Series: Acorna #1
Published: 1997 by HarperCollins
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
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I’ve loved Anne McCaffrey ever since I first discovered her Crystal Singer trilogy when I was in high school. I’ve long admired McCaffrey’s ability to bring to life strong and competent heroines who are independent and a little bit Type A. Acorna is no exception.
The novel begins when an alien couple’s ship is attacked. They realize they are doomed, and because they know that they would meet a slow and painful demise if they allowed themselves to be taken, they decide to blow themselves up so that they can take their enemies with them. Their only regret is their small child. On a whim, they decide to jettison the child in an escape pod. Even though they know that the odds of her being rescued are slim, they want to give her that chance.
Luckily, there are three asteroid miners who just happen to be passing by. Calum, Gill, and Rafik are socially awkward misfits who like the freedom of mining in space, and when they find a pod with a baby unicorn alien in it, they become her reluctant guardians. At first they are bewildered, but the child, whom they call Acorna, quickly grows on them. It soon becomes apparent that Acorna is indeed something special. She grows crazy fast and has the ability to purify air, help plants grow, heal small wounds, and perform complex computations in her head.
As other people become aware of just how special Acorna is, the three miners and Acorna find themselves on the run from people who see her only for her body. They arrive on the planet Kezdet, which reminds me a bit of Tattoine in Star Wars. It’s a rough and lawless world, and most industries there make a profit by using mistreated child slave laborers. This infuriates Acorna, who takes it upon herself to try to save as many children as possible. This requires some growing up, as in human years, she’s really just a child herself. Despite the fact that she now has the appearance of someone in her late teens/early 20s, she doesn’t know a lot about how the world works planetside.
Even as she’s finding fulfillment in her cause, Acorna feels a certain loneliness, because she’s reached physical maturity but is the only one of her kind. She’s constantly being sexualized by other people, but doesn’t have any real understanding of her own sexuality. Throughout the book, Acorna’s friends are able to make some progress into guessing where she might have come from, and the book ends with a note of hope that maybe one day Acorna will find her people. I’m just hoping that nothing bad happens when she does; it’ll be the first time that humans make contact with them, and I’m not so naive as to think that everyone would get along without conflict. But that’s all speculation, because apparently McCaffrey wrote a whole series of books that follow Acorna’s story.
Acorna felt like a space opera version of Snow White, but without handsome princes or glass coffins, and instead a plot to destroy repugnant child slavers. Maybe it’s just that Calum, Gill, and Rafik remind me a little bit of dwarves. For a book with such dark themes, it had a feeling of lightheartedness and a happy ending for everyone involved. Definitely worth the read.