Review of The Ultimate by K.A. Applegate
by K.A. Applegate
Last Cassie book is best Cassie book.
#50: The Ultimate is, quite simply, vicious. In its final arc the Animorphs series discards any pretense that this is anything less than a series about children being at war. Cassie, Jake, and the other Animorphs are the de facto leaders of a resistance comprising some free Hork Bajir, pacifistic Chee, and their parents (and maybe a peaceful group of Yeerks, but we haven’t heard from them lately). With their real identities now known to Visser One, the Animorphs are in hiding and feeling the heat. So they decide the only way to buy themselves, and therefore humanity, more time is to expand their ranks….
Cassie is the ideal narrator for the moral qualms in this book. Are the Animorphs doing the right thing by sharing morphing ability? Are they doing the right thing by putting targets on more childrens’ backs? In the end, they decide to side-step these ethical quandaries by simply saying: we don’t have time to debate this. It’s do or die. Thus Applegate and her ghostwriter demonstrate the brutal calculus that is war.
My friend Julie says it best when she says that “cracks are also starting to show” in the Animorphs’ unity. One of this series’ strengths has always been the diversity of its cast, and I don’t mean that in terms of their ethnicities. Each Animorph has always had distinctive personality traits that inform their decisions, and each of them has grown in different ways over the series. Cassie, while always kind and compassionate, has nevertheless seen her nascent adolescent sense of right and wrong tempered by the morally grey world we inhabit. The Ultimate proves this, well, ultimately: she prevents Jake from killing Tom, allowing the latter to escape with the morphing cube. Rather than sacrificing the few for the many, Cassie privileges her friend’s soul (as she might put it) at the expense of sacrificing a huge tactical asset. Jake resents Cassie, both for making this choice for everyone, and also perhaps for assuming the role of moral compass when he might prefer that she abdicate it and let them sink deeper into oblivion.
For, you see, Jake has decided that he’s not going to come back from this. It’s there in his interactions with Cassie. And who can blame him? His parents have been taken hostage. His brother has long been a hostage, and he was resigned to the fact he would have to kill Tom. And now the generalship of this entire war has been foisted upon him. It’s a heavy burden. And so Jake has decided he will take up that mantle, and he will do whatever needs to be done, but he’s not interested in thinking about a future beyond this war.
This is the ultimate tragedy happening to the Animorphs. It isn’t the potential loss of life, the disruption of their families’ lives, etc. It’s the simple fact that they have reached an event horizon of sorts. Once they cross this horizon, they won’t be able to see a way back. How can they possibly win against the Yeerks? They can only keep resisting, and resisting—what a dreary, dangerous prospect. The Ultimate is brutal not because of its battle scenes, or the Animorphs’ interactions with their new recruits, or Tom and Jake’s conversations: it’s brutal because there is no shred of hope here. There is no suggestion of light at the end of the tunnel. As far as the events in this book suggest, the Animorphs aren’t even beginning to think about taking the war to the Visser and kicking Yeerk butt once and for all. They’re fighting defense, and they’re losing.
And they know it.
Next time, the Animorphs have to foil another Yeerk plot, but it might cost them their secrecy. But is that even a bad thing?