Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Song of Scarabaeus

Song of Scarabaeus  by Sara Creasy
Book 1 of "Scarabaeus"

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 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.

Rating:  3 of 5 stars.

One downside of an addiction to Mass Effect (yes, the video game series) is that I now find myself searching for books to give me just one more fix.  This is sort of where Song of Scarabaeus comes in.  Reading the blurb, it sounds like space adventure with a female lead and a splash of romance - just the recipe I crave.

Here's where I confess this is the second time I attempted to read this book.  I succeeded this time, of course, but had it not been for my overwhelming desire for another ME hit, combined with the fact that I was captive on an airplane, I probably would not have bothered finishing the book.  Again.

It's not that the story is bad or the characters suck or anything like that.  The story is even reasonably solid.  The real downside is that the story didn't suck me in right away.  It starts with a bang - a kidnapping, guns blazing, people dying! - and it should be riveting from the get-go.  For some reason it comes off a little flat, like a soda that's been sitting out all day.  Drinkable, but nothing you'd go out of your way to have again.
Eh.  Whatever.
I think the problem is that, while the world is interesting and the intro scenario has drama, the reader has not yet bonded with the characters.  Unfortunately, when it comes to SF/F (or perhaps especially with SF/F), the real-world reader needs a reason to sink into the story, a guide to this strange new world.  If the protagonist isn't ready for that responsibility, then something else has to take the lead.  In this case, it feels as though the author chose to try to hook the reader with drama and tension.  This strategy can totally work sometimes.  This time it was only moderately successful.

However, I was on an airplane, so I was going to read the book no matter what.  I'm happy to say that, after the not-quite-hook, the story moves along decently and maintains enough interest to make the payoff worthwhile.  The splash of romance I mentioned earlier attempts to be present, but sort of drifts in and out of the story and never really becomes a "thing."  Perhaps this is done because this book is the first of a series and the (female) author didn't want to be labeled as a "sci-fi romance author" (which I understand) but the result is that you have a lackluster relationship between two characters that could feel the "empathy void" left by a reader not entirely bonding with the protagonist.  Without someone (or someones) to care about, the narrative is left with only action.  This can work for a story, but it will never make a classic. 

As for the writing style, I really shouldn't complain....but you all know I'm going to anyway.  The story is littered with words that are one letter away from an actual English word, making it entirely clear what the meaning is.  This just begs the question:  why not just use the actual English word?  It felt like a blatant attempt to announce "this is futuristic science fiction with relatable-yet-highly-advanced technology!  Be excited for this space adventure!"  This probably won't bother most people, but then again I am jaded and impossible to please.

If you want fun Sci Fi with a strong female protagonist, I would recommended Rachel Bach's Fortune's Pawn over this.  If you don't really care and just want the printed equivalent of a popcorn movie, then Song of Scarabaeus will suffice.

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