Review of The Attack by K.A. Applegate
by K.A. Applegate
The Animorphs save everyone with the Power of Love™, and it would be disgusting if they didn’t need this win so very much.
The Attack is notoriously the last Animorphs book written exclusively by K.A. Applegate for a very long stretch. As such it is regarded (accurately) as an island of quality among otherwise mediocre, or at least uneven, books. Indeed, this is a great book—not quite five stars, because it didn’t really move me the way some of the previous books have, but as far as the story goes, it successfully combines high stakes with a plot that makes sense. The whole thing practically gives one chills, reading it.
We’ve seen the Ellimist before, so when he shows up again proposing that the Animorphs help him in some big interstellar game of chess, they naturally hesitate. Except that the Ellimist’s opponent is Crayak—the weird, semi-mechanical, force-of-pure-evil being that Jake first glimpsed when his Yeerk died at the end of #6: The Capture. So they agree to participate (duh), and along with Erek, get sent to a world “millions of light-years” from Earth, to save the indigenous Iskoort species from Crayak’s seven representatives—deadly, never-defeated Howlers.
(Minor science nitpick: Applegate, earlier in the book, implies that the Ellimist and Crayak are limited to this galaxy, because a “more powerful” force ejected Crayak from another galaxy. A distance of millions of light-years would put the Iskoort planet well outside our galaxy, which is an order of magnitude smaller.)
There’s a lot to like about The Attack, particularly if you like Jake as the narrator. Never has he been so clearly the leader of the Animorphs as now, when they undertake one of their most dangerous missions ever. The others all look to him automatically, and he exercises his authority much more explicitly here—for example, he orders Ax to stop moping about running from the Howlers, invoking his reluctant role as Ax’s “prince”. Jake has to struggle to conceal his fear, particularly given that much of it comes from the indirect involvement of Crayak, who continues to plague him in nightmares.
As usual, Applegate also raises moral issues surrounding war and conflict. The Howlers are deadly. They killed the Pemalites, slaughtered countless other species in cold blood … but they are also just children. Like WTF? Is it ethical to kill them? Indeed, you’ll notice that the Animorphs’ chosen resolution—Jake’s idea—very deliberately side-steps that issue. They don’t kill the Howlers; Crayak does. They are indirectly responsible, of course. But their hands are technically clean. I wonder how they feel about that. It’s interesting that Erek managed to work it around his pacifist programming.
We also get treated to a brand new, amazing alien species. The Iskoort are a delight. In a few sentences Applegate implies entire social strata. Consummate salespeople, the Iskoort society is organized around the exchange of goods and services. They buy and sell everything—including memories, and there are entire parts of their society dedicated to buying what factories produce; it’s a kind of satirical look at capitalism for kids, I suppose. This might be one of the first books that, while reading it as a kid, made me realize I just don’t visualize when I read. I had no real image in my head of what an Iskoort looked like. I still don’t. I paid very close attention to Applegate’s meticulous description of their strange bodies, but it didn’t provoke anything in my mind’s eye. Maybe I need imaginary glasses?
And then there is the carrot Applegate dangles in front of us, the resolution to the Yeerk problem. One of the longer-term issues in this series has been the kind of endgame we might expect—even if the Animorphs and Andalites defeat the Yeerks, what will they do with them? Genocide seems a bit extreme. Confine them to Yeerk pools to live out a very restricted existence? Or maybe there’s a third option…. This is what I love about Applegate and this series: she reminds us that there are always possibilities, that there is always hope. And part of being a hero or being “the good guy” is being able to see that bigger picture, to look at battles from a different perspective, instead of persisting in an us-or-them mentality.
Next time, the Animorphs have to dive deeply to get to another alien shipwreck. James Cameron, eat your heart out.