The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.
Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.
When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.
As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.
What I Liked:
I definitely see what all the fuss is about. I knew this was a highly publicized book, with a lot of media and publicity attention in the YA book world. And I understand why - this book was awesome. I didn't know much about it before reading it (this is peer pressure at its finest), but I do not regret going in blind.
Nemesis is a Diabolic, an engineering being that looks like a human, but is ruthless and trained to be deadly, predatory, and strong. At a young age, she is bonded (a chemical bond done by linking the brains) to the young daughter and heir of a galactic senator. Years later, Sidonia is summoned to Galactic court, but Nemesis goes in her place, because it is almost certain that the Emperor wants to hurt Sidonia's family through Sidonia. Nemesis goes to the Galactic Court, and discovers that many of the heirs of senators and other nobles have been called. Nemesis must be careful of these heirs, as well as the Emperor himself - but more importantly, the three Diabolics of the Emperor who might discover who (and what) she is. As the Galactic Empire starts to crumble, Nemesis starts to feel more and more, and she realizes that perhaps there is humanity in her. But at what cost?
This is not Red Queen. This is not The Hunger Games. I've read many YA space opera novels, many YA science fiction novels, but I think this one is rather unique. It's not just the concept of a Diabolic, or the Diabolic herself being the protagonist. Everything about this story seemed fresh, unique. This book was incredible, intriguing, and sometimes nail-biting. It was everything I wanted in a space opera/science fiction novel, and then some!
I connected with Nemesis almost immediately, despite the gruesome and heartbreaking opening scene. I really felt for her, and wanted to hug her or something. She didn't deserve to grow up the way she did, or to be bonded (read: chained) to one person, to protect that person or be destroyed doing so. Nemesis is cold and clever and fierce, and in the beginning, she seems incapable of deeper human emotions. But as the story goes on, we see a transformation. When she is sent in Sidonia's place, she is separated from Sidonia. Nemesis begins to feel a variety of human emotions that are totally foreign to her, as a Diabolic. I liked seeing Nemesis change and develop into a stronger version of herself. She's still a Diabolic, but she starts to seem (at least emotionally) more human.
Secondary characters. I liked but didn't love Sidonia. She was sweet but I never really cared for her. When Nemesis leaves to take her place, I was glad for the story not to include her. At the Court, Nemesis makes a new friend, though unwillingly at first. Neveni is somewhat bold but a little timid too. She and Nemesis have similar ways of thinking, though Neveni is totally human. And of course, there is the "Mean Girls"-esque female, Elantra, who is pretty and rich and from a powerful senatorial family. She is Sidonia's (and now Nemesis's) rival. I didn't like her at any point!
And then there is Tyrus, the supposed madman of the Domitrian family (they're the ruling family). He's the nephew of the Emperor, and the Successor Primus (i.e. next Emperor). Unbeknownst to all (except, eventually, Nemesis), he is feigning madness. He is actually the most intelligent and clever Domitrian, and he has created an elaborate scheme to get him revenge as well as the seat of power. I adored Tyrus! He is so smart and so calculating, but he's also warm and flirtatious. It's so interesting to see these qualities collide and mesh to make up Tyrus. He proves himself to be extremely capable and powerful (for a human, especially). We see more of him in the second half of the book, and for good reason.
The world-building is pretty well-written, and totally intense. We're talking about what seems like a Galactic and possibly inter-Galactic world, with senators ruling planets, and Diabolics (engineering beings) in existence. There are rebels (they are the Excess), and there are scheming royals (the Domitrian matriarch is bananas). There is so much to this world, I couldn't possibly explain it in this space. But Kincaid does a really great job of crafting the world and making it her own. It's easy for space operas to get mixed up, but Kincaid's world in this story stands out.
There is romance! Hurray for romance! I love romance. This romance doesn't really appear until the second half of the book... with... you guessed it - Tyrus and Nemesis. I loved this match-up. The two of them are so smart, so competent, so capable, and so strong. They're almost a little competitive with each other, which is cute. I loved their dynamic. I like how each of them are powerful to each other, and each of them hold power over the other (i.e. each of them feel incredibly strongly toward the other, by the end of the book). The romance is slow-burn, and so, so good. It gets somewhat steamy (for YA, anyway), and I liked this progression. But it's incredibly important that Nemesis's development of feelings is well-written, and it was. The romance is so swoony, so sweet, and also very fierce and passionate (just like the pair).
The story involves a growing unrest and a rebellion, a lot of schemes within the royal family and within the Senate as well. Nemesis stirs up a little trouble at Court, but trouble was already set in motion long ago. The plot seemed to take off, once Nemesis was at Court. From then on, it seemed like everyone needed to watch their backs, especially Nemesis.
The book got more and more exciting as it went. I will say that the beginning was a little slow, but things pick up when Nemesis lives Sidonia's family and goes to Court for Sidonia. The story never loses its pacing once Nemesis is at the Court though. I liked the pacing, and the climax of the book crept up on me before I knew it. The ending was intense! So many betrayals, confessions, reveals... I was so worried for our protagonist, and Tyrus too (remember, he has Empire plans).
But, I loved the ending. It was excellent, and wrapped up everything pretty nicely. I would have liked to see an epilogue, but that's okay. The ending is a good one, though it's not cookie-cutter perfect. And the wonderful thing is that this book is standalone! I love standalone novels.
What I Did Not Like:
Like I said above, I would have liked to see an epilogue. The story ends with the end of the climax (typically the climax is some sort of "battle" scene). Perhaps the author is leaving room for future books? I could see that happening, because the ending of this book is literally the end of the climax scene. Which is fine, you could have an open epilogue ending and leave readers to imagine their own epilogue time of "ever after"... but I liked that this one was a standalone. I wanted to see an epilogue!
That's not a huge deal though. If the author does get contracted to write another book (or books) to follow this one, I would read it/then.
Would I Recommend It:
I highly, highly recommend this book! Science fiction fan or not, you'll appreciate the great storytelling, masterful characterization and character development, and unique world-building. Kincaid is a not debut author, so I may need to check out some of her older books. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future books by her.
4.5 stars. I'm dropping it to 4 stars for now (and it'll probably stick), but I could see this one going on my end-of-the-year favorites lists. And you can probably expect a Swoon Thursday post from me, this Thursday!
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