“The Diabolic”: Great Characters, Okay Everything Else
The Diabolic is a futuristic sci-fi dystopian political thriller with an interesting premise and a slightly flawed execution.
In this world created by S.J. Kincaid, diabolics are humanoids specifically engineered for the sole purpose of protection. They are created and go through a frankly brutal training before they are “bonded” to one individual – and they will do whatever they need to in order to protect that individual.
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.
The main protagonist of The Diabolic is Nemesis, a diabolic who was made for Sidonia, the daughter of a galactic senator whose revolutionary ideas have made him the target of the royal family and its supporters. When Sidonia is summoned to court, her mother concocts a plan to send Nemesis in her place. Now Nemesis must masquerade as human and navigate the dangers of court, where her discovery will mean not only her death, but possibly Sidonia and her family’s as well.
Nemesis was undoubtedly the best thing about The Diabolic, so thankfully she is the main character. “Strong female character” is an oft overused trope – and usually a misnomer – but Nemesis could be described as such. It isn’t just the literal definition of strong, which is true; she was trained to fight and kill, so she is obviously strong. But Nemesis also has some of the best character development I’ve read in a while. She is a non-human who must pretend to be human, and in the course of doing so, learns what it means to be human. True character development is best achieved through understanding and change, and Nemesis goes through some great emotional developments that really affect her and alter her world view.
The Diabolic is a standalone, and as such the world-building suffers a bit, simply because Kincaid doesn’t have the basic fallback of being able to go further in depth in a later book. The nature and use of diabolics would make for a fascinating story, but that isn’t the story that we’re getting in this book. As the story continues, the world-building doesn’t really get much better; though most of the action takes place at the imperial court, it was difficult to get an idea of the larger universe, which in turn makes it difficult to understand the stakes.
Mostly, though, I was confused about the political tensions. Sidonia’s father is targeted because his belief and reliance on science directly conflicts with the royal family’s emphasis on their faith. These are people who literally live on actual spaceships – spaceships that are falling apart because no one wants to learn the science to keep them afloat – and they don’t believe in science. I suppose it could be considered a commentary on how people can be irrational when they are emotional about something, and how often people actively work against their own best interests. But mostly I couldn’t help going, “But that doesn’t make any sense!”
Overall, The Diabolic was a great story that didn’t quite manage to get all the kinks out. The pacing wasn’t consistent, there was a lot going on, and the ending felt extremely abrupt, but the characterization I think makes it worth the read.
The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and currently available wherever books are sold.
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from THE Ohio State University. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, and conventions in the NYC area.
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