Acorna’s Children: First Warning (book 8 of the Acorna series) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (book review).

‘Acorna’s Children: First Warning’ is the eighth book in the long-running ‘Acorna’ sequence. The series started with the eponymous novel ‘Acorna,’ written by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball, published in 1997, which introduced Acorna. As a member of the Linyaari race, she naturally sports unicorn-like features, including hooves and a horn that acts as a powerful natural healing device.

After the sequel, ‘Acorna’s Quest,’ Margaret Ball handed over to Elizabeth Ann Scarborough for the third novel, ‘Acorna’s People,’ and the writing partnership between Scarborough and McCaffrey remained constant for the rest of the series. Anne McCaffrey needs little introduction, being beloved by millions of readers for not only her ‘Dragonriders Of Pern’ novels but also ‘The Crystal Singer’ and ‘Talent’ series, as well as many stand-alone novels. Elizabeth Ann Scarborough is scarcely less well-known, having published multiple series and many other standalone novels, including ‘The Healer’s War,’ which won Best Novel at the Nebula Awards in 1989.

Having written seven novels about Acorna and her friends and having rather rounded off that story, what are a pair of authors to do if the public demands more? Well, write about their children, naturally. To be honest, the title of the book rather gives this away. The main protagonist is Khorii, the adolescent daughter of Acorna and her husband, Aari. Being of the Linyaari race and given their peaceful and idyllic society, Khorii is naturally rather sheltered with little danger sense. However, on her first trip away from her planet, she and her parents encounter a mysterious plague that is devastating systems local to their extended family. Acorna and Aari send Khorii onwards to their intended destination while they stop off to help cure the plague.

So, conveniently, Khorii is sent off to bunk at a school for orphaned children set up by her mother. Khorii is accompanied only by Khiindi and Elviiz. Khiindi is a Makahomian Temple Cat (see previous volumes in the series for details) because, after all, which self-respecting unicorn girl can go to space without a clever cat to keep her company? Elviiz is the ‘son’ of the android Maak and was created as a wedding present to Acorna and Aari to act as Khorii’s companion, protecting, educating, and infuriating her frequently.

This is all very good as it gets the young protagonist out on her own. The book is written in third person but mainly from Khorii’s point of view, and in this fashion, all the new concepts can be introduced as new to Khorii as well as the reader. As noted above, Khorii soon finds herself at the orphans’ colony, but not as an honored guest, being the daughter of the founder, but finding herself somewhat thrown in with the orphans. Initially, Khorii thinks this is a great adventure but, when her sheltered and rather positive demeanor comes up against some of the rather more psychologically scarred children in the orphanage, she is forced to revise many of her opinions. Of course, learning to deal with others of a different mindset is all part and parcel of the coming-of-age story.

Khorii soon meets several new friends, including Hap Hellstrom, who is about Khorii’s age and has great aptitude with machines and electronics and turns out to be an all-around decent kid. She also meets Shoshishsa, a beautiful but haughty and arrogant teenager; Marl Fidd, an older teenager with a hidden past and surly attitude; and Asha Bates, who is a teacher at the school with a rather surprising past.

Knowing her lineage and hence how powerful her horn is as a healing device, Khorii is fairly selfless in throwing herself at situations such as the plague with little advance thought. This means that she can actually be manipulated by less scrupulous characters, hence most of the plots she gets involved in. Part of the problem with having created a setting, the school, where all the threats have been neutralized and giving your heroine the amazing ability to heal anything short of death is in building a credibly threatening scenario.

The plague that is introduced as the new and presumably multi-book big bad threat is engineered so that a race of Linyaari super-healers actually have their work cut out for them and making it multi-planet stretches them all out a bit. So far, so good. But what is there to threaten an adolescent unicorn girl?

Alas, it boils down to antagonistic school children. Most of the characters Khorii meets are close to her own age, and so it is natural these would present the greatest challenge. This does mean that the nature of that challenge is rather puerile and ill thought out. The climax builds some mild tension, but it never really feels like Khorii can’t get out of the situation and come out on top.

Nonetheless, this book reads exactly as you might expect from the authors, which is to say very easily. This reviewer has read quite a bit of McCaffrey and knows how easily approached her novels are. It is hard to see where McCaffrey ends and Scarborough begins in the writing, so well-blended are their talents. I assume, therefore, that Scarborough’s novels are equally approachable. I suppose that if I wished to be unkind, I would describe the writing as unchallenging. This book is often described as both being for adult and young-adult alike. In particular, ‘First Warning’ tends to feel like a juvenile due to the young nature of the protagonist and the majority of the characters.

Of course, if you are a fan of McCaffrey or/and Scarborough or the previous series in general, then you know what you are getting, and I don’t hesitate to recommend it to you. If you have not read these authors before, this is actually a fine place to start as it does present something of a break from the previous books. It does not rely overly much on knowledge of the previous tales. Of course, you may alternatively want to seek out the first volume ‘Acorna’ and work your way through.

Either way, you will get a fun read with relatively unchallenging adventures, the SF equivalent of easy listening music. But it is so well crafted that it is a bit like eating a bag of sweets in that each turn of the page brings new tasty delights. Therefore, I recommend this to you as these books are always fun, and you might discover something new and delightful.

Dave Corby

April 2023

(pub: Corgi. 398 page paperback, 2006. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-552-15291-9)

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