Anne McCaffrey,
Freedom's Ransom
(Ace, 2003)

Freedom's Ransom is Anne McCaffrey's fourth book in her Catteni series, following on from Freedom's Landing, Freedom's Challenge and Freedom's Choice.

Zainel, Catteni hero of the former penal world of Botany, pursues his admirable goals for achieving independence for the planet, restoring scattered human slaves to Earth and redistributing its looted essentials. Assisting him in this daunting task are familiar characters: his mate Kris Bjornson, the indomitable Chuck Mitford, Zainel's own two sons and the wily Clune, Ditsy, Ferris & Floss, amongst others. The avaricious Barevi merchants naturally refuse to simply hand over the goods stolen from Earth, despite the fact that the stupefying accumulation is largely useless to the Catteni. Refusing to concede defeat after this setback, Zainel proposes to combine a visit to Earth with a trip to Barevi on a mission of barter.

A grocery run ensues to exchange fresh game and produce from Botany for Earth's other black gold: coffee, now a luxury item for the Catteni who have become addicted to it! The coffee is tradeable on Barevi, and the rise in fashion among the brawling Catteni for dental repairs provides another surprising line of credit, so a Botany dentist's services are enlisted in the enterprise. Botany and Earth's much needed sophisticated communications systems are reliant on replacement parts neatly extricated from derelict satellite arrays and the crew are kept busy learning to trade for the mundane but ever-increasing requirements of both worlds. Not content with the mammoth task of setting Botany to rights, our big hero feels duty-bound to make amends for the ravages his race and their former overlords, the Eosi, have inflicted on our own traumatized world.

McCaffrey tells the tale with her usual deft precision and immaculate presentation of empathetic characters in adversity. Science fiction this may be, but daily life goes on no matter what century or planet, and the human touches to the storyline make for a delightful and entertaining read. You really do need to follow the story from Landing to make sense of it all, and appreciate the cunning yet philanthropic survivors' new dilemmas. The plot isn't as full of excitement as the first or the third in the series, but any fan of Pern, Doona or the other worlds of Anne McCaffrey's productive and generous imagination will surely appreciate the continuing tale of this close-knit, motley crew and the worlds emerging from under the domination of the Eosi.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 19 July 2003

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