Review: THE DIABOLIC by S.J. Kincaid

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 416
Release Date: November 1st, 2016
Series: THE DIABOLIC, Book 1
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Really Liked It!

811h4mjfa8lIn the far, far, distant future of humanity, a handful of nobility and royalty live on space stations and spaceships, far from the planetary living of the common Excess.  These nobles generally don’t interact with Excess humans, preferring instead to genetically engineer and grow humanoids specifically tailored for specific roles.  Diabolics, for instance, are given super-human strength, conditioned to kill and give their life for the person they’re bonded to.  Nemesis is one such Diabolic, bonded to Sidonia, daughter of an Imperial senator.  When Sidonia’s father goes too far in his political challenges of the emperor, Sidonia is summoned to the Imperial Court.  Fearing that Sidonia might be instantly executed, a plot is made to send Nemesis in her place.  But even with intense training on protocols and how to behave like part of the nobility, nothing could prepare Nemesis for the political machinations of the Imperial court.  As schemes become deadly, Nemesis finds herself with unlikely allies – including Tyrus, the mad nephew of the Emperor.  With no one to trust but herself, Nemesis will have to have to learn to fight on a new playing field, or doom herself and Sidonia to execution.

THE DIABOLIC is gripping sci-fi royal court drama that doesn’t pull any punches.  Nemesis is as deadly as advertised, someone who will unhesitatingly kill to protect her charge or their interests.  The story is not quite as brutal as something as RED RISING, but it’s certainly up there, with a fairly high body count when all is said and done. (Also, please note there is an attempted sexual assault.)  If you’re looking for conniving characters amidst a world of royal intrigue, where you’re never quite sure who you can trust, look no further.

At the heart of this story is Nemesis. As a first-person narrative, we get all her inner thoughts, including her undying love for Sidonia, and Nemesis’s truly held belief that she is a lesser being.  Nemesis knows she was engineered, knows that her emotions for Sidonia are not of her own free will, but accepts all of this as who she is.  Being alone in the royal court, having to impersonate a “real” human, will bring Nemesis to gradually evolve and develop new emotions, and even question her place in the world, but it’s a long road and occasionally the self-deprecating “I’m not worthy” can wear a bit thin.  Overall though, it’s a minor complaint in the story.  While she tries to be a practical and pragmatic person, at her core, Nemesis is a creature of raw emotions, and when the wrong buttons are pushed, all hell breaks loose.  It’s a flaw, especially in a world of carefully calculated political moves, but one that makes sense given her “programming.”  As she comes to unite with heir-to-the-throne Tyrus, she’ll find a perfect partner for maneuvering the court, someone who can play the game and direct her energy – though not necessarily a partner she can trust.

I also enjoyed the world of THE DIABOLIC, reminiscent of the Roman Empire in its days of decline. After a cataclysmic event decades and decades ago wiped out great depositories of knowledge, a religion developed that said the event was a divine sign, and that education should be abolished.  This has resulted in a culture that is completely supported by futuristic technology, but where nobody knows how to fix it if things go wrong.  For all the decadence of the royal court, with the ability to modify your body on a whim and dance in zero-g gravity, there’s an undercurrent of decay.  A rising number of spaceships suffer accidents every year as the machines that maintain them break down themselves.  The Excess know that something has to change even as the Imperial Court denounces their demands as heresy, pushing the whole civilization to the brink of civil war or complete collapse, whichever comes first.

THE DIABOLIC is an absolutely fantastic sci-fi tale that pushes its characters at every turn. It’s one where the “good guys” have to be as cutthroat as the “bad guys” if they want to survive, where every dinner invitation comes with strings attached. Nemesis may struggle to understand the game at first, but she’s a quick study.  Does she become more human over the course of the story?  Absolutely.  But as we know, all humans have something they will kill for, and what Nemesis realizes is that it’s up to her to decide what that something is.

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