OK, been a while since I’ve dropped one of these into the rotation. The Mutation is the first Jake-narrated book since #31: The Conspiracy. Whereas the previous book focused heavily on the tough decisions Jake must make as a leader, The Mutation instead explores more broadly the toughness required of all the Animorphs. This book is like a bizarre mash-up of James Bond and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Animorphs discover that Visser Three has a shiny new toy to use to find the sunken Pemalite ship. So they decide to take the toy away from him the hard way. The first half of the book is fairly intense, because the Animorphs have to use a succession of morphs to locate, dive towards, and then fight the so-called Sea Blade vessel. Remember the good old days when the Animorphs used maybe two morphs in the entire book? This far along in the series, Applegate is signalling the way their lives have changed dramatically. Jake just casually mentions the Chee covering from them while they go on this trip. Similarly, although he acknowledges that all these quick morphs are draining, it definitely feels more routine than it once did.
Yes, the Animorphs are transforming from a motley group of unlikely heroes into actual heroes. If only they would start, you know, planning beforehand. But that’s probably too much to ask.
The second half of The Mutation is a whackadoodle narrative of epic proportions, however. Sea people, seriously?? I mean, I guess I could have gone with it—goodness knows I’ve gone with so many other weird turns in this series—but the execution is just terrible. They’re clearly a one-off, with little actual thought given to how they mutated from humans (radiation did it!, not that it works that way), and their bellicose attitudes towards the surface dwellers handwaved away by … you guessed it, radiation and inbreeding.
Applegate has gone to a lot of trouble to establish her youthful protagonists as forces to be reckoned with and moral forces equivalent to adults. Hence, it is always disappointing when this series pits these protagonists against cheesy, childish foes. This isn’t Power Rangers or another Saturday-morning Japanese import where teenagers are fighting goofy alien enemies. Yes, the enemies are alien—but they are serious business. And every time the Animorphs go up against dumb sea people, or have to temporarily make a truce with Visser Three, the series creeps closer to that Saturday-morning territory.
Small moments offer tantalizing glimpses of what makes Animorphs so good. Jake reflects on Cassie’s un-Cassielike bloodthirsty zeal for revenge against the Yeerks. He also has to weigh the destruction of the Sea Blade (to prevent the sea people from using it on the surface) against the Animorphs using it to escape and return to the surface. These kinds of decisions are always an interesting part of his role as leader.
Unfortunately, these small moments can’t carry an otherwise loopy plot. This one has some great underwater action scenes and lots of morphing, but in terms of substance, it’s disappointing.
I realize now I forgot to read Visser in between this book and the last one (I put them on my ereader a few books at a time, and these ones made it on but Visser didn’t). So, hopefully soon, we get to learn more about Visser Three!