Review of The Andalite Chronicles by K.A. Applegate
The Andalite Chronicles
by K.A. Applegate
So … yeah. This book made me cry, at the end.
I remember reading the hard copy version of this as a kid and marvelling at how much thicker it was than your typical Animorphs novel. Don’t get me wrong—by that age I was already mainlining The Lord of the Rings and Dune, so I was already acquainted with long novels. Until now, though, Applegate had intentionally been keeping her stories not just short, but brief.
The Andalite Chronicles shook up that format, introducing a subseries of Animorphs that would let Applegate tell stories from the perspectives of non-Animorphs characters. The honour of the first story goes to Elfangor, the guy who kicked off this whole crazy adventure when he crash-lands on Earth and gives the Animorphs their powers in the first place. Now Applegate shows us how he got to that point—and in doing so, reveals that she, much like the Cylons (but not, apparently, Ron Moore), has a plan.
In its departure from Earth for most of the book, The Andalite Chronicles allows Applegate to expand on themes she wants to make universal. For example, Elfangor is a hero; Visser Three is a villain. Applegate wants to show that these archetypes are not localized to the human species but instead apply to a collection of actions and ideals. Lest that become reductive, however, she also points out that the universe is not black and white. Elfangor is a hero, yes, but he both makes mistakes and makes morally questionable decisions. Visser Three is a villain, but he displays an opportunistic pragmatism—and I’m sure that he sees himself as a hero for his people (but this isn’t his book—his book comes later—so we’ll talk more about Elfangor now).
It’s a real treat to see more Andalites in this book. Andalites, in a book called The Andalite Chronicles, you say? Shocking! Until now, though, we’ve only really met a handful of Andalites—and one of them was a Controller. Now we get to see Andalites in action. We learn more about how they live, on ships and back at home, and even some of their history. Applegate once again balances the image of a proud warrior–scientistic culture the Andalites want to project with a backdrop of mistake after mistake caused by that pride. We see this in microcosm through the actions of Arbron and Alloran, both foils to Elfangor’s middle-of-the-road heroism. Arbron’s humour ultimately reveals itself as a mask for nihilism: trapped as a nothlit, he desperately seeks release until he finds a new sense of purpose. In contrast, when Elfangor must confront his bleakest moment, he finds an intrinsic core of strength and morality that allows him to act. But Alloran is too far along that spectrum: through his experiences his sense of morality has grown twisted, amoral, as he decides the ends always justify the means.
The humans in this book are fun too. Young!Chapman is a delight; even though the timeline in which he meets Elfangor is ultimately erased, it allows us to see why he agrees to become a Controller. Similarly, Loren is perhaps a bit of an author avatar for Applegate. She takes no bullshit from anybody, and she backs up Elfangor—sometimes with a softball bat. As the ending of this book implies, and as we learn in the next book, she is also a big deal to the Animorphs themselves….
Of course, it’s when the two cultures—Andalite and human—collide that we get the best moments of all. Elfangor’s observations of the peculiarities of humanity are reminiscent of the best of Ax’s from The Alien. Applegate can’t resist throwing in a few references for the historically-aware reader: Elfangor happens to be around to render some help to “Bill and Steve” to get their operating system working.
But there is, by far, a single crowning moment of awesome in The Andalite Chronicles: the sheer delight of Elfangor driving a yellow mustang across the Taxxon homeworld and through a barrier of Hork-Bajir. Best. Image. Ever.
There are some pretty great books in the series to come, but with The Andalite Chronicles Applegate reaches a pinnacle that proves how great this series can be.