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Item - The First Journey


Series: Animorphs Alternamorphs — no. 1
Translated Into: Il viaggio (Italian)
Author: Applegate, K. A.
Illustrator: Mattingly, David B. (cover)
Date: 1999
Length: 27 chapters, plus introduction (131 pages in the Kindle version)
Number of Endings: 12 (only one victory)
User Summary: You and your friends run into a dying alien being who tells you about an evil extraterrestrial race trying to take over all the humans living on Earth. He then gives you all the power to morph into animals and sends you over to fight the enemies.
Guillermo's Thoughts:

First off, let me warn you that I'm not at all familiar with the Animorphs franchise, so if you want to find out how faithful this book is to the source material, you're reading the wrong review. From my experience with this entry, it seems to be a science fantasy story aimed squarely at teenagers. I must confess I was really apprehensive of approaching this adventure, as I suspected it would be nothing but a weak attempt at cashing in on the popularity of a well-known franchise (Give Yourself Goosebumps, I'm looking at you). Fortunately, whoever wrote this book (KenJenningsJeopardy74 believes it may be a ghostwriter, so I'll go with this assumption as well) clearly read and enjoyed gamebooks, which translates into a finely designed piece of interactive fiction.

The text passages are a bit longer than some readers would prefer (think Endless Quest), but they are written with enough literary competence that the story never drags (if it actually wasn't Katherine Applegate who wrote this, at least she got someone good to do it). There is only one successful ending, and the book is designed so that only one of the choices at each choice point is correct (picking an incorrect choice automatically leads to failure). Other reviewers have complained about this approach being unfair, but the outcomes of the choices always made logical sense to me, so I found the experience enjoyable. I'm also grateful for the fact that reaching any of the failure endings (all of which are entertainingly written, by the way) leads you back to the last choice point instead of just asking you to start again from the beginning.

I always have to have a few complaints about everything, so allow me to get them out of the way. While the actual design of the book is quite good, I only failed two or three times before reaching the ideal ending. Since I knew all the paths I missed would lead to failure, it was hard to stay motivated to read them after I successfully completed the book. As an Animorphs newbie, I would also have enjoyed the experience more if the book had interior artwork. The text assumes the reader is already familiar with the villains and alien creatures of the story's setting, which become quite hard to envision if you don't have any previous experience with it. In spite of these flaws, I enjoyed the well-crafted universe the book presents, the interesting science fiction concepts detailed in the story, and the overall interactive experience. I definitely look forward to reading the second book in the series.

More reviews by Guillermo

KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

If the name on the cover belongs to the actual author of this book, then The First Journey, to the best of my knowledge, is the first gamebook in history to be written by a Newbery Medalist. Yes, Katherine Applegate, author of The One and Only Ivan, was chief literary architect of the Animorphs empire, years before the Newbery committee awarded her its coveted top prize, and alongside the main Animorphs series were several offshoots. Was Katherine Applegate the real author of the two-book Animorphs: Alternamorphs addendum, or were they ghostwritten, to give her a break after the effort she put into writing the primary series? We may never know the answer for sure, though I could ask her about it if I ever meet her at another bookstore event. I would be quite interested in learning if Alternamorphs was her work.

"Because sometimes the stuff you see in the movies, the stuff you thought could never, ever happen to you...well, it can happen. It does happen. I've seen it."

--The First Journey, from the Introduction

For fans of Animorphs, the background for The First Journey is already well-known, but a short introductory piece is included for those of us without prior Animorphs experience. You initially are an outsider to the regular group of Animorph kids--Jake, Marco, Cassie, Rachel and Tobias--but your desire for a little late-night skateboarding puts you in position to witness a bizarre alien creature come and ask the Animorphs for help. Your assistance is requested, as well. The Andalite race is in serious trouble from the predatory Hork-Bajir aliens, and so is humanity. Desperate for all the help he can muster, the Andalite leader endows you with the same Animorph power your five new friends have, before he meets a grim fate at the hands of the enemy. You and the more experienced Animorphs must flee the initial extermination attempt of the Hork-Bajir, then circle back and infiltrate its legions to prevent them from overrunning the planet. You'll have the exact same Animorphing power at your disposal as the other five, but choose your morphs cautiously: selecting the wrong animal in this book leads to swift death. Messing with animal DNA is serious stuff. To survive your battle with predatory aliens, you'll need cunning, intelligence, and some good luck, plus the knowhow to work effectively with your Animorph compatriots, understanding one another's strengths and weaknesses and how to utilize them to save the world. Can you do what it takes to band together and decisively repel the extraterrestrial menace?

This beginning to the Alternamorphs miniseries features some unusual game elements worth noting. For starters, the book has only one ending, if it can be called that; it just kind of drifts off into nothingness on page one hundred nine, leaving readers to assume the end has been reached. While many choice intersections offer three decisions, only one is ever the correct animal to morph into; any other choice soon ends with a grisly death or lifetime sentence trapped in the body of the animal you became, at which point you're instructed to turn back to your last decision and try again. The story elements often confused me, and there were a few continuity errors in the text, too. I'm not sure the narrative made perfect linear sense, either. I can't say The First Journey isn't a difficult gamebook, however; the logic behind the right choice to be made at each juncture teeters perilously close to pure randomness, and it would take almost a miracle to make it successfully to the end on one's first attempt. If you do, congratulations: you're a better gamebook player than I. Well, a luckier one, at least.

What's my verdict on the first Alternamorphs installment? I have to believe it was a ghostwriter, not Katherine Applegate, who penned this paperback (Tonya Alicia Martin, perhaps? I've seen places online that credit her as the ghostwriter). Still, there are glimmers of interestingness, and it's a fun story if one isn't expecting too much from it, either as a gamebook or a middle-grade novel. I'm sure the main series is superior, but fans who can't get enough of the Animorphs universe may enjoy interacting in these gamebooks with the characters they already know so well. If you want to find out what the Animorphs books are really like, though, start with the main series. That's the place to begin if you want to see what a talented writer Katherine Applegate can be.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

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