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REVIEW: Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy

Dear Ms. Creasy:

I am not a science fiction fan. I am not a futuristic fan. I think it is because I feel like I am not smart enough to understand the concepts without pictures and light sabers twirling around. Science was never my strong point and the few times I’ve dipped my toes into the futuristic world, I was confused after the first five minutes of reading. The fact that this is billed as a science fiction adventure was enough to place this book in the do not read pile. I mean, it isn’t even a romance, right? Good thing for me, I have some adventurous reading pals.

Song of Scarabaeus By Sara Creasy Angela James was reading an ARC of the follow up to this book at the Tools of Change conference. (I was reading Sarah Maclean’s Eleven Scandals) Both of us were engrossed in our books at various time. She encouraged me to read the first in the series. I hesitated because, well, it’s science fiction adventure (I’m still scarred by my attempts to read Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson). I put it on my TBR list and then kind of forgot about it. Then it was nominated by readers for the Crossover finalist at the DABWHA tourney. I bought it, read it, loved it, and am now anxious for book 2.   I say all this as preface so that readers who are a little apprehensive of the SFF books can know that I am with them and this book still worked for me.

Part of the fun of reading this book is discovery and so I’ll try to be as vague as possible while still talking about why I found this story appealing. Edie is a half Talasi, an outcast amongst the Talasi tribe whose old ways refused to accept diluted blood. Ignored and forgotten, Edie was easy pickings for Crib Colonial Unit, a colonizing branch of the reigning intergalactic political power. The Talasi’s land, Talas Prime, is filled with this neuroxin (aka poison) and the early Talasi were able to manipulate their genetic code to accommodate the toxin. The downside is that any Talasi away from their home planet must have a ready supply of neuroxin.

At the CCU, Edie was taken care of, even fostered. She developed into the leading cypherteck for the CCU BRAT seeding program. Essentially (or at least in my own understanding) Edie was a bio engineer who helped to colonize previously uninhabited planets using engineered seeds that are shot from the sky into the land of the planet. Edie has a perfect record of 18 out of 18. In other words, every planet she has worked to seed has germinated and her older settlements are now taking in new humans. The BRAT seeding program was supposed to work with only uninhabited or dead planets but one planet, Scarabaeus, was not dead and the BRAT seeds that were shot down there lay dormant.

A fringe group of space pirates kidnaps Edie in order to get her to germinate these Scarabaeus seeds for fringe colonies. Fringe colonies depend upon the BRATs from CCU and must give a great portion of their harvest to the CCU, thereby rendering the fringe colonies essentially toothless. If Edie can germinate seeds that are outside the CCU BRAT system, the fringe colonies would not need to depend on CCU and could, possibly, flourish on their own.

Even though Edie was cared for at CCU, she never felt fully invested in the program. She often thought that the BRAT seeding system was wrong, that it was changing eco systems that did not need to be changed or, if changed, would affect the planet adversely. Part of Edie’s distaste for changing the planet’s environment was connected to her sense of displacement. She never had a home, a tribe, a family. She was perennially the outsider. She did not want to change worlds to benefit humans if it meant displacement of someone else.

To protect Edie from eco rad terrorists and to prevent her recapture by the CCU, the fringe group “frees” a serf named Finn. Finn was a former soldier and described as “a roughly handsome brute, years of labor etched into his face.” To ensure Finn’s loyalty to Edie’s well being, the group hires an infotek to jack into Finn’s brain and create a biological leash to Edie. If he is farther than a couple “klicks” from Edie or if she should die, a bomb in Finn’s brain will detonate. Further, the leash is providing a bio feedback of sorts from Edie to Finn meaning that any spikes in Edie’s emotion (including arousal) can result in pain to Finn.

Edie does not want to be responsible for someone’s death and Finn wants to live, more than anything. They have to figure out how to sever the leash, obtain a supply of neuroxin, get away from their kidnappers, get Finn to freedom and Edie to…well, they aren’t sure.

In the beginning, Edie recognizes that there are injustices in the way in which the world is run. She recognizes that it is unfair to the fringers to be so dependent on the CCU. She dislikes the direction in which the seeding program is going, specifically the colonization of inhabited planets (not inhabited by people, but with life forms). Failed seeding programs turn planets into mash, essentially creating a meltdown of the ecology and rendering the planet useless for anything. But other than running away now and then, Edie hasn’t done anything about it. During her capture and with her exposure to Finn and others, Edie begins to see that there is something that she can do to help liberate people from CCU.

Finn is more of enigma because we don’t really get scenes from his point of view. What we see of Finn is filtered through Edie’s point of view. But we get enough to know that Finn yearns for freedom. He fought for freedom and he was captured and enslaved. He realizes that Edie isn’t his captor but a victim and he is determined to help her and himself.

The stakes are very high in this book and the plot drives the reader forward but the characters stick with you. Edie, in some ways, represents the idealistic person that Finn may have left behind. She represents what he was fighting for in the first place. Conversely, Finn is a solid connection that Edie has missed and wanted her entire life. They slowly fall in love, so much so that their feelings for each other imperil their goals for freedom.

As a romance reader, primarily, I felt that this story was rich, not only in setting, but emotion. Edie’s real horror at seeing the leash used against Finn, for example, was palpable, as was her longing for him. I also appreciated the way in which Edie and Finn worked together as true partners. Finn took care of what he was good at – planning, fighting, soldiering, and Edie took care of what she was good at – interfacing with bio based tech. Edie and Finn are a team I want to follow for a long time. Strong B+

Best regards,

Jane

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
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This book is published by an Agency publisher meaning that the publisher sets the digital book price and there are no discounts.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

40 Comments

  1. Heather Massey
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 12:16:05

    I enjoyed this book as well and thought the relationship development would hold strong appeal for romance readers new or somewhat new to romantic SF.

    This story also has some really swell biopunk elements, especially during the scenes at the end.

  2. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 12:18:24

    @Heather Massey: What is “biopunk?”

  3. Angela
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 12:44:41

    I’ve seen this book mentioned a lot, and everytime someone said it was great I’d go look at it on Amazon. Then I’d see it’s science fiction and say ‘not for me.’

    I’ve always tended to avoid science fiction/futuristics. I think it’s that most of them have made me feel as if I have to have a doctorate in science to understand them. And very few have made me relate while not making me feel stupid.

    Now after reading the first couple paragraphs of this review (and skimming the rest) I have to say: Thank you! I’ll be adding this book to my TBR.

  4. Heather Massey
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 12:56:48

    Biopunk is an SF subgenre characterized by advanced biotech in the setting. It's an offshoot of cyberpunk.

    Frequently, the backdrop is a totalitarian government or megacorporations “which misuse biotechnologies as means of social control or profiteering.

    A good resource for biopunk is The Biopunk Reader (in the interest of full disclosure, I recently guest blogged there).

    Ella Drake’s Jaq’s Harp sci-fi romance novella also featured a biopunk setting.

    The more biotechnology goes wrong, the scarier it is, IMHO. I thought some of the scenes in SONG OF SCARABAEUS did a good job of showing some of the horrific side of biotechnology run amok. Would love to read more SFR with this setting.

  5. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 13:01:33

    @Heather Massey wouldn’t that make the whole book biopunk?

  6. Heather Massey
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 13:43:37

    @Jane It’s funny: I went into this book thinking it was cyberpunk and came out thinking it was also biopunk. Overall, it struck me as a blend of both, but it leans more towards biopunk.

  7. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 13:47:53

    @Angela

    . I think it's that most of them have made me feel as if I have to have a doctorate in science to understand them. And very few have made me relate while not making me feel stupid.

    Totally how I felt trying to read some of those SFF Hugo award winners. But even though some of the science was hard for me in this book, I understood enough.

  8. helen
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 13:50:35

    I LOVED this book and can’t wait for Children out at the end of the month. Great review.

  9. FD
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 13:57:48

    This sounds exactly like my cup of tea, and it hasn’t been on my radar at all. (Oh, dear could my metaphors be any more mixed?) Anyway, thank you Jane, for bringing it to my attention.

  10. Ella Drake
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:17:11

    Full disclosure from me as well, I love Science Fiction Romance, so I’m predisposed to love a book like this. (I do not love all Science Fiction, though. Sometimes it’s too full of science and not enough about the characters).

    All that said, this was my favorite SFR of the past few years. The characters are likeable & so real that it’s hard not to pull for them. The tech is intriguing and not too difficult to read or understand. At times, it’s described with a poetic lushness that’s quite moving.

    In the end though, if I leave a book wanting to stay with the characters, then I know it’s a keeper. That was this book & I can’t wait to read the next one.

  11. Angie
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:28:21

    Jane, I just reviewed this one yesterday and absolutely loved it. Not sure how it flew under my radar. But I loved the world and Edie and Finn for just the reasons you mention. So glad the sequel comes out so soon.

  12. Elyssa Papa
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:30:31

    I admit that I stay away from SFR because I feel so dumb without, as you said, light sabers involved to help me understand it. And also because SFR seems like a type of sub-genre that doesn’t always have necessarily a HEA, and I’m a huge wimp now and like my books to end all is well. But…with all the good buzz about this book, I think I’m willing to take a chance out of my reading comfort zone.

  13. Elyssa Papa
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:31:24

    So sorry about the double comment, Jane! I blame my iPad!

  14. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:31:44

    So. Does anyone think that Edie and Finn’s romance is kind of how Katniss and Gale may have played out?

  15. Jorrie Spencer
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:41:49

    I liked this one too! I do read SFR from time to time, but this one really did it for me. I’ll have to pick up book two.

  16. Liz
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:41:57

    I can’t answer the Katniss and Gale question, but to me this relationship was like a marriage of convenience plot with a twist (or turned up to level 10): they had to make some kind of relationship work because it really was life and death. I loved that, because I love MOC as a romance trope. (This aspect of the book made me think about Ursula LeGuin’s characterization of speculative fiction as “imaginary anthropology”).

    I’m another largely non-SF reader who found the world-building, SF stuff very interesting, though I did sometimes feel I’d be on more solid ground if I knew the genre conventions–not necessarily science–better.

  17. Angie
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:50:25

    @Jane: Lol. I hadn’t thought of that parallel. There better not be a Peeta-type character introduced in the next book…

  18. Jan
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:34:46

    I wouldn’t mind Finn to be either like Gale or Peeta, just as long as Edie isn’t like Katniss.

    Anyhoo.

    I’m going to repeat FD. “This sounds exactly like my cup of tea, and it hasn't been on my radar at all.”

    Added to the TBR (and crossing my fingers that the ebook price is reasonable)

  19. katieM
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:22:35

    I read this a while ago and I loved it! I have always been a SF reader, but lately the stuff I’ve been able to find is just not for me. Since there are few brick and mortar bookstores in my city (Cincinnati!!!) I don’t get the chance to just linger and peruse the new books being published and there are no sites for SF (like this site for romance) that offer good solid unbiased reviews for SF. I’m excited to hear that there is another book coming out soon.

  20. Ava Glass
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 16:35:19

    Glad to see this register on more readers’ “radar.” I know SFR can have a harder time netting a wide audience.

    Being an SF fan myself, this has been on my TBR list for a while. Gonna have to finally read it now.

    At least I won’t have long to wait until the next book comes out. Two weeks exactly, I think.

  21. FiaQ
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 17:05:04

    @Ava Glass: Two weeks?! I have this in my TBR (thanks to @Jane_l’s mini session of pimpage on Twitter) so I’d better read it before the second book is released. Thanks for the heads up.

    @Heather Massey: I feel that the most popular trope in biopunk is genetic engineering. Or rather, the dark side of it. Many I read addressed the ethics (and morals) of it while a bit of action exploded here and there. Fun, but it makes an interesting – and oft, challenging where my perspective is concerned – read.

  22. Sara Creasy
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 18:35:54

    Glad you enjoyed the book, Jane.

    @Liz: Love the comparison to a “marriage of convenience” plot. It’s funny because my favorite romance trope is probably “forbidden love”. I didn’t set out to write a romance book, so given that I put a romance in there anyway, you’d think my subconscious would’ve made it forbidden love.

    (Hmm, I should’ve included a subplot about Natesa and Haller having the hots for each other…)

  23. Aemelia
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 18:51:27

    I loved this book and am very happy to see it rising up on readers radar! I don’t read a lot of SF, usually more historical, but this really drew me in. I’m really looking forward to the sequal.

  24. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 19:12:42

    @Sara Creasy Is there a book 3? I went to your website and couldn’t tell.

  25. Andrea K Host
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 19:12:54

    Can I recommend an oldie but a goodie in the SF/romance category? I really enjoyed the romance in this one.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1912181.Mistwalker

    You might also like the Doyle/MacDonald Mageworlds SF. Science fiction which is marketed as “space adventure” or “space opera” is usually infinitely more accessible (and fun!), and often has some tasty relationships.

  26. Lynnette
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 19:18:43

    I read this when it first came out. An advantage to working in a book store is getting to see all the new books. I love to see whats available each day. And then I recommend my faves to my regular customers. I have an ARC of Children of Scarabaeus from Net Galley on my Kobo and its next on my list to read.

  27. Jane
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 19:22:14

    @Lynnette I pulled the second one out to read and it is good with a lot more romance and very satisfying ending!

  28. Sara Creasy
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 19:22:55

    @Jane: There is no book 3 in the works (yet?). I had a 2-book deal and now I’m writing a different SFR story altogether.

  29. orannia
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 20:41:07

    I used to read a lot of science-fiction, but I’ve slowly come to realization that it is the characterization that I want; if there is lots of complicated scientific explanations then I’m bored. (Give my lightsabers and the Force any day :)

    So, thank you Jane :) This is the second good review of this book I have read, so it’s on my TBR list.

    Oh, and wary that I might get in trouble for this, I had to Google Katniss and Gale because I had no idea who they were. Hmmm. I’ve been dithering over reading The Hunger Games for ages…still on the fence about it :)

  30. An
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 21:22:58

    I super liked this book too! I like science fiction in general, and I like good SF with more time spent with characters. You know, kinda like a SFR. :-) So I’m excited when one of my favourite but smaller genres gets press.

    One problem I do have after reading a bunch of heavy SF is that I stop caring about technology that hasn’t been invented yet and characters that exist just to push the appropriate buttons at the necessary time.

    The nice thing about SFR (I think) is that you still get the interesting worldbuilding and issues, but characters get more time and importance. Because people? Are still people when they’re in outer space.

    @Sara Creasy

    I’m so excited you’re writing more and I am very excited your next book is coming out soon. WOOO! I’ve been desperately trying to not forget your name between your books and it looks like I’ll be good. I have a bad memory for names.

  31. Roxie
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 23:17:24

    I read this book when it came out and really enjoyed it. Glad to hear there’s a sequel. :) I’m always on the lookout for more SFR.

  32. Kaetrin
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 23:23:09

    I just ordered both books from The Book Depository. Without DABWAHA and this review I don’t think it would have been on my radar at all. Thx for the rec.

  33. Sara Creasy
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 23:31:17

    And I just ordered Mistwalker from the Book Depository because it was mentioned here. Amazing! Placed the order on a UK website and it’s being shipped from the US to me in Australia. All for around $8.

  34. Tae
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 23:34:03

    sci fi is my primary reading material, sci fi with romantic elements are my favorites, so this sounds exactly like the type of book I’d love. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, now I’m going to look for it for my iPad.

  35. Jane
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 08:41:14

    @Kaetrin Hope you enjoy it.

  36. Estara
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 09:24:38

    I’ll copy A.Höst here:

    Can I recommend an oldie but a goodie in the SF/romance category? I really enjoyed the romance in this one.

    just with a different link at the end:http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/124145663

    When I read Angie’s review on GoodReads, I finally bought this – it had been on and off my radar last year already. Great to see you say good things about it, too.

  37. Karen
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 10:07:32

    I second the “space opera” comment–and highly recommend Lee and Miller’s Liaden series!

    There are many ways to start–there are a couple of prequel series and they have been republished a number of times in a few different groupings. Regardless of where you start, this is not a world to miss!

  38. FD
    Mar 16, 2011 @ 11:03:47

    Ack.
    Having gone looking, it doesn’t seem to be available as an ebook in the UK. Anyone else have better luck?

    As an aside, pointless geo-restrictions (if I can buy it in print, then yes, geo-restrictions ARE completely effing pointless) are really, really getting on my wick lately, given that I am not buying print books due to not having anywhere to put them. Very literally not anywhere – and I’m moving into halls in September so I’m not expecting to have anywhere for the next three years either. *sigh*

  39. Book Splurge! | Me and My Books
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 12:23:29

    […] and bought Sara Creasy‘s “Song of Scarabaeus”, because everyone seems to really really love it.  And since everyone also had nice things to say about Gini Koch‘s “Touched by […]

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    Mar 30, 2011 @ 14:01:30

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