are changed by rereading as an adult, not by the inclusion of the Chronicles book I skipped. Besides, it has basically no bearing on the plot and you can pretty much ignore not just the book but the Ellimist entirely and still be able to talk about the series' themes. On the other hand, it's probably worth a look to see how well the book itself lines up with those themes and whether it's another anti-war war story or just some sci-fi book that's tangentially related to Animorphs. Maybe I'll wait until after #54 to decide.

The Nouns

If you aren't already familiar with the series and you're not reading along, here's a quick glossary so you're not completely lost.

The Animorphs (Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, and Marco) are the teenage protagonists who can transform, or morph, into any animal they can touch, with the catch that they can't change back if they stay morphed for more than two hours. (I said last time that there was also an alien named Ax, but he doesn't show up until #4.) Elfangor, an alien from a species called Andalites, gives them the morphing ability before being brutally murdered. Andalites, and the Animorphs when morphed, communicate via telepathy called thought-speak, written in the books with less-than and greater-than signs (< and >) instead of quotation marks, but in this post I'll use actual angle quotes (‹ and ›) instead for the sake of screen reader users.

The Yeerks are slug-like mind-control parasites, called Controllers when they take hosts. They have to leave their host bodies to feed by swimming in an underground Yeerk pool every three days. To cover their activities and recruit new hosts, they operate a cult-like youth group called The Sharing. The Hork-Bajir are tall, lizard-like, blade-covered aliens enslaved by the Yeerks. The Taxxons are allies of the Yeerks, giant centipede-like monsters with razor-sharp teeth and insatiable hunger. Visser Three is the leader of the invasion and the only Yeerk with a morph-capable Andalite host. His flagship/battleship is the Blade Ship, and Yeerk fighter craft are called Bug Fighters.

I think that should cover the Animorphs lore for now. If you missed my last post, which you probably did if you're avoiding spoilers, jus ad bellum and jus in bello are components of just war theory, referring to the ethics of going to war and of behavior in war, respectively.

The Invasion

In book #1, Jake and his friends witness Elfangor crash-landing in a construction site. He tells them about the Yeerks and gives them the morphing ability so they can stall the invasion until the Andalite military arrives. Visser Three arrives and kills Elfangor. The Animorphs learn from a meeting of the Sharing that Jake's brother Tom is a Controller. They discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool and attack it to free the enslaved hosts, but Visser Three thwarts the rescue. The Animorphs escape, but Tobias stays in morph too long and is trapped permanently as a hawk.

This was always going to be a big one. Though I focused mainly on the ethics of war in my post on the ending, the reason the ending always felt wrong to me was largely that it wasn't satisfying as an ending to the story I felt like I was being told all along. So I should be able to hold #54 up against #1 and see whether it feels like promises were broken.

The series' first installment makes no bones about the fact that its protagonists are not action heroes. In their first encounter with the Yeerks, at the construction site, they run away and cry. I would too, frankly. In the climactic battle at the end of the book, they start to feel like action heroes: Rachel's elephant morph makes short work of the Controllers menacing Marco and Jake, and when Jake morphs, he thrills at the power and grace and terrifying roar of his tiger body.

And then Visser Three shows up, morphs into a fireball-spewing monster, and the Animorphs barely escape alive. Jake nearly succeeds in rescuing his brother, but ultimately fails. Tom and his Yeerk survive, but only one person is rescued. The rest of the hosts the Animorphs released from their cages are recaptured or killed.

The book also leans really, really heavily on foreshadowing what's going to happen to Tobias. Jake's narration basically won't shut up about how Tobias is reluctant to leave his hawk morph. In one scene, Jake notes Tobias's eyes, “eyes I can now see only in my memory.” This would work as a fake-out suggesting Tobias died, except that elsewhere, Jake says Tobias was, and still is, weird. Tobias is already morphed well in advance of the start of the raid on the pool, and circumstances prevent him from morphing to reset the two-hour clock.

I haven't changed my mind about the ending yet, but I'll give it this: If you read book 1 and think that it's promising you a victorious, action-movie happy ending, or that you could reasonably describe the series as light-hearted, you just weren't paying attention.

On the other hand, this book is hopeful in a way that the series finale isn't. Book 1's ending is dark, perhaps not even bittersweet so much as simply bitter. Still, all the Animorphs make it out alive, and one person is freed. The Animorphs are left with hope that they really can hold out long enough for the Andalite military to show up and save the day, as Elfangor promises they will.

I guess that makes this as good a time as any to discuss the jus ad bellum angle. Since I'm Catholic, I'll go back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which lays out the conditions of just war in CCC # 2309: The harm the war seeks to stop must be “lasting, grave, and certain”; all other means of stopping it must be “impractical or ineffective”; “there must be serious prospects of success”; and it must not create a bigger injustice than the one it seeks to stop.

Most of these conditions are met: It becomes clear that the threat is grave and certain, if not when the Animorphs barely escape with their lives after watching Visser Three murder Elfangor, then probably once they spy on the meeting of the Sharing's “full members,” and certainly by the time they make it to the Yeerk pool and witness the scope of the problem. As for lasting, it seems unlikely that the total enslavement of the human race is supposed to be temporary. Other means of stopping the problem prove to be ineffective: The initial plan is to get the word out and let the proper authorities deal with it—Elfangor even instructs them to do so—but it quickly becomes clear that the Yeerks are capable of covering it up, and there's nobody the Animorphs can tell that they know isn't a Controller. The risk of not only failing but creating five more morph-capable Controllers is too great. Some of the things we learn about the Yeerk-Andalite war in later books might run afoul of the proportionality condition, but certainly nothing the Animorphs do in this book is worse than the Yeerk invasion of Earth.

The problem comes in with the “serious prospects of success”: The Animorphs don't have that. They learned that the hard way. Sure, if it were just Taxxons and Hork-Bajir, they'd stand a chance, but the Animorphs have no counter to Visser Three's monster morphs, let alone the spaceships. They have no allies, no support system, no advantages other than the morphing ability, all while having to maintain their cover as normal teenagers with all the limitations that entails.

Here's the rub: The Animorphs had no intention of starting a war. Their plan, once going public was ruled out, was to break into the Yeerk pool and rescue people. Jake doesn't really say, but it's not hard to see this as a means of enabling them to go back to plan A: Perhaps the ray guns and spaceships in the book's opening chapters could be dismissed as teenagers setting off fireworks, and the witnesses as “morons” who are “quick to believe nonsense” about “flying saucers.” But it would be harder to cover it up when dozens of people come forward with their stories about being Yeerk slaves, especially if a few of those people are Hork-Bajir.

In any case, the Animorphs never planned to be the ones to win the war. Elfangor promised that the Andalites would come and rescue Earth. The only problem was that it may take up to a year, so the Animorphs would have to stall for time. This is a much more achievable goal. Given that Elfangor was individually capable of taking out several Yeerk fighters before crash-landing, it's not hard to believe that a whole army of Andalites showing up would qualify as “serious prospects of success.”

I won't go so far as to say that the Animorphs aren't in a war, though. It's just that the war was already ongoing and the Animorphs were promised that they were just buying time for allies to show up, so I don't think it's fair to say they fail the jus ad bellum test on the grounds that they picked a fight they couldn't win.

That leaves jus in bello, and that's mainly going to revolve around the killing of Controllers. You can't really kill a Yeerk in a combat situation without killing the host as well. Every enemy is hiding behind (well, inside) a living shield at all times, but it's not really feasible for the Animorphs to get into combat situations and never, ever kill any enemy combatants.

I think there's a reasonable double-effect argument to be made, though: Legitimate defense against an attack by the Yeerk may have potentially lethal harm to the host as an obviously foreseeable side effect, but not the actual intended goal. Of course, double-effect alone doesn't make an act justifiable: The desired outcome must also be proportionally greater than the harm done. The desired outcome is the continued existence of Earth's only known defense against the Yeerks until the Andalites show up, so I'd say that probably counts.

I don't know how international law would handle this, but I suspect that given the unique circumstances posed by body-snatching parasites, killing the host along with the Yeerk (presuming that use of lethal force against the Yeerk was, itself, justified) would be considered acceptable collateral damage. Frankly, one innocent bystander to one aggressor is probably a better ratio than our drone strike program has ever managed.

What's more troubling is the discrepancy between how the Animorphs think of human-Controllers and alien-Controllers. Later books make clear that the Animorphs have a policy of trying not to kill human-Controllers, and while that's not mentioned here, they treat the killing of aliens much differently than the killing of humans. The Taxxons' deaths are described pretty matter-of-factly, bursting or being crushed and getting their slimy innards everywhere.

There are only two mentioned cases of violence against human-Controllers. First, a Controller catches Jake and Marco before they can morph, and Rachel in elephant morph picks him up and tosses him. “I didn't see where he landed,” Jake tells us. Another Controller knew where Cassie lived and had captured her and dragged her to the Yeerk pool, and Jake's narration only says that Cassie “had gotten away clean,” and that “Cassie said we didn't have to worry about him anymore. She didn't want to talk about what had happened to him.”

In the first case, you can see Jake make an effort to avoid reaching the obvious conclusion that Rachel had seriously injured and likely killed a human-Controller. In the second, it's heavily implied that Cassie did kill one to keep her identity secret and is extremely uncomfortable about it.

The treatment of Hork-Bajir is somewhere in between that of humans and of Taxxons. Jake describes injuring them, and even says Marco in gorilla morph punched his way through them and “whatever he punched stayed down,” and while he never outright says any of them die, he doesn't seem to be uncomfortable with the possibility. It just isn't worth mentioning either way.

Out of universe, this makes perfect sense. I mean, it's nonsense, but violence against non-human characters feels less violent, even when it's clear that they're still people. This is why, for instance, my mother was more comfortable with my brother playing Halo (where all the enemies are aliens) than World War II games. And this is a kids' series, so making the aliens bear the brunt of the violence is probably a concession to the publisher's fear of concerned parents. Plus, since that cultural attitude exists, it makes in-universe sense for the Animorphs to fall prey to it. That doesn't make it okay, but it makes it make sense.

One other thing worth noting, and something I want to keep my eye on moving forward, is Jake being manipulative. Now, he isn't exactly perceptive in this book (he can't fathom why Tobias would land on Rachel's shoulder or why she seems okay with it, for instance) so I have a hard time picturing him as much of a manipulator, and I don't remember Jake being particularly manipulative from when I read the series years ago. But part of being a good leader is knowing your team well enough to use all their strengths, and Jake definitely gets good at that over the course of the series. Part of being a manipulator is knowing your marks well enough to get them to do what you want even when they wouldn't normally do it, which isn't that different.

Even at this point, Jake knows Marco well enough to push his buttons. In this book, Jake goads Marco into acquiring a gorilla morph he isn't comfortable with by insinuating that he's afraid. Is this an isolated incident, or does this become a recurring habit with Jake's character that I just didn't notice as a kid? (Fans may already be thinking ahead to books 21 and 22, but I'm not sure that's the same thing.)

To be clear, I don't think this is a terribly fair critique in terms of how the book should have been written. There's only so much room in these late chapters, and the pacing of the book and the ending with Tobias would have been wrecked if there had been an extra chapter where the teenagers dissect the ethics of everything they'd done. But the author did say in that letter that she encourages readers to think about what they're reading, so that's what I'm doing. This reread is not really a review.

The Visitor

In book #2, the Animorphs spy on a known Controller, their vice principal Mr. Chapman. Rachel sneaks into his house by morphing the cat belonging to Chapman's daughter, Rachel's old friend Melissa. Inside, she learns that Melissa thinks her parents stopped loving her, but Mr. Chapman actually joined the Yeerks “voluntarily” on the condition that Melissa be spared. Rachel is discovered, and Visser Three demands that both she and Melissa be brought to him. Chapman resists his Yeerk, who brings only Rachel, and then vows to blow the Yeerk's cover if Melissa is harmed. The remaining Animorphs rescue Rachel and escape, and Rachel leaves Melissa an anonymous note saying that her father loves her.

One thing I've heard from modern-day fans is that the opening spiel gets really tedious once you've read a couple books. It never bothered me as a kid, but coming back to it now? Good grief! Rachel (this book's narrator) takes a good two chapters or more to get it all out of her system. I appreciate the effort to be new-reader-friendly, and I appreciate that it's intercut with the scenes of the Animorphs flying rather than being a chapter-length infodump. Still, I feel like it could have been trimmed a bit.

I know, I said this isn't a review, but one of my goals is to see how my opinions changed as an adult, and there's a changed opinion for you.

What I wouldn't trim is the stuff about Tobias, because it dovetails (red-tails?) nicely with some other elements that, together, paint a picture of the differences between Rachel and Jake.

To begin with, Rachel may not come out and say Tobias is trapped as a hawk until the very end of chapter 2, but she does broadly hint at it before then. She devotes a lot of her narration to him, lovingly describing his pre-hawk appearance and lamenting that there's not a pair of shoes for him. Where Jake in book 1 would only say “I guess you could say I like Cassie,” Rachel leaves no room for guesswork.

Likewise, where Jake noticed but was baffled by Tobias and Rachel's closeness, Rachel immediately has Jake's number when she sees him stroking Cassie's head and quickly withdrawing his hand out of embarrassment. And she can tell that “Cassie was fine with it,” knowing how boys are about their feelings.

And maybe that includes Tobias, based on how he uses his thought-speak. The telepathy the Animorphs have while morphed, which for Tobias is always, can be broadcast to everyone in range or directed to specific people. When Rachel is about to do something dangerous, Tobias makes a point to tell her to be careful: ‹I don't want anything to happen to you.› Rachel immediately picks up on the fact that nobody else reacts, meaning Tobias is speaking privately.

This is a nice piece of storytelling, accomplishing a couple things in addition to showing Rachel as more perceptive than Jake. It foreshadows Rachel noticing when Tobias uses private thought-speech to exclude her later in the book. It also highlights the tragedy of Rachel and Melissa growing apart: She immediately notices her friends' feelings but is blindsided by Melissa's.

This isn't particularly subtle, to adult eyes, but it's very effective.

Hey, remember that content warning? This is that part. Skip this next paragraph if you're not up for it.

Something else that hits different as an adult is the scene where Rachel is approached by an older guy who gets out of his car, tries to sweet-talk her, and then demands she get in the car. Knowing she won't be able to outrun him, she partially morphs into an elephant to scare him off. As a kid, I sort of just thought of him as an annoying creepy dude, not really getting the implications of the age difference. (Rachel's exact age isn't given, anyway.) Reading it now, it's clear that even if she were a year or two older than Jake (whose age is given near the end of the series), holy yikes, that's a pedophile, and age notwithstanding, she likely just avoided getting raped. For all I'm about to gripe about the Animorphs' opsec, and for all the grief Marco gives her in the next chapter, it's extremely hard to blame Rachel for defending herself in the manner that she does.

Okay, it's over.

Another recurring motif in the series that I notice as an adult is the absolutely terrible operational security of both the Yeerks and the Animorphs. I didn't bring it up when discussing the previous book because Cassie actually does suffer consequences for getting too close to a Sharing meeting. I'm not counting the above scene for the same reason: Rachel beats herself up enough, and then Marco (understandably) flips his lid, and the specter of whether a known Controller saw it hangs over much of the book.

On the other hand, there is a scene in book 1 I didn't mention before where the Animorphs meet at the mall food court to discuss the Yeerks, and in this one, Jake and Rachel discuss morphing on the school bus. Yes, it's noisy and they're whispering, but that's still not great.

Rachel prints her note to Melissa out using a word processor, and while I don't know how widespread those yellow dots were in 1996, they existed since the 80s.

All that's nothing compared to Jake coming out of flea morph and going into his tiger morph right in front of a bunch of Taxxons, hoping they're too distracted to notice him.

The Yeerks are no better. The abandoned construction site where the teens met Elfangor returns in this book, as one of the Yeerks' regular landing sites. That explains why it was left abandoned, but it's right across the highway from the YMCA and the mall, and there's no mention of any cloaking technology in this book. The Animorphs even point out in the next book that these weren't cloaked, presumably since they were taking off or landing. That makes it worse: If your cloaks don't work while you're landing, why land right next to a bunch of people?

Not to mention all the construction equipment left abandoned. It's not all that suspicious that a construction project might have run out of money and been abandoned, and I'll buy that it's cheaper just to leave it sit as-is than demolish it. But you'd expect the equipment, and any raw materials that could be used elsewhere, to be sold off to recoup costs, not left sitting there to rust, and that's eyebrow-raising. (Apparently the keys were even left in the machines, which isn't an opsec failure, exactly, but it's a pretty big security failure in general.)

On top of that, as worried as Chapman's Yeerk is about not blowing his cover, he sure doesn't seem to care much about alienating Melissa. The school's vice principal being a neglectful parent isn't exactly a good look.

But all this security talk is just a self-indulgence of mine. What we're really here for is the themes.

This book is all about the human cost of the invasion. It centers on an espionage mission, so there's not a ton to discuss in terms of battles. There is a fight toward the end, but the only gratuitous violence is on the Yeerks' part: Visser Three slices open a Taxxon who gave him bad news, leading to the series' first of many instances of Taxxon cannibalism. Once the Animorphs get away, he throws a tanrum and stomps most of his crew to death. Marco and Cassie don't even morph except to escape, but they blow up a Yeerk fighter by running over it with construction equipment. (I told you leaving the keys was a security failure.) There's no mention of the Animorphs killing any Controllers; their aim is to distract the Yeerks while they grab Rachel and get out. Jake does attack Visser Three and some hork-bajir to cover Rachel's escape, but there's no indication of whether he killed anyone, and even if he did I'd be hard pressed to find anything to criticize from a just-war standpoint.

The real heart of the story is Rachel discovering her reason for fighting. Of course, unlike Marco, it's not like she needs a reason beyond “alien invasion is bad,” but what she sees in the Chapman household shows her just how bad. Melissa, thinking she's talking to her actual cat, asks Rachel why her parents don't love her anymore. Later, Rachel sees Melissa's parents attempt to kill themselves rather than let their Yeerk slavers take Melissa. She sees Mr. Chapman struggle even to stand or speak when granted temporary control of his own body, and hears him swear that he will fight for his daughter. This especially hits home for Rachel because she's a child of divorce, and she used to worry that her father didn't love her anymore because he left. Because of all this, Rachel swears that she'll fight too, for the sake of all the families torn apart by the Yeerks.

How does that line up with the ostensible theme of the overall series? Not well, in isolation. Animorphs is ostensibly an anti-war war story, and having the main character find a reason for fighting a war, on top of the very good reasons she already had, doesn't strike me as particularly anti-war.

This is, of course, completely unfair. This is only the second book in the series, and moreover, one of the author's stated goals was to show how awful war is even in those wars that legitimately need to be fought. Setting up a good reason to fight this war only to have it still be horrible, because war is horrible regardless, is perfectly in line with the anti-war theme.

It's just that there's a fundamental tension between the anti-war message and the existence of necessary and justified wars, and before starting this reread, I didn't feel that the series manged to resolve that tension or even have anything intelligent to say about it. So far, I haven't seen anything to change my mind. That's not a critique of this book, which handles its own themes with aplomb. We're still in the setup phase, and it's the payoff I felt was lacking.

Actually, there might be one theme that isn't handled with aplomb: The idea of lies, omissions, and half-truths runs through the entire book, but I'd call it more a motif than a theme. It happens a lot but I don't feel like the story actually does much with it.

The first time Rachel spies on Chapman, Visser Three notices her and orders Chapman's Yeerk to kill her, before relenting to protect Chapman's cover. Rachel doesn't tell the other Animorphs, even Tobias, because she knows they'll stop her from going back in. On the second try, Jake stows away as a flea on Rachel's back. The other Animorphs keep this secret from Rachel by telling her Jake wasn't able to come because he was grounded. After they're both captured, Rachel pleads with Jake to escape, and he tells her he's leaving. To make sure he really left, she begs him to come back, and takes his silence as proof that he's gone, but he stays and just doesn't answer.

It's not just the Animorphs lying to each other: Earlier in the book, Rachel expresses guilt over the half-truth she tells her mother about getting a ride home from the mall, the outright lie she tells her sister about her morph-induced nightmare, and the lies she tells Melissa when she's not sure if Melissa is a Controller. She's also hurt by Melissa lying about there being something wrong in her life.

But when it comes to lying to and being lied to by her fellow Animorphs, Rachel doesn't have anything to say. It's not as if there are no consequences: If Rachel had been honest about Visser Three spotting her, the second mission would probably never have happened and she wouldn't have gotten herself and Jake captured, and nearly gotten Melissa enslaved but for Mr. and Ms. Chapman's intervention. But that's just one, albeit the biggest one, of several lies and omissions throughout the book, and it doesn't seem like the book actually has anything to say about the Animorphs keeping secrets from each other in general, or in particular how the other Animorphs responded to Rachel obviously keeping something from them by keeping things from her. This is something that can't keep happening if the group is going to stand a chance against the Yeerks, but nobody seems to display any awareness of that fact.

You could chalk it up to groundwork laid for future books, I guess, but the next three don't touch on it. There is a secret in #5, but it's nothing like the pattern of lies and secrecy in this book.

Finally, while we're on the subject of things future books don't address, let's talk about Melissa.

Rachel used to be very close friends with Melissa. Maybe not as close as she is with Cassie, but still, pretty close. Rachel still has a photo in her room of herself and Melissa at Melissa's twelfth-or-so birthday party. The two of them took up gymnastics at the same time so they'd have something to do together. Rachel feels guilt over growing apart from Melissa, not noticing how awful things had gotten for her, and only starting to notice or care when a mission required her to. Melissa is at the forefront of Rachel's discovery of her reason for fighting, she's a major supporting character in what's only the series' second book, and she's related to the host of one of the series' regular antagonists, a “lieutenant” who reports directly to Visser Three.

With all that in mind, it feels weird to me that Melissa just drops out of the series. She makes at least one cameo appearance and is mentioned a few times. She's brought up in #5 as the reason they can't use the cat morph to sneak back into Chapman's house anymore. But I'm pretty sure that's the last time she actually matters.

More importantly, it's weird that Rachel doesn't do much to reach out to Melissa and be a better friend. After all, she felt so bad about not doing that up to this point. Sure, I understand why the note had to be anonymous: If she had signed the note or said it in person, Melissa would wonder how exactly Rachel knows that, and how she knew what she was worried about in the first place, and I can't see that going well. But that shouldn't be a substitute for Rachel reaching out to try to rebuild their friendship in some way, even a small one.

I'm not saying that makes this a terrible book, of course. It just rubs me a little wrong.

The Upshot

So where does that leave us?

First of all, I enjoyed reading these two books (and the next three I've already read in preparation for the next post in this series) almost as much as I did as a kid. They're engagingly written, easy to read, and just generally entertaining.

There are some annoyances. There are some things that stand out to me as potential problems (Hork-Bajir lives are cheap) or at least more significant than they're presented (Cassie killed a guy).

But there are also little details I didn't pick up on as a kid that make the experience richer. Like Jake's lack of perceptiveness compared to Rachel, how Tobias falls in love with the hawk morph before he ends up trapped in it, the cultlike nature of the Sharing, and probably more I'm forgetting.

As I said before, we're still in the setup phase, so if there's a problem with the series' anti-war message, it's not showing yet. However, these books do establish a strong reason for the Animorphs to be fighting, and at this point I'll sound like a broken record if I point out once again the tension between an anti-war message and a war that needs to be fought. Still, the Animorphs aren't exactly fighting an actual war yet, and with 0 victories, one casualty, and one near miss, these books aren't pulling any punches about how difficult and how awful the war will be, and they're certainly not setting up the main characters as glorious war heroes.

It remains to see whether the series sticks the landing better than I thought it did, but it's certainly off to a promising start.