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For whatever ambiguities of continuity and purpose you'll run into in The Next Passage, this has the dry makings of a good book. There's nothing wrong with the writing of K. A. Applegate, which I understand to be a pen name for an author other than Katherine Applegate and/or Michael Grant in the Alternamorphs gamebook series. The story's descriptions are smart and well-crafted, the work of someone who knows what he or she is doing with a narrative. Some of the book's choices are interesting, making one really think what one might do in a deadly situation if given only seconds to decide. The line between life and death is so thin at times in The Next Passage, hinging on a single choice made under extreme duress when you haven't more than a second or two to make up your mind, that it's a wonder the Animorphs in the main series survive as long as they do if they go up against such maelstroms of predatory extraterrestrial activity on a regular basis. Your wits--and a lot of luck--are the only things keeping your heart beating from one minute to the next when you hook up with this preteen team of alien-fighters armed with one special ability: the power to transform into any animal they touch, almost instantly. You, too, will be given this morphing power in The Next Passage. Use it wisely.
Your first day as the new kid in school is forgettable. No one you might like to hang out with gives you more than a passing glance, and the ones who do talk to you aren't your type. Kicking around by yourself after the final bell, you find a blue box inside a concrete block, and decide it could bring a hefty sum of money if sold on the world wide web. Little do you realize your online post seeking an interested buyer will bring forces of alien evil not only to your doorstep, but inside your home. Your mother and father's lives are in danger now because of you, but at least your ill-advised internet sales pitch has also caught the attention of the good guys: Rachel, Cassie, Jake, Marco, and Tobias, the Animorphs. Aliens trafficking in human destruction have met their match in this gang, and in you, too. The blue box you stumbled upon endows you with the same morphing superpower as the Animorphs, and with that power comes the responsibility of helping them defend humanity--including your parents--from two extraterrestrial races bent on destroying mankind.
Pay careful mind to the plot as it moves along, because it can be hard to follow. Rather than unfolding in straightforward fashion, the story apparently hops around into several well-known storylines from the main Animorphs series, enabling you to hang around the periphery and even make some decisions that could derail the narrative of those books. Unlike the first Alternamorphs gamebook, The First Journey, there are multiple legitimate branches to follow in The Next Passage, each branch leading to many bad endings and one that is good. Your primary enemy in either route is the Howler aliens, whose transformation skills are at least as formidable as what the Animorphs possess. Gameplay is simple, with one notable change from the series' opening volume: instead of directing the reader to turn to a certain page with each choice, a chapter is designated as the place to pick up the story, as in, "If you turn over the box, go to chapter 4. If you refuse, go to chapter 5." The inclusion of chapters in the Alternamorphs series is one of its more distinguishing characteristics in comparison to other gamebooks, though the chapters are utilized more effectively in this second book.
I have to admit, a lot of what I read in The Next Passage confused me. Why is your chief adversary the Howlers for most of the book, when it starts out seeming to be the Yeerks and Hork-Bajir? How does the all-powerful Ellimist factor into the plot, and why is it so set on "testing" your reactions to evil beings? What exactly is an Iskoort? Why is Rachel so angry with you--and only you--after something terrible befalls her closest friend, when all of you were fighting the enemy with equal chance to be harmed? Why does she fixate on you as the cause of the tragedy? Looking back through that section of the book, I can't find any way that what happens seems to be especially your fault. Much of my confusion is, I believe, a result of this series being intended for readers already familiar with what occurs in the main books. Without that working knowledge of the regular series, you'll probably struggle with Alternamorphs, as I did. Even with that knowledge you're apt to struggle, since the action bounces so quickly from storyline to storyline without much segue. Your character in The Next Passage is in no obvious way linked to the person you were in The First Journey, and I think this second book takes place chronologically after the first one, as indicated by the status of one particular character. Which reminds me of a warning I feel I should give: There are some spoilers for the main series in the two-book Alternamorphs spinoff, so you may want to consider avoiding it until you've finished the regular series if you don't want to bump into any crucial reveals ahead of time. Despite its shortcomings in regard to logical structure and cohesiveness, I think The Next Passage is a slight improvement on its Alternamorphs predecessor, but I'm just not sure the canonical Animorphs world works as a gamebook series. The storytelling is always done seriously, however, and has merit. Your war against hostile invaders from space is a brutally high-risk one, and The Next Passage doesn't attempt to glamorize it, as evident in the following passage from the Introduction: "War is not a video game. In a real war, you make desperate decisions and deal with desperate consequences. You spill blood and your blood gets spilled. You brush up against death. You change. You're warped until ever being average and ordinary again is an impossible dream." My final verdict on The Next Passage? Animorphs enthusiasts or fans of gamebooks should try it. You might find something here you like.
|Thanks to KenJenningsJeopardy74 for the back cover image that was used here until a better copy was located.
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