Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

At first I was a bit skeptical about this latest YA science-fiction dystopian novel. I kept seeing the blurb that it was The Hunger Games meets Red Queen. My reaction to Red Queen was tepid and I'm exhausted with booksellers hyping the next Hunger Games find.

However, as I read the plot summary about a future where genetically engineered creatures called Diabolics act as the perfect body guards for the elite, I was intrigued. Nemesis, the Diabolic protecting Sidonia, daughter of the Senator von Impyrean, must protect her charge by taking Sidonia's place at the galactic court.

A perfect killing machine impersonating a human? Even now my fingers steeple in a Mr. Burns-like gesture. Yes! Release the hounds!

Violence ensues. Characters die.

However, the scenes of violence are not graphic. They're actually quite perfunctory, but consistent.

Nemesis' instinct is to protect Sidonia at all costs. Essentially, she's an assassin thrown into a nest of manipulative royal elites who have no idea that not only is the person claiming to be Sidonia not Sidonia, but she's not even human.

Therein lies the next interesting dilemma. Nemesis is genetically engineered. We meet her in the Pens before she is bonded to Sidonia. Later, Nemesis suffers more than one flashback to her time in the Pens where she was taught to kill, even the helpless. Kincaid plays with the nature versus nurture argument throughout the story. For an assassin, Nemesis is highly reflective. Not always emotionally intelligent, but constantly assessing her thoughts and actions.

Kincaid also throws in some romance subplots to help vary her nature versus nurture debate on humanity. Without giving too much away, there is one subplot of unrequited love that I actually liked...in a YA book!

This book also explores the value of knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge. Within the religious fervor of the Helionic religion, Sidonia's father has been branded a hypocrite for advocating for a return to education. Nemesis does not care for the father because he has placed Sidonia in danger:

“Privately, I resented Senator von Impyrean as well, for he’d endangered his daughter by publicly speaking on those matters that were supposed to be left unvoiced. He questioned the wisdom of forbidding education in the sciences. He possessed strange ideals and an absurd devotion to learning. It was one reason he collected old databases containing scientific knowledge, those databases the Matriarch and I had hastily concealed from the Inquisitor. He believed humanity needed to embrace scientific learning again, and he never gave a second thought to how his actions would impact his family.

He was reckless.”

This world depends upon technology invented hundreds of years ago. No one alive know how to maintain anything. The machines repair themselves. I sniff a bit of a Terminator warning here.

When Nemesis must travel through hyperspace to reach the galactic court, she's nervous about the spaceship breaking apart.

“Such disasters didn’t merely kill the people onboard the ships, they damaged space itself. A death zone would form in that area of space, which devoured any starship or planetary body near it. It was called ‘malignant space.’”

Later, Nemesis sees malignant space and thinks the light is beautiful. Another character explains to her the true problem. Their technology keeps breaking from wear and tear. The damage to space is consistent. Without the means to fix their own spaceships, the people of this world are doomed.

“‘That light? It isn’t coming from malignant space. Those are the hydrogen gases of stars that have been ripped apart by it. The light is being drawn into the ruptures—eaten, you could say. We’re seeing the death of solar systems, Nemesis. This is what frightens the Luminars. They’re three light-years away from here. We’ve used the same engines over and over for thousands of years, and we’ve now made ourselves forget how they even work. This right here is the end result of our ignorance: a problem we cannot solve.’”

And solving problems require people to work together. Politically. And that's the other aspect of this book that's too savory! The political intrigue.

Nemesis suffers through the vapid girls at court vying for power. She knows she must appear to be Sidonia, but sometimes her sarcasm seeps through:

“‘Such a sturdy, handsome group of Servitors,’ said Credenza Fordyce. She made a point of snubbing me until now and seemed stiff in her new role as acolyte. ‘You really must tell me what you feed them.’

’Food,’ I replied. ‘They eat food.’

’Food. How interesting!’ she trilled.

I looked at her She looked at me. The silence thickened.”

A Diabolic impersonating a human is just one of the maneuvers Kincaid uses within her story. A few of her moves are predictable. One character is clearly going to ally with Nemesis and another character is going to do obvious things I can't even remotely describe without being spoilery. 

Even though I expected the actions of these two characters, I didn't predict all of their actions. As the plot nears the climax, Kincaid sows doubt about the true intent of multiple characters. And it makes for fantastic reading. Who's loyal? To who? Why? Will Nemesis figure it all out?

And that's all the detail I can safely reveal.

Do not let yourself be spoiled. If you love YA science-fiction, then The Diabolic seems poised to be the next big thing. When I originally picked up this book, it was billed as a stand-alone, but since then Goodreads shows a second book slated for 2017 and a third book in 2018. I'm guessing late in these years since The Diabolic released in November 2016.

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