How valuable would you be if you had the talent to reshape planetary ecosystems to make them suitable for human colonization? Edie Sha’nim, the heroine of Sara Creasy’s assured debut novel Song of Scarabaeus, quickly discovers how far people will go to control her talent when she is kidnapped by a group of criminals and forced to aid their illegal schemes. 

Edie is skilled at manipulating “biocyph,” a combination of bio- and information technology that can rewrite biology on any scale ranging from a few cells to a whole planet. This makes her a valuable commodity to both the “Crib”—the governing bureaucracy which has controlled her life since childhood—and the rebel “Fringe” worlds. A recent civil war has given the Fringe worlds nominal independence from the Crib, but their dependence on expensive Crib technology to keep their planets habitable keeps them economically subservient. With Edie on their team, the criminals can scavenge abandoned Crib technology and sell it to the Fringe at a greatly reduced cost. 

Edie makes an appealing heroine: flawed, willful and determined to make her own destiny apart from the groups that want to control her. Parts of her tragic backstory come back to haunt her when she is paired with a bodyguard. The two are forced into symbiotic cooperation, chained together by a trick of technology and a shared need to escape; a complicated relationship quickly emerges. Fans of the romance genre will appreciate the smoldering looks and barely suppressed yearnings between these two attractive, strong-willed characters. 

The forces competing for Edie come to a head on and around the titular planet Scarabaeus, a convincingly drawn biological nightmare for which Edie holds herself responsible. The finale is tense and exciting; enough plot strands are tied up to be satisfying, while leaving plenty open for another entry in this universe. 

Song of Scarabaeus is an enjoyable, fast-paced slice of adventure science fiction, infused with a measured dose of romance. The technological and political background is revealed with a deft hand, never getting in the way of the action. 

Tom Warin lives in New England with his wife and two cats.

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