Are you ready for this?
Guys, are you ready for this?
It doesn’t matter what you answered. You are not ready for this. None of the preceding five books could prepare us for The Capture.
See, the Yeerks have built a shiny new hospital that they have staffed with Controllers. That way, they can infect the people who go there for treatment—including powerful people, like the state governor, who might one day be the President of the United States. Yikes! So the Animorphs come up with a plan to infiltrate the hospital and put a stop to that, and—wait for it—it goes horribly wrong.
In fact, from now on, just assume that whenever I say “the Animorphs come up with a plan…” the “it goes horribly wrong” is implied. Because it always does.
These books are far too short. Fellow Animorphist (Is that a thing? I’m making it a thing. It’s so fetch.) Julie opined on my review of #1: The Invasion that Applegate’s sparse prose is a positive, earning her the moniker “the Hemingway of YA,” and I can see her point. These books were originally coming out fast and furious, only a few months apart. That doesn’t exactly leave much time for details. Still, I dislike it for entirely selfish reasons. Back in the day, I used to be able to stretch these out for at least the whole day. Now they last maybe an hour, if I’m careful. And I’m only six books in, but I still feel like I’m going through them too fast. Yet I can’t wait to tackle the next one! Graaargh!
Anyway, The Capture kicks off what we might tentatively call the second arc of the Animorphs series. The first five books form the introductory arc, in which we meet each of the Animorphs in first person, and we see them become personally invested in the fight against the Yeerks. With book 6, we start to learn more about the larger galaxy-wide war between the Yeerks and those who oppose them (mostly the Andalites)—Applegate even goes so far as to tantalize us with a vision at the very end of a mysterious being:
And then I saw it.
A creature. Or a machine. Some combination of both. It had no arms. It sat still, as if unable to move, on a throne that was miles high.
Its head was a single eye. The eye turned slowly … left … right …
I trembled. I prayed it would not look my way.
And then it saw me.
The eye, the bloodred eye, looked straight at me.
It saw me.
It SAW me!
Oh, snap! The Eye of Sauron! Er, I mean, Crayak! I had forgotten that Applegate foreshadows Crayak as early as this book, and if I had any doubts she had a master plan and knew what she was doing, this lays them to rest. But of course, where Crayak lurks, the Ellimist must be just around the corner….
Jake has this vision after the Yeerk inhabiting him, poor unlucky Temrash, dies from Kandrona withdrawal. The idea that Jake of all people should become a Controller is a powerful and creepy one. I can’t really critique Applegate’s writing this time around: she does a fantastic job conveying the utter helplessness of Yeerk possession. Couple that with the fact that Temrash, until recently, was the Yeerk in control of Jake’s brother, Tom, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for heart-wrenching drama.
Layered atop this drama, however, is just enough comedy to keep us going. That’s the Animorphs way. It doesn’t take long for Controller!Jake to betray himself, and the Animorphs react swiftly. They put in place a pretty solid plan to isolate Controller!Jake until the Yeerk dies. And, to their credit, it actually works.
I want to emphasize this. At the top of the review I mock the Animorphs for their plans going sideways (and to be fair, no plan, not even ones formulated by military geniuses, survives contact with the enemy). I think the way that they handle Jake’s capture is perhaps the first time in this series where they develop and successfully execute a plan in a way that leads to total victory for them. Most of their other triumphs so far have been accidental more than intentional. But this? This is all them.
While Jake confronts the existential horror of being trapped in his own body with a Yeerk for company, Applegate keeps things light with Temrash’s mounting frustration as the Animorphs thwart escape attempt after escape attempt. Temrash is eager to exploit Jake’s morphing powers, but the other Animorphs always seem one step ahead, going so far as to lay traps that Temrash then falls into. Eventually he betrays a level of frustration that rivals Visser Three’s obsession with those sneaky Andalite warriors, and I start to wonder whether all of the powerful Yeerks are actually just deranged psychotics with child-like levels of maturity.
Applegate wisely does not go near the can of worms that is a Yeerk in the body of someone who can morph. Too many questions. When a Controller morphs, the Yeerk is still in control, so presumably it is still wrapped around the brain of its host body, whatever form that might be. But what if the animal is smaller than a Yeerk, like a flea? I guess the Yeerk body shrinks commensurately? Or is the Yeerk body itself transformed during the morphing process—in which case, can a Yeerk leave its host when it is morphed? If a Yeerk in a morph gets trapped in morph, does it still need Kandrona rays, or has it become merged with the morphed animal?
So many questions. Animorphists, please commence a flame war in the comment thread!
The only thing I wish we had seen more of is Ax impersonating Prince Jake so no one gets suspicious. Thankfully, Applegate includes a few tidbits about what this must have been like (Ax does like his food). Still, I would love to read more about this. Can we have a short story called “A Day in the Life of Prince Jake,” in which Ax recounts everything he did as Jake? Does that fanfic exist? (I don’t want to go searching for it, because I really don’t want to come across Animorph porn….)
Finally, a shout-out to Rachel and Cassie’s exchange at the start of Chapter 6:
“How long do you think this will take?” Rachel asked. She checked her watch. “I set the VCR for two of my favorite shows, but I forgot to tape the movie of the week.”
“I’m taping it in case you miss it,” Cassie said.
Oh, those were the days. I remember having to know how to program a VCR. Do you remember? Pepperidge Farm remembers.
Next review I get to revel in Rachel’s raw sense of self again! It’s also meet-and-greet time with the Animorphs’ personal Trickster/nearly-omnipotent godlike being, the Ellimist. But don’t worry, the Animorphs have a plan….