The book starts with Tobias and Rachel breaking a female red-tailed hawk out of a cage, where she's being used by a car salesman as a mascot. This has nothing to do with the plot. At least everyone yells at them afterwards.
The next day, Tobias takes some time out from his angsting to notice a cloaked Yeerk ship cruising by. The Animorphs follow it to a valley, where it is sucking all the water up from a lake because this isn't Star Trek and they can't just synthesize water. The whole time, Tobias is trying to figure out whether he is a hawk or a boy. He finally has a nervous breakdown mid-mission and runs off for a few days to live as a wild hawk. Luckily he snaps out of it eventually and we return to the plot.
The kids break into the ship using fish morphs, but Tobias has to wait outside while they do whatever it is they hope to accomplish. He flies in circles until Visser Three notices him and starts firing. In the ensuing battle, the female red-tailed hawk is killed but the Animorphs actually manage to destroy the Yeerk transport ship.
Ifi: The adventures of emohawk
Adam: They even have an angst version of the standard recap for us to enjoy
Ifi: You know, I was way too hard on the last book.
Ifi: It was not NEARLY as angsty
Adam: Aren't you grateful to have this to make up for it?
Adam: As usual
Adam: This book begins with them in the middle of doing something completely stupid and arbitrary that could easily blow their cover
Ifi: "WE NEED TO SAVE THIS HAWK."
Ifi: "BUT LET'S WAIT"
Ifi: "UNTIL THEY GET THE CAMERAS OUT."
Ifi: "ARE THEY ROLLING?"
Ifi: "HOW ABOUT NOW?"
Ifi: "OKAY LET'S GO."
Adam: I'm telling you, this series takes place in the captain planet-verse
Adam: They fight poachers, crazed hillbillies, and evil used car salesman
Adam: The Yeerk invasion is really an afterthought
Ifi: Are there any sexy mad scientist ladies?
Adam: Well, there's the one who ends up torturing Tobias in a later book
Adam: She even has the facial scars!
Ifi: Okay it is official.
Ifi: So what about the pose on the front cover? I can't decide if it's ingenious or hilariously awkward
Adam: Tobias is totally the sort of guy to go running around making *whoosh* noises and flapping his arms
Adam: (and no, I totally did not do that as a small child, why do you ask?)
Ifi: The thing is, if you imagine him sort of skidding into this pose and then making a rapid transformation, it would be totally badass
Adam: If it were filmed properly
Adam: In reality, it would just be kinda goofy
Ifi: Well I think we've established that the covers don't take place in the same universe as the prose.
Adam: He's wearing a jacket and jeans
Adam: One thing you must bear in mind is that very often with these sorts of books, the illustrator is not given the manuscript to read before he has to do the illustration
Adam: You're just given a brief plot synopsis and an idea of what they want on the cover
Ifi: This illustrator didn't even need a synopsis. He just needed to be told, "That one kid, turning into a hawk for the eight millionth time."
Adam: Well yes, that's what he gets
Ifi: "With, like, some purple clouds, maybe?"
Ifi: "I dunno, for ambiance?"
Ifi: "No, no ground. Just clouds."
Adam: Hey, backgrounds are tough
Ifi: The thing with the female hawk was strange.
Ifi: Not just the stupid rescue scene in the beginning, but whenever she showed up.
Adam: Oh, you were a teenage bird of prey once too, you know how it is
Adam: Oh, wait
Ifi: She’d just come out of nowhere and Tobias would immediately forget what he was doing and be like AW YEAH BOW CHICKA WOW WOW
Adam: Well, did you check out the wings on that chick?
Adam: …I like bad puns, if you have not already noticed
Ifi: Okay, so the plot sort of starts when Tobias sees an invisible thing in the sky, but it's really an afterthought. The focus is on the pain of wanting to eat roadkill and not being able to play his nintendo.
Adam: Oh, just eat the roadkill already!
Adam: I was shouting this the whole time
Ifi: WE ALL KNOW YOU'RE GONNA DO IT.
Adam: He's eaten cows before
Adam: What's the difference?
Ifi: What I found interesting was they really did confront the futility of taking on a ship the size of an ocean liner. I mean, they did go after it eventually because otherwise there would be no story, but I think they had no real expectation of winning.
Ifi: The thing is, when I was a kid, I don't think I ever realized how often they lost their battles because the bigger victory was always just being alive at the end.
Adam: That is…extraordinarily nihilistic...
Ifi: Come on seriously now.
Adam: I do kinda like that this book does sort of treat the idea of an alien invasion realistically
Adam: In a sense
Ifi: In the scenes that don’t have Visser Three in them, anyway.
Adam: I mean, usually, unless the aliens are invading specifically for resources, they don't really focus on the invader's need to collect raw materials
Adam: When really, in any war, the going to interrupt your enemy's ability to collect that is a very good strategy
Ifi: And we do that by turning into wolves and peeing on things.
Adam: More teenage animal hormones
Adam: I'm grateful that this series was popular before the internet rose to prominence. The amount of horrifying furry art that could have resulted could easily have been much worse
Ifi: Oh that is true. I didn't even consider that.
Ifi: I think furries prefer cartoons, though.
Ifi: And anthro style. Not full animal.
Ifi: I think?
Adam: And sonic
Ifi: I don't know where the main Animorph fan communities are hiding, come to think of it. They're certainly not on ff.net, because that site is a joke.
Ifi: I checked out the Animorphs section a few weeks ago, I think.
Adam: And what did you find, pray tell?
Ifi: Well, there was this one fascinating fic that opened in the Yeerk pool.
Ifi: And there was a charming little girl in the cages, where they keep involuntary hosts.
Ifi: And while she's there, she strikes up a conversation with the Hork-Bajir next to her and proceeds to convert him to Christianity.
Ifi: It was then that I punched clear through my monitor.
Ifi: So I don't actually know how it ended
Adam: Zeus ends up killing them with lightening
Ifi: We can only hope
Ifi: Anyway, back to the story
Ifi: Holy christ is Tobias emo.
Adam: We have established this, yes
Ifi: Every break in the action is an opportunity to angst.
Adam: Any specific ones that you'd care to bring up?
Ifi: Hang on
I tried to imagine what it must be like to be a wolf. The amazing sense of smell. The incredible hearing. All that confident power, those ripping teeth, the cool intelligence. Maybe later I would ask Jake or Rachel about it.
Then you could ask them what it was like to be human. Maybe they can tell me about that, too, I thought bitterly.
----Book Three, The Encounter
Ifi: BAWWW I HAVE COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE HUMAN
Ifi: BECAUSE IT WAS AWESOME
Ifi: WHEN I WAS A HUMAN
Ifi: MY LIFE ROCKED
Ifi: THE FOSTER SYSTEM WAS SO GREAT
Ifi: AND MIDDLE SCHOOL? FUCK YES. DAYS OF OUR LIVES, MAN.
Adam: You are a bitter sort
Ifi: FLYING AROUND AND BEING ABLE TO POOP WHEREVER I WANT TOTALLY BLOWS.
Adam: (note to self: never allow you anywhere near a jetpack)
Ifi: Then that slutty hawk shows up and she's all like, "Me love you long time ;)" and Tobias almost flies away with her but he snaps out of it in time to look at a clock and realizes that the others are past the time limit for their morphs, in a scene that makes no sense to me no matter how many times I read it.
Adam: Well, if you think about it, the time limit probably isn't a perfect two hours
Adam: And if you’re on sort of that very border of reaching modelock, you can probably force your way out of it
Ifi: Okay, what about that creepy shit with Tobias worrying that they'd be trapped in half-morph?
Adam: Eh, I've moved on
Adam: That's seems possible, assuming they have really bad timingIfi: That scene, by the way? It's haunted me since I was like nine.
This was worse than I had feared. I figured they could be trapped as wolves, like I had been trapped as a hawk. But they were emerging as half-human freaks of nature.
They were living nightmares.
----Book Three, The Encounter
Ifi: Um, ew.
Adam: Eh, you need more of a stomach for these things
Ifi: Part of me is still uncertain, though. Shouldn't they be safe once they start morphing back? I mean, presumably, you get trapped because your DNA locks into whatever animal you've morphed.
Ifi: But if you start changing, and are actively changing back, there should be nothing to lock.
Adam: Well, they never really explain just exactly why you would get trapped in a morph
Ifi: Yeah can't stop to explain stuff might run out of room for the angst.
Adam: I have a theory about it, but I’ll get into that once we get into books that explore the setting's universe better
Ifi: Then, mid-plot, Tobias has a nervous breakdown for like thirty pages.
Ifi: It's been building up, but it really starts when he kills a rat.
Ifi: And then he totally flips out, flies around the mall, and then goes AWOL for a few days, leaving everyone to worry.
Adam: That scene made me hungry
Ifi: Uh okay
Ifi: Want to explain that?
Adam: I am a terrible person
Adam: You should know this by now
Ifi: Allllright then
Ifi: Rachel tries to snuggle him when he comes back, but it doesn't really work because of like, geometry or something.
Ifi: And THEN they finally decide to finish up the mission
Ifi: They finally realize that operation: invisible spaceship is for the purpose of stealing water
Adam: So they're going to sneak aboard it by turning into trout!
Adam: You figure becoming flies or something and flying inside would be easier
Ifi: That trout-catching scene was pathetic.
Adam: Well, aside from Cassie, they're all suburban brats. It’s totally within reason that none of them have gone fishing before.
Ifi: Why couldn't they have gone to the grocery store and just morphed a fish from the seafood department? Why can't you acquire dead things? They still have DNA!
Adam: DNA degrades pretty quickly after the animal dies
Adam: They could have gone to a pet store
Ifi: And a fish would actually be very well preserved, I think. Because you need to keep them from going bad.
Adam: Well, I think bacteria overpopulating is a bit different from the matter naturally breaking down
Adam: I could be wrong
Adam: wank wank wank
Ifi: It was still the worst plan ever thought up by a bunch of thirteen year old kids
Adam: You say that like thirteen year olds are particularly renowned for their clever plans
Ifi: Wait I have another idea for catching the fish
Ifi: They should have done it in animal morph.
Ifi: Even that goddamn housecat would have been a more efficient fish-catcher.
Adam: Yeah, wolf could have worked for that
Adam: Jake can turn into a tiger
Ifi: Too bad Rachel doesn't have the bear yet
Ifi: Actually Rachel without her bear morph is really strange to me.
Adam: I'm sort of curious though
Adam: They all have a single battle morph
Adam: They could have more
Adam: But then Rachel is the only one that gets a second one
Adam: I am curious of Applegate's motivation here
Ifi: I guess elephants aren't exactly efficient in all situations
Ifi: Plus Rachel is an axe-murderer.
Adam: Wait, what would you call it if Ax were to kill someone with an axe?
Adam: Just hypothetically
Ifi: You made my brain hurt just now.
Adam: Then my work here is done
Ifi: Okay so they FINALLY get onto the water-stealing invisiship in fish morph. But seeing as Tobias doesn't go with them, we don't actually get to see what happens firsthand.
Ifi: Furthermore, they're lucky they didn't all break their spines in the intake pipe.
Adam: I'd like to think they got into a series of whacky misunderstandings. Marco had to dress up as a woman to distract some Controllers. And there was a big chase scene where they were running through a big hallway filled with doors
Ifi: Meanwhile, Tobias flies in circles outside.
Adam: The reason they didn't have any sort of filtration system is because Taxxons really love tuna salad
Ifi: Taxxons would probably eat the ship if they could get away with it.
Adam: Not unlikely
Ifi: So while they're off crossdressing or whatever you said, Tobias gets caught by Visser Three and they chase him around with lasers for a while.
Ifi: Then Tobias gets a gun and actually manages to fire it, because it's just that sort of story
Adam: He opened a lock with his beak earlier
Ifi: And then in a convoluted series of events that I did not pay attention to, everyone escapes and the ship asplodes.
Adam: Happy end!
Ifi: Well the slutty hawk dies.
Adam: Tobias's true love!
Ifi: Oh God I didn't think of it that way.
Adam: And that is why I am here
Ifi: Any other thoughts?
Adam: Well, I would just like to say that the very last line of this book is without a doubt, the cheesiest thing I have ever read
Ifi: Yeah I was wondering whether I should comment on that.
Adam: Tobias is deep, man
Ifi: Tobias can't decide whether he likes being a hawk or not. He changes his mind every ten minutes.
Adam: He's a teenager
Adam: They can't even decide what they want for breakfast in the morning
Ifi: But he can't even say, "I like being a hawk because of XYZ, but I miss being a human because ABC." He either loves being a hawk and pities everyone else, or he is the most tortured soul in existence.
Adam: People aren't that straightforward
Ifi: Come on, it's not like masters-level cognitive dissonance.
Adam: How long has he been a hawk for, anyway?
Adam: A month at most, maybe?
Ifi: Could be as little as two weeks
Adam: It takes some people longer than that to adjust to moving to a new house
Adam: And he's adjusting to a new body
Adam: Give the poor guy at least some credit
Ifi: Him and Rachel are even more obvious that Jake and Cassie
Adam: Well, people have the idea that you can't sell a series to girls unless you shoehorn gratuitous romance into the foreground
Adam: Now, as far as I can tell, you are a girl. Can I get your stance on this?
Ifi: They can't even hug!
Adam: They do, but it is just awkward for everyone involved
Adam: Just like in real life!
Ifi: I mean, it makes sense that there are relationships within the group because they are like bonded by trauma and whatnot.
Ifi: But Tobias and Rachel have no clue what to do about any of it so we just get these awkward scenes with them sitting there staring at each other.
Adam: I repeat my statement from earlier
Ifi: *flies away*
Adam: Romance, folks!