Back on the Animorphs re-read train with The Pretender, our first Tobias book in what feels like forever. Tobias leads the Animorphs in rescuing a captured free Hork-Bajir child; meanwhile, he has to deal with the usual teenage angst: some woman claiming to be his cousin wanting to take care of him, a letter from his departed father to be read on his birthday, and another red-tailed hawk muscling in on his prime feeding grounds.
The B plot (or A plot? I don’t know which is which) is not great here. After The Hork-Bajir Chronicles we have a much better idea of Hork-Bajir life and culture. Applegate drops some references into this story, but for the most part this is your standard “Animorphs have to break into a Yeerk facility and sabotage it” plot. It just has some added Hork-Bajir muscle and some new punchlines from Marco. So in terms of the challenges the Animorphs face, there is nothing really new here, which is probably why Applegate spends surprisingly little time on this plot.
Tobias’ arc totally steals the show here. I know this was a Nickelodeon show when it was a TV show (so I think it was on YTV here in Canada, if I remember correctly), but Tobias was an angsty CW boy before the CW existed or had angsty boys on it. He just drips with regret and self-loathing and self-pity. Don’t get me wrong: I feel a lot of sympathy for him. This is well-deserved angst, not “some other person likes the person I like” angst. (Which I guess is also legitimate angst, if you’re at the age where that’s your life. I was never that age.)
I enjoy the way Applegate offers Tobias a legitimate, difficult dilemma. He can morph his human body and become Tobias the human again—but after two hours, that’s it. He can have a regular life, but he won’t be an Animorph any more. On the one hand, this would be a huge relief. He wouldn’t be under direct threat from the Yeerks. He could eat human food and sleep in a proper bed. On the other hand, he wouldn’t be in the fight any more. And his life as a human seemed pretty crappy, to be honest.
This book also directly addresses Tobias/Rachel for the first time in a while. Rachel pretty much comes out and says that if Tobias were human she would date him. It’s heartbreaking, especially because I totally ship Tobias/Rachel. Her conversations with Tobias are the best part of this book, because she is all about keeping it real. She’s like, “This is what it is. You’re a hawk, but you’ll never be a hawk.” And Rachel—who, let’s not forget, is the most gung ho, warlike of the Animorphs—advocates for Tobias to drop out and become human again.
Almost as if she is envious of that option. Almost.
Tobias has an out. He doesn’t take it. Does that make him a hero? I don’t know. Even at this point in the series, I think Applegate has already come down pretty hard on the “in war, there are no heroes” theme: Tobias has done his share of questionable things, and he will go on to do more questionable things, as will the rest of the Animorphs.
Speaking of questionable things, next time, You’ll Never Believe How Cassie Shrinks Her Waistline With This One Easy Trick!