So, um, owing to a clerical error on my part, I read this before reading #51: The Absolute. Oops! I will definitely go back and read that before going on, but just keep this fact in mind while reading this otherwise perfect review of #52: The Sacrifice.
Ax has kind of had it with humans in this book, at least at first. Cassie gave up the morphing cube on purpose, and now it looks like the Yeerks are expanding their numbers without any real opposition. In secret communication with the Andalite command, Ax learns the Andalites plan to “quarantine” Earth—that is, try to concentrate as much of the Yeerk population on Earth as possible, then, uh, cleanse the planet. Once again, K.A. Applegate doesn’t shy away from the incredible horrors that get twisted into “making sense” in the name of winning a war.
If you take a step back, though, there’s something even more interesting happening in this part of the series: this is really us learning how the Animorphs deal with losing.
At the very beginning of the series, in contrast, the Animorphs were so fresh and new at this that the reality of their predicament hadn’t really sunk in. Sure, they knew that five kids and an alien probably couldn’t do much about the entire Yeerk presence on Earth—yet that knowledge never stopped them from blithely blundering into Yeerk pools and high-security facilities. They had all the confidence of a mediocre white man and they used it. Yet as the series progresses, as the Animorphs grow up faster than they should, they become far more aware of the potential for loss. Now, with the Yeerks aware of their true identities and the invasion of Earth accelerating and moving into the open, the Animorphs have to confront every bit of the reality of the war and the fact that, try as they might, they probably aren’t strong enough to win it.
Hence the bitterness and recriminations. The Animorphs find themselves thrust into this weird role of quasi-leadership of a much larger resistance. Because it isn’t just the six of them now, I think Ax feels a little more distant from the human Animorphs. It’s no longer small, intimate operations but larger, more complicated, step-by-step missions. Ax gets to see the cracks in the various Animorphs, the way that Rachel is increasingly reckless and violent, or Cassie seems to be obsessing over compassion when she should be thinking strategy. Predictably, for those of us who have gotten to know him over the series, Ax is most hard on himself. He feels his loyalties, to the Animorphs and humans and to his own people, torn. There’s really no good answer here, either. At some point he’s going to have to make some tough decisions.
Still, the internecine arguments here are uncomfortable to say the least!
Returning to the wider plot, we see there’s no good answer here too. Either the Animorphs commit an act of massive destruction at the risk of killing a large number of humans, all to strike a blow against the Yeerks, or they sit by, powerless, as the Yeerks transform more and more people into human-Controllers. There is some good discussion here not just of the morality of this particular issue (which, let’s be fair, is a pretty obvious conundrum) but of the overall approach of fighting the Yeerks: is it permissible to fight back by slaughtering “defenseless” Yeerks while they are in a pool? Or is this a form of genocide, or at the very least, a war crime because these Yeerks are “non-combatants”?
In this way, Applegate and ghostwriter Kim Morris highlight the absurdity of having rules of engagement around war. This is a form of cognitive dissonance possible only because humans, unlike animals, like to pretend we’re civilized. Oh, sure, we’ll fight you: but we have “rules” about who and what and how and when we can fight. Except, as this book and countless others explore, those rules tend to be flexible to the point of tearing, when they aren’t so rigid they just snap.
The book ends, quite literally, with a bang. And it leaves a lot up in the air. The main question, though, really, remains a longstanding one: how far will the Animorphs go?
Next up (after I read the previous book), we’ll see the Animorphs take on the Yeerks even more boldly as they start to shape the answer to that question. I don’t have any more jokes for these outros. This is the dark time.