Friday, 26 April 2013

#CBR5 Book 44. "Song of Scarabaeus" by Sara Creasy

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Blurb from Goodreads, because I'm feeling lazier than usual:
Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, Edie's mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she's not entirely sure it's a bad thing...until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn - a former freedom-fighter turned slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn's side, he dies. If she doesn't cooperate, the pirates will kill them both.

But Edie's abilities far surpass anything her enemies can imagine. And now, with Finn as her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she'll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure...a world called Scarabaeus.

Song of Scarabaeus is the alt read in this month's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, which is all about the sci-fi again. I wasn't particularly impressed with the main read, Ghost Planet, where I thought both the science fiction and the romantic elements of the story just didn't come together very well at all. So much promise, so little payoff. The science fiction part of this book are much better developed, to the point where the tech speak occasionally got so convoluted that I just had to skim bits. Long time readers of my reviews know that I'm not the biggest fan of science fiction literature, but I keep trying, hoping that some day I'll discover something I too enjoy. So far, that seems to be Ann Aguirre, with no real contenders so far.

I wanted to like this book, especially after Ghost Planet was such a let-down. Unlike the previous book, the potential set up in this book isn't squandered. Edie is a very clever tech with unique abilities, although the blurb lies about them being all that amazing. There's a whole lot of stuff she can't do, such as sever the link between herself and Finn, for instance. If they are separated by too much distance, he will be killed by a small detonation in his head. He can also sense Edie through the mental link, especially when she experiences heightened emotions. The blurb also suggests Scarabaeus is Edie's greatest failure, but we learn very early on that the reason the terraforming there failed so spectacularly, is because she sabotaged the seeds, wanting to preserve the world the way it was. When they finally return to the planet, she discovers that her sabotage has had extremely unexpected side effects, and that she didn't so much keep the seeds from sprouting, as make them mutate in really spectacular ways no one could have predicted.

The blurb of the book also led me to believe the story would set mostly on Scarabaeus, which is not the case. The majority of the story is on board the space ship, where the crew are mostly friendly to Edie, and extremely prejudiced and hostile to Finn. Anyone who rebels against the Crib empire is condemned to hard labour, and the serfs are treated as interchangeable and disposable slaves. It's clear Finn has a dangerous past, and he is mostly treated more like a wild animal by everyone but Edie. It seems really puzzling that everyone else is quite so hostile and dismissive to the various serfs, even though they are perfectly willing to rebel against the Crib authorities by kidnapping one of their chief bio engineers. All the serfs seem to be treated like scum, although it seems as if many of them may not have actually done anything violent or dangerous to end up where they are, they just tried to stand up to the Empire. Only Edie, having been treated as an outcast by her own people (because she's a half-breed), who are again put in camps and controlled by the Crib, seems to treat the serfs as human beings, and see them as different individuals.

Because there is so little nuance in the other characters, even though some are nicer than others, at least to Edie, she comes off as a bit of a Mary Sue, and on occasion, a bit too naive for her own good. While she's clearly very good at the bio programming stuff, she's also extremely passive, and with the exception of refusing to shock Finn with her mind when ordered to do so, she shows very little agency, and mostly waits around for others, mainly Finn to sort things out for her. She doesn't seem to feel strong emotions of any kind, she never gets too scared, or angry, or passionate about things. It makes it hard to relate to her.

Finn isn't exactly given the most complex of personalities, either, but at least he seems to actually have a full range of emotions. He does seem to pick the strangest times to try to provoke Edie, or test her reactions, though. For all the talk throughout the book at how efficient and dangerous a killer he is, we don't get to see much of that either. A lot of this book feels like it's setting up for more exciting things later, or waiting around to get to the planet.

Readers should also be aware, which I was not (they may have mentioned this on last month's video hangout, but if so, I missed it), that this book ends very abruptly, on a cliff hanger, and is more the first part of a complete story - the second book being Children of Scarabaeus. This may explain why so much of the book felt like it was setting up for later events, because all of the payoff is going to be delivered in the sequel. Luckily, I bought both books as a package deal, so I will read the conclusion of the story once I feel up to reading more sci-fi. Which isn't going to be straight away, as I'm moving into a period with a very heavy work load. Expect a lot of romance reviews in the weeks to come. :)

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