Book 54: The Beginning
Publishing Date: May 2001
The Animorphs are in their final battle in the Yeerk war. Rachel is on a suicide mission to eliminate Tom. The others have seized the Pool ship’s bridge and in a strangely out of character moment Visser One surrenders. The war appears to be won. There are only two loose ends left: the Andalite fleet, and Rachel…
Oh god. This book. The feels. You know, growing up, Cassie was my favourite character. I loved her gentleness and her morals and her ability to do the right thing in any situation, even if the right thing was a bad thing (say, blowing up the Yeerk pool). It was Cassie, essentially, who turned the tide of the war by giving the Yeerks a taste of the freedom they craved, and in turn, the Taxxons, leading to the alliance that would shatter the Yeerk military.
But as I grew older, I saw Rachel. My goddess. My hero. My beautiful, reckless, fearless role model.
I wanted to be Rachel. Not for her beauty, though god that could be fun. But for her fearlessness, for her recklessness, for her guts to do and say whatever it took to hurt the bad guys. Hard. See, in real life, I’m a non-confrontationalist. I back down. I let people walk all over me because I don’t have the guts to stand up for myself. Rachel was, quite simply, my idol.
And then she dies. After 53 regular books and 4 Megamorphs of ass-kicking, even when she has no powers, she dies. It hurt me.
Fair enough, someone had to. Someone had to die. It couldn’t be Jakes, because he was Applegate’s favourite. It couldn’t be Marco, her favourite to write, or Cassie, who was most like her, or Tobias, who was hands down the fan favourite. It couldn’t be Ax because he was the minority. It had to be our fearless warrior princess because she couldn’t live without the war. It had to be her, sent on a crazy, suicidal mission only she could pull off. Yes, her death is a completely tragedy, but I’m OK with it. Because in war, people die. Fuck, even in non-wars people die. Last year my grandfather died, for no reason, and he was the most wonderful amazing gentle lovely man on the whole fucking planet. Literary deaths do not need to make sense, because real life deaths do not.
But oh Rachel. I cried. You brave, beautiful thing.
So now that I’ve spoiled the shit out of this, let’s talk about the book. One third of it is dedicated to the surrender and negotiations of the Yeerks after the Blade ship jettisons Rachel and runs away. The Andalites rock up and refuse to play ball. Jake produces his own bats and stares them down. They finally retreat after poking out their tongues and give Ax a ball to play with. This analogy is weird, but just go with it. This is all thanks to Alloran, the host of Visser One, who had been put into an empty briefcase that amusingly, once held some cookies. Alloran had forgotten more about Andalite politics than Ax even knows, but he’s still a prince and even though he’s been a mind-controlled slave for like 30 years or some shit, he still kicks all kinds of ass and forces the Andalites into a uncomfortable retreat. Ax is promoted. No more fried Earth. The Yeerks and Taxxons will be allowed to become nothlits. War over. Now start the Andalite tourism trade.
The Animorphs land in Washington and become not only national heroes but international heroes. Tobias takes Rachel’s urn. Fast forward a year and the Hork-Bajir live in Yellowstone. Marco is a multi-millionaire TV star. Cassie has some government job looking after the Hork-Bajir. Jake is depressed and won’t forgive himself for ordering his cousin to kill is brother then dying. Tobias hasn’t been seen (despite the many ‘Tobias sightings’). At Visser One’s war crimes trial he accuses Jake of being a war criminal because he flushed seventeen thousand unhosted Yeerks into space. Jake gets off. Visser One goes down for a long time. Jake morphs a dolphin an magically becomes un-depressed.
Fast forward two years and Jake is now teaching anti-terrorism. A is exploring space and falls to the mercy of some new alien threat. Jake collects the boys, leaves Cassie to her government job, and goes running off into space to save Ax on a spaceship named after Rachel, only to find themselves outmatched in almost every way more than six months later. Their only hope of killing Rachel’s murderer is to ‘ram the Blade ship.’
So, this book. Worth it? Yes. Painful? God yes. All the feels. Two thirds of it are dedicated to life after war only to find that some people can’t live without conflict and go running back into space the first chance they get. I understand that, it happens in real life. There’s no real anti-war message here, because Jake will always go down fighting, and Marco will always be with him, and Tobias wanted to find Rachel’s murderer. I was only sad that essentially Ax abandons the humans and returns to the Andalites to command his own Dome ship. Understandable, but I always harboured a fantasy he’d live forever on Earth, occasionally morphing to human to eat a cinnamon bun.
The story is told in multiple perspectives, like the Megamorphs. Everyone’s got a part of the story to tell. Technically it should be a Rachel book, and it does open with her, in what is possibly the most moving suicide mission I’ve ever read. It contains my favourite quote from like the ENTIRE series:
“And oh, god, how could so much regret and so much sweetness and so much sadness all be present in that single moment. I was already dead and missing my unlived life. I was already dead and Tobias was mourning. I tried to smile. For him.”
It wraps up almost everything and introduces the new conflict to demonstrate how war never really ends, there is always the next one to go to, because the universe is a damn big place. Because what they fight for, basic freedom, is always being threatened. I would have liked to have sees what happened to Alloran – did he go back to his wife? And I would have liked to learn what happened to the Hork-Bajir home world. Last time we saw them we left them with a rebellion and a weapons cache. The free Hork-Bajir made a home on Earth, but what happened to the Controllers? And were the Yeerks on the Yeerk home world doomed to swim forever blind, deaf and mute in dirty pools or were they also allowed the freedom to choose another form forever, to basically eliminate the Yeerk race?
I wish those questions were answered. And the cliffhanger? Utterly brutal. The worst one I’ve ever read. This book is the reason I never complain about character deaths or cliffhangers in other novels, because nothing will ever leave me feeling as much as this ending did. My favourite character gone. Major characters wiped out. Cassie foreveralone. But the cliffhanger served its purpose: it allowed people to think up their own endings. It wasn’t lazy writing or an easy way out – it showed how the conflict will always continue and how Jake wasn’t happy unless he was fighting.
Endings are hard, yo. While you’re in the middle of the story all possible endings are still open. This is why love triangles work so well in books until one lover is chosen, the other jilted, and the story ends. The open-endedness of stories keeps people reading. You don’t know how it’s going to end, and once it does end, you’re either going to like it or not. Endings polarise readers. This ending hurt an entire fandom. Most of them, I think, weren’t okay with it. From what I remember, I was. I’d followed the entire series and owned every single freaking book. There was no way I was investing that much money and time and effort and NOT being satisfied by the conclusion.
I wrote an ending from Cassie’s point of view when I was in high school, the year the series ended, and I chose to write a mammoth project based on the whole thing. (I also wrote an essay on Rachel at University. What can I say? The story stayed with me, which is why I spent 2013 re-reading the books.)
In my story, Cassie falls victim to the Drode posing as the Ellimist and is thrown into different realities trying to save Jake and the others. The Yeerks on the home world were all allowed to become nothlits. There are zombie Hork-Bajir. Then for some reason Jake and the others plus Ax and his crew end up at the Pentagon and everyone’s OK. I guess I wasn’t as cool with the series end back when I was a teen as I am now.
This is the end.
Thanks for coming on my re-reading journey through 2013. Your support means the world to me. We’re not finished with Applegate just yet: she wrote another series called Everworld I’ll be tackling in 2014. There’s only 12, so we’ll be doing one book a month.