Previously, on Animorphs…
The Animorphs have literally just succeeded in contacting the Andalite command. The Deception picks up with no time passing. The conversation goes about as poorly as you might expect. After the Animorphs narrowly escape with their lives, they discover that the former Visser Three is now Visser One (!!!!!) and there’s a new Visser Two in town who wants to fuck everyone up by starting a nuclear war.
So what do our plucky heroes do? That’s right: infiltrate a naval aircraft carrier out in the middle of the ocean.
This book has a lot of the hallmarks of the earliest Animorphs adventures. Notably, there is little in the way of a coherent plan here. Instead, the Animorphs fall back on their “roll with it” improv style of Yeerk-stomping. The difference between then and now is that the Animorphs have to compromise a lot more of their original tenets—like not morphing humans, at least non-consensually—in the name of fighting this war. The stakes are the highest, though, and I kind of can’t disagree with them … but emotionally, this is a tough book.
Everything is told from the point of view of Ax this time. His voice as a narrator has really matured over the series. Whereas he was once, “Lol, hey, silly humans, eating with holes on their face, cinnamon buns!” he is much more sobre, much more thoughtful and introspective. His faith in the righteousness of his own people has been shaken to its core by recent events. He is struggling to reconcile his identity as an Andalite with his allegiance to, and newfound appreciation for, humanity. That very allegiance allows him to go against the orders and initiate the eponymous deception of his prince, Jake, in order to do what he thinks is necessary. This book is all about Ax taking initiative, showing a backbone, and making tough decisions. And I am here for it.
I think it’s telling that Jake has basically given up asking Ax to lay off on addressing him as “prince”. As always, one of the joys of an Ax-narrated book is that we get to see the other Animorphs through his alien eyes. The other Animorphs, when describing each other, inevitably make excuses, editorialize—Ax doesn’t do that. He looks at each of Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Marco, and Tobias and he tells us exactly what he sees—because he doesn’t know any better. And it’s so honest, the way he looks up to Jake as a leader even as he shoulders responsibilities he thinks Jake shouldn’t have to undertake, the way he coldly appreciates Rachel’s warrior aptitude.
This book is a little brutal not just for the massive carnage and death-toll on an aircraft carrier, not just for the threat of a nuclear strike on an American city, not just for the moral dimensions, but simply for the realization that the Animorphs might not be able to win this one. They can always keep fighting, but the Yeerks have no chill, and the Yeerks will always be willing to go that one step further, stoop that one level lower. The very principles the Animorphs are fighting to preserve might be why they ultimately lose this war—and if that is not a terrifying but true commentary on war, I don’t know what is.
The Deception establishes that this war has reached a turning point. Next time, in The Resistance, the Animorphs have to decide if they need to go public with this war.