Puzzled about why this is said to be a morality tale, or my review of Diabolic

The Diabolic

The Diabolic

By: S.J Kincaid

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publication Date: November 1st, 2016

Format: ARC


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.

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3 star (dragon)

I didn’t know this when I started reading, but Goodreads declares this a combination between the Red Queen and the Hunger Games. I’m really not sure it understands what perspective this book is from…there is the same class-based, dog-eat-dog nature in Diabolic as in Hunger Games. But the perspective is from a genetically engineered creature of the Grandiloquy, AKA the patricians, rather than a member of the Excess, which (I felt) changed the typical morality message, or really meant that there wasn’t one. I liked this book, but I don’t think that the synopsis or blurb was being honest.

Honestly, I would say that what this book most reminded me of was the House of the Scorpion, which is about a self-aware clone raised specifically to provide organs for an aging drug lord. A lot of Nemesis’ questions about her own humanity echoed those of Matteo, although her way of finding her own path was very different. Nemesis is a creature who has been genetically bred and trained as a fighter. Her only job is to act as bodyguard and defender of the person she is bonded with, Sidonia. However, when that bond is lost, Nemesis has to decide who she will be, and how human she will be.

There are things I liked about Diabolic. I liked how it mused on what it meant to be human, and whether humanity was something you had to be born to. I really enjoyed the plot of science vs religion, the need for technology vs the fear of it, and the revolutionary aspect of technology vs the class-based society (and the human sacrifices) of religion. There was a  Peter-Pan like message, that the cost of stagnation would always be greater than that of progress.  I also thought that the world of the court was well fleshed-out, although I would have loved more backstory. Sci-fi plots always seem to require a large amount of world-building, and I was craving more from Diabolic. However, this is a personal whim–like I said, there was plenty of world-building to provide the immediate context for the book, I just wanted more.

There is something of a love triangle, which made me go *sigh*. It wasn’t a terrible love triangle, if one can say such things, but it was a love triangle nevertheless. The fact that one facet was a possible LGBTQ relationship was interesting, mostly as a different take on things, but not really enough to keep my interest.

I’m also going to say this: I’m tired of all of the books coming out that include an LGBTQ character in some mashup of a love triangle who then gets killed off in order to sustain/validate the straight relationship. It’s like all of those old horror movies where the girls who have sex get killed in gruesome ways by the villian/serial killer, but the good virtuous girls live through the movie. Far from actually validating any sexual choices by anyone, it reinforces an utterly pointless good/bad narrative. So let’s just stop all of this, OK? And if any author has an urge to put an LGBTQ character into a book to emphasize some diversity, they should stop and try for a more realistic, or at least not a totally flat, portrayal.

This was all even more painful because I ended up very put out with who Nemesis ends up with in the end. I more or less liked Tyrus as a love interest, but Diabolic didn’t convince me that he was a good person, or even had half a hope of reforming. Becoming Emperor didn’t seem a great way to end up a good person, either–I almost wished that Nemesis had just run off with the girl who was crushing on her, rather than stuck it out with Tyrus.

Nemesis’ choice of love interest was pretty interesting from a moral point of view, or an amoral point of view. The Hunger Games and House of the Scorpion both have pretty strong moral leanings (everyone deserves to be treated with humanity, it’s bad to put children in unacceptable emotional and physical conditions, etc.). However, Diabolic just didn’t have this, and the love interest confirmed this. Nemesis chose to be with the too-clever-by-half immoral snake, rather than the sweet, kind woman who loved her, and chose Empress rather than normal person. The ultimate message wasn’t a rejection of amorality, I felt, or an acceptance of humanity, but maybe an affirmation that people in power have to make choices that are unacceptable. Nemesis’ decision to ignore Tyrus’ actions and keep the empire stable is one of those.  

Interestingly enough, a friend and I were just talking about the idea of the ‘Dark Triad’–three personality traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) that are considered immoral and generally bad, but are traits found in a disproportionate amount of CEOS and other such high-level jobs. This book emphasizes the Dark Triad paradox, at least somewhat. Tyrus, especially, is the definition of Machiavellianism. I liked the dark undertones of the book, I just wasn’t expecting this from the synopsis of the Diabolic, or the typical genre narrative it appeared to follow. The exclusion makes me wonder whether the publishers were trying to sugar-coat things, or whether I’m reading a different book than the author meant to produce.

I’m really not sure that the synopsis was accurate about the ending. In the last of Nemesis’ actions, I read a rejection of humanity, rather than ‘humanity saves’, and her acceptance of power at Tyrus’ side speaks to this as well. All in all, I did really enjoy this book, although I’m still puzzled about the difference between the synopsis and the reality of the Diabolic, and how intentional/unwitting the author’s amoral message was.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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