Seven books into the Animorphs series, and K.A. Applegate has a problem. The series is popular. Too popular. See, it’s so popular that its sales are already so high that any improvement is not only unlikely but mathematically impossible … unless she can come up with some way to make the series even bigger, even crazier. Something so wild that it transforms a horizontal asymptote on that time versus sales graph into a vertical one.
Enter Megamorphs. Whereas each regular book is told from a single Animorph’s perspective, Megamorphs is told through the voice of all Animorphs—including, for the very first time, Ax! Additionally, the stakes are higher than ever, the action is more intense than ever, and Rachel gets amnesia!
Yeah, so … here’s the thing. The Andalite’s Gift is, in my opinion, one of the weakest books in the series so far. And that’s saying something, because Applegate introduces a genuinely scary new threat in this book. But the rest of the story strains at the obvious attempt to be bigger! better! stronger! While it never quite degenerates into Michael Bay territory, it verges on that kind of nonsensical action.
Let’s start with the Rachel thing. Why does Rachel have to get amnesia? Like, what purpose does it serve in this plot, except to give Rachel something to do for the entire book? This is a storytelling cliché for a reason, and Applegate never goes anywhere interesting with it. Instead she plays it up for the lulz, with Rachel regaining her memory at the most convenient time. No other adverse effects whatsoever.
And while the book supposedly includes all the Animorphs, Tobias gets shafted. The antagonist is a creature that is attracted to morphing energy, so the climax centres on Jake, Cassie, and Marco. Want to know how many viewpoint chapters Tobias has? Three. Even Ax has more than that. I’m not saying that Tobias needs parity here, but it’s just unfortunate that he gets sidelined like that when Applegate manages to find interesting things for him to do in the other books.
On the other hand, hearing Ax’s narrative voice for the first time is one of the highlights of The Andalite’s Gift. I love his clipped diction and tone. It’s both analytical in the way he describes things unfamiliar to him on this planet, and emotional in his reactions to Visser Three and his failure to go on the attack. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I can easily forget Ax is a child sometimes (what with him having a deadly weapon on the end of his tail). These chapters really drive that home.
Other highlights include, of course, the epic chase sequence/extended action scene involving Marco driving Cassie’s dad’s pickup truck. DO YOU JUST HATE TRASH CANS? Yes, Jake. Yes we do. This scene is one among many that exemplifies the humour Applegate manages to bring to a series that is otherwise so dark and serious at times. In many ways Animorphs reminds me a lot of Chuck, a spy comedy on NBC that is one of my favourite series: a mixture of oddball humour and serious consequences. The inept chase sequence and the banter between Jake and Marco is definitely something Chuck and Morgan might have experienced.
Once again Applegate introduces a credible threat, in the form of the morph-hunting Veleek. Visser Three comes up with a plan that does not, for once, actually suck. In fact, it sounds like he has invested considerable effort into this plan—that alone is a sign that the Animorphs, despite their inability to create plans to save their lives, are actually making a dent on the Yeerks’ plans for conquering Earth. I enjoyed the way Applegate unspools the plot, from revealing the Veleek’s existence all the way to finding its weakness, and then turning it against Visser Three.
So this book is definitely not all bad! It’s still a fun adventure. It’s just that in attempting to emulate those action movies that sell so well, The Andalite’s Gift might be that sales booster everyone wants … but it’s not on the level that most of the books have been up until now.