Children of Scarabaeus picks up immediately after the events of Song of Scarabaeus. The story's approach is to assume that the reader has read the first book, which for me, was rather refreshing. No exposition dumps that read like they should be prefaced with a television announcer voice saying, "Previously on Song of Sarabaeus." There are just a few very short paragraphs explaining crucial plot points from Song of Scarabaeus. Nothing to get in the way of a plot that zips along at light speed.
Edie, a cypherteck, and Finn, her almost-lover/bodyguard, have just fled the disaster that was the planet Scarabaeus with the Crib (evil empire) hot on their trail. Edie and Finn's great plans for escape quickly go awry and once again Edie and Finn are at the mercy of the Crip. Natessa, Edie's ex-mentor-cum-abusive-mother figure returns to do her evil Disney queen in space thing. Natessa needs Edie's help with her newest project, a technology that will terraform planets even faster than ever. But, as with Scarabaeus, Natessa's latest planet's ecology was already too advanced, and it's clear that the process isn't going that well. The planet's ecology is starting to break down, literally, into so much sludge.
It turns out Natessa's push to meddle with advanced ecosystems isn't entirely selfish. Sort of. The Central planets, also the result of terraforming, are experiencing a breakdown of their ecology as well, albeit not as fast. The consequences of this failure are food shortages and the looming possibility of of starvation. Hence the fierce push to terraform ANY plant that hasn't evolved sentient life.
Meanwhile, Natessa isn't exactly enamored with Finn. She sees him as an unnecessary distraction for Edie. Of course, Finn can't just pick up and leave because of the electronic leash that binds him to Edie. If he gets beyond a certain distance from Edie, a bomb in his head will explode.
And as an added complication we have the titular "children." Edie soon learns that Natessa has taken more children from Edie's home planet, and turned them into cyphertecks. In addition to freeing Finn, and saving the Fringe planets from the tyranny of Crip technology, Edie now feels that she must save the children from Natessa's exploitation.
Children of Scarabaeus is fast-paced with the protagonists rushing from one disaster to another. The ideas behind the story--corruption, greed, exploitation of the natural world, the inevitable problems of dealing with an ever growing population--are well-developed and the perfect ground for all that action.
Children of Scarabaeus isn't a five-star book because the characterization never really progressed beyond its predecessor. In the case of Finn, I'd say there was a regression. In Song of Scarabaeus, we meet Finn as a bitter, taciturn, POW-turned-slave. He grumbles about after Edie, grudgingly going along with her plans because, what else can he do? Leave and his head goes "Kablooey."
In Children of Scarabaeu, Finn is tranformed from Edie's reluctant bodyguard to her Yes Man. Whatever plan she concocts, he agrees. I think this is supposed to demonstrate a measure of development in their relationship. I.e., he respects her, he loves her, blah-blah-blah. But he never really lets Edie (or the reader) in. Edie herself notes this, especially when Finn opens up more to Galen, one of the children. For fans of the tall, dark, brooding and silent hero, Finn is probably perfection. Me, I like my men with a little less stick-up-their ass.
Edie, meanwhile, remains a little too saintly, always inclined to rescue someone, even those who don't deserve it. Her interest in the children feels like a contrivance. Honestly, I'm not a kid person. The inclusion of a child in peril doesn't immediately get my heart a-pounding. Overall, the children's part in the story was more MacGuffin-like and less like real characters.
Nevertheless, Children of Scarabaeus was an exciting read and I will be looking forward to more books by this author.