The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, narrated by Candace Thaxton
In The Diabolic, S. J. Kincaid covers a lot of ground and does it all well. Nemesis is a Diabolic. A genetically modified “bodyguard” who is conditioned to be ruthless and bonded to the person they are to guard. They protect them from all threats and would willingly give their life to save their charge. When the Diabolics start to take preemptive action to eliminate threats to those they protect, the Emperor orders them all destroyed. Nemesis’s charge, Sidonia Impyrean, won’t hear of it and her parents defy the orders and keep Nemesis alive. Sidonia’s father, an Imperial Senator, holds heretical views at odds with the Emperor. When the Emperor orders Sidonia to Imperial Court in a transparent attempt to keep her father in line, the Impyreans scheme to send Nemesis in her place.
The Diabolic creates a fascinating universe. A far future with incredible technology, populated with a people who have both forgotten how to create it and have created a religion which forbids the study of science and mathematics. They live in opulence, creating nothing, while the universe literally falls apart around them. Those that value knowledge and wish to study science are branded heretics and enemies of the Empire. The Imperial court is actually a group of connected spaceships in a hard to reach section of space. “Planetbound” people are considered second class citizens.
The themes here aren’t terrible subtle, but they are well thought out and explored by characters you come to care about. Nemesis is a fish out of water, who with a crash course in court etiquette knows enough to get by, but lives in fear of being discovered, which would be a death sentence for Sidonia. If planetbound people are second class citizens, Diabolics and other genetically modified servants don’t even merit that much consideration. They are property, and disposable property at that. Sidonia views Nemesis as a person, even if Nemesis herself does not. By impersonating Sidonia, Nemesis is forced to explore what she truly is and whether she is different or just taught to believe she is.
The politics at court are vicious and devious. Navigating the affairs at court and knowing who to trust can have deadly consequences. Kincaid pairs this compelling plot with complex characters and relationships. She takes you on a ride where you are unsure how it will turn out until the very end, if not beyond. Themes of science versus religion and those with privileges versus those without are interwoven throughout. The relationship we have with technology, as well as what happens on the day we create an intelligence equal to or greater than our own is also explored.
The Diabolic gives you a lot to think about and explores it with characters that are fun to spend time with. The audio version is narrated by Candace Thaxton who does an outstanding job. The pacing is great and the characters are easy to distinguish. She does a particularly good job with Nemesis who starts as a character who feels more machine than human, and spends the novel exploring her humanity. Thaxton’s narration captures that transformation and enhances the story and the listening experience. Highly recommended.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.
Description: 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.