Animorphs 54

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 | 50-53

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

Wow. It feels weird to say this after two years but I am finally at the end of my retrospective look at K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. The series in question ran from 1996 to 2001 and consisted of fifty-four main novels and eight specials. It was also a massive part of my childhood and a source of huge nostalgia for me. For the purpose of this review, I’m only going to be looking at the final novel – The Beginning (2001). Please note that this post will contain massive spoilers for the entire series. You have been warned.

The end has finally come. Visser One has been defeated and the Animorphs have control of the Pool Ship. However, the battle is not over yet. Tom’s rebel band of Yeerks has taken the Blade Ship. The Animorphs have no chance of out-manoeuvring them and their weapons have been drained. Their only hope lies in the Rachel, who has stowed away as a flea on Tom’s head. With the future of the human race hanging the balance, Jake gives the one command he has always feared. He orders Rachel to stop his brother by whatever means necessary.

Rachel’s actions are enough to end the war, allowing the Animorphs to create a hasty agreement with the Andalites and save the Earth. However, it all comes at a terrible price. Not all of them came away from the Pool Ship unharmed. While some of Animorphs use their skills and fame to thrive in the years following the war, others sink further into despair. Jake, in particular, is unable to come to terms with the decisions that he was forced to make in the heat of battle. In some ways, he worries that he was as bad as Visser One.

Yet, even though the Yeerks have been defeated, danger still lurks at the edge of space. An entity that calls itself the One has begun to move, capturing any ship that it encounters and assimilating its crew into a greater whole. When Ax becomes a victim of the creature, the Andalite’s turn to the remaining Animorphs for assistance. However, are the Animorphs prepared relinquish their safety and head into battle once again?

It’s been a long old trip and it feels really weird to think that I won’t be typing up any more of these reviews. Anyhow, I decided to review this instalment on its own purely because it’s actually a really difficult one to talk about. Despite my love of this series, I hated this book when I first read it. I had devoted years of my life to following the adventures of the Animorphs. I shipped Jake and Cassie. I was in love with Tobias. I really, really disliked Rachel. I wanted them to win and live happily ever after. If you felt the same, this book is a real kick in the teeth.

However, on rereading this novel and reflecting on everything that came before, I have to admit that no other ending would be satisfying. At it’s heart, Animorphs has always been an anti-war story. Throughout the series, we’ve seen the protagonists be forced to make terrible decisions and we’ve seen the effects that these have had on them. This is probably at its most poignant in Jake’s character arc, which has taken him from jock to conflicted leader to broken soldier. The moral of Animorphs is that there is no good war. It changes people, it destroys lives and it causes good people to make horrible choices. All of these things can be seen in The Beginning.

Let’s start with this story’s biggest shock – the thing that the series has been foreshadowed since The Ellimist Chronicles. This is the book where Rachel dies. It actually happens within the first thirty pages of the story, which is far sooner than you might imagine. While sad, this actually felt like the most natural conclusion for her story arc. Rachel has grown increasingly (and often frustratingly) brutal as the series progressed. Even as far back as The Solution, Jake noted that he didn’t know what Rachel would do when the war was over. Dying in battle was really the most satisfying way for her to go. The shocking thing was that she killed Tom just before her death, and the fact that she did this on Jake’s orders.

The battle for the Pool Ship only takes up the first third of this novel. The rest of it is spent detailing what became of the protagonists over the following two years. While this section is a bit exposition heavy, this is in part because Applegate had to wrap up a fifty-four volume series in only a hundred pages. My only real issue is that the focus is entirely on the main cast. We don’t learn what became of the Auxiliary Animorphs, or Sam Doubleday’s troops, or the Chee, or even the Animorphs’ families. While these characters were never the main focus of the series, I was disappointed that many of them escaped any mention. Instead, all we are treated to is the fates of the surviving protagonists.

The defeat of the Yeerks really comes at the highest cost to Jake. Every decision that he makes during the battle leads to death. His orders directly lead to Rachel and Tom destroying each other. His actions cause thousands of helpless Yeerks to be flushed into space. His insistence that the Auxiliary Animorphs provide a diversion presumably leads to all of their destruction. While these things seem necessary in the heat of the moment, they ultimately break him. As Visser One is tried at the Hague for his war crimes, Jake is forced to reflect on everything that he has done. He realises that history is written by the victors. To the humans and Andalites, he is a hero. To the Yeerks, he is a monster.

Jake’s torment is the focus for most of the novel as he battles depression and takes a long time to find a place for himself in the world. However, Marco and Cassie follow very different paths. Both of them manage to profit from their experiences as Animorphs. Cassie finds a new life (and love) for herself by dedicating her life to liaising between resident aliens and the United States Government. Marco uses his fame and powers to become a celebrity, staring in a superhero TV series and publishing a book of his memoirs. Personally, I thought that these are perfect. Not only do they show how resilient humans can be, but they are also fitting fates for them both.

Ax, similarly, does well for himself after the war. Promoted to a Prince at long last, it is shown how he has adopted a similar leadership style to Jake and become a legendary warrior. It’s nice to see how he has finally managed to be noticed. While he was previously viewed as being Elfangor’s immature brother, he has now made a name for himself and been recognised for his own achievements.

The only character that I am still disappointed with is Tobias. To an extent, it is understandable that he falls apart after Rachel’s death. For the longest time, he only really clung to his human side because he wanted to be with her. However, that isn’t really the case anymore. In The Diversion, Tobias was reunited with his estranged mother and was keen to get to know her. It seems weak that he would just turn his back on her again, and weaker still that Loren escapes all mention in The Beginning.

In terms of structure, the novel is pretty balanced. While it has an exciting opening, it becomes a lot more sedate and retrospective after that, lending itself over to many discussions between the Animorphs as they debate whether they did the right thing. I only really have a couple of issues. First is the opening. Yes, once again we open to a lengthy description of what a Yeerk is. During the middle of a space battle. I have said this many times before, but why? Why would you do this? This book is a direct continuation of The Answer. There is no need at all to open to this exposition.

The ending is also likely to divide people. You may be surprised to hear that this book actually ends on a massive cliff-hanger. Ax is absorbed by a mysterious being known as the One, and the novel ends as Jake, Marco and Tobias prepare to ram his ship. It’s clear here that Applegate is trying to show that warfare never really has an end. When one enemy is defeated, another is sure to rise to take their place. Yet, in terms of storytelling, this still feels a bit weak. It’s taken sixty-two books to reach this point, yet the series breaks off on a note of uncertainty. It really is a shame that we will never learn if the Animorphs were successful as now, seventeen years on, there is unlikely to ever be a resolution. This does sadden me a little, as there is still such scope for future adventures.

Anyhow, I guess that really is all I have to say. As I said before, it has been a long and crazy trip. I’ve had to struggle past plots concerning alien toilets and the narcotic properties of oatmeal, but I’m still really glad that I decided to reread this series. Animorphs takes its readers very seriously, presenting a dark and compelling story that addresses pressing issues that range from animal conservation to the impact of war. If you are lucky enough to get hold of this series, I would certainly recommend giving it a try.

I hope that you enjoyed this look back at K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with these retrospective posts or not, but if you have an series that was published between the late 80s and early 00s that you’d like me to review, please let me know in the comments.

The Beginning is currently out of print. If you’d like to read it, try Amazon Marketplace or your local library.

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