Monday, 10 January 2011

Acorna by Anne MCaffrey & Margaret Bell (part of the Human Trafficking Awareness Week reviews)

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January 1998, Corgi
416 pages, Paperback
Personal copy 

Science Fiction (mixed with fantasy) 

Futuristic space setting, what happens when companies are taken over, space mining, children used for slave labour and prostitution (nothing detailed or graphic), hope, friendship at times of adversity, compassion, caring for orphans, different species, space ships, assassination, humour, a few tissues needed

Summary from Transworld

Three old space mining prospectors in their beat-up space ship discover a small pod floating in space. Inside is a tiny girl child, with funny little hooves, a wealth of silver hair growing on her body, and a lump in the middle of her forehead which, as time elapses, grows into a horn. It is a sort of unicorn. 

When the old prospectors come to sell their ores on the home planet controversy breaks out. Bureaucrats want to put her in a home and cut off her deformity, scientists want to study her and isolate her, and so the old three kidnap her back on their ship and go roaring off round the universe, having adventures, saving her, and finally having her save all the child slaves on a terrible planet called Kezdet. It is space opera at it’s best and will be followed by more in the series, no doubt tracing Acorna to her home planet.

Nayuleska's thoughts
I sort of remember when I first read Acorna. I know I was just branching out into sci-fi and fantasy. I loved the concept of a unicorn girl having magical powers. I ended up loving the book so much I've read it over 5 times, it has a few pages bent in the corner, it has lots of creases in the spine...(you know I'm telling this just because I know a lot of you keep your books in much better condition than mine, right?) Sometimes when re-reading books after many years they aren't as exciting any more. I'm delighted to say that this isn't the case for Acorna. As I read the first chapter, I was beaming at the book (in between needing a tissue because it's so sad). 

I haven't read all the books in the series yet, but having read a few of them, I was able to read with a better understanding of all the different relationships in the book. There are a lot of them, but this actually doesn't make it difficult to understand (and I sometimes struggle if I'm reading a story with lots of plot lines, especially if I'm tired). 

First of all there is Acorna. She is the sweetest, funniest character ever. Three miners, Rafik, Gill and Calum are out in space earning their money. They come across Acorna's pod. They bring it in, open it, and discover her. Their love for her is extremely sweet. They want to make sure she is happy - that takes some creative thinking so that they can do their job and look after her (she gets upset if they go away from her). They make sure she is well-nourished - their ponics section only suffers a little bit, and because of her special abilities the air and water quality actually improve. 

It's a good thing that Acorna can heal people, because the miners are ever so popular in the book by people who want them to suffer (and kill them). Some of the reasoning is a case of mistaken identity. Others are just plain mean and evil. However, the horrid treatment that Acorna suffers at the hands of her enemies mean that her three guardians meet up with some pretty extraordinary people who have connections and can help Acorna use her talents for good. It is because of her that lots of children get rescued and given a safer home. Part of the story follows three girls, telling of their lives before Acorna, as well as how they play a part in bringing down part of the large tower of human trafficking on a particular planet. 

Acorna is so memorable because she's sweet and innocent. She follows orders, but the miners aren't used to children and don't realise they have to be one step ahead of her. She comes from an equine race of people who mature far quicker than humans. She ventures out and takes matters into her own hands. There are several scenes where she gets told off for risking her life and others. What started as an innocent outing ends up being a life lesson on what horrors there are in the world. This only fuels her desire to help others. She is full of kindness, yet is prone to jealously and frustration. 

This is a science fiction book, but I don't class it as super hard to understand sci-fi. There are instances of space terminology, but they are usually explained. It helps that Acorna was so inquisitive because the miners explain everything to her. I feel these and the rest of Anne's books are a perfect place to start for newcomers to science fiction, because they aren't stuffed full with technical jargon. I liked the rich details in the different places the miners visit: some areas are sterile, others are definitely on the nastier side of town. Almost every single character introduced in this book plays a big role in Acorna's life in the following books, making it a real pleasure to learn more about them and why they have a connection to Acorna.

Final conclusion
Acorna opened up more than just a new genre of books. Her tale opened my eyes to the darker side of humanity, and also to the generosity of a few people who fight for children in similar situations. I definitely recommend it! 

Acorna's series and other books by Anne McCaffrey can be explored on her website.

Be sure to read the next in this thrilling series: Acorna's Quest 

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