Usually when I read a book blurb containing hints of things like ‘galactic senators’ or ‘imperial courts’, or pretty much any setting in space, I tend to switch off. It’s just not really my genre (although there are always some exceptions to rules). But my amazing friend (check her out on Instagram here) sent me The Diabolic and she knows me pretty well, so I gave it a read.
The Diabolic follows Nemesis, a Diabolic, and her journey to protect her ward and her accidental discovery of herself along the way. A Diabolic is a designer humanoid that is created and conditioned to protect their wards – at any cost. They are basically living weapons. Nemesis is created and bonded to Sidonia, a senator’s daughter, and sees herself only as Sidonia’s property but Sidonia sees them as sisters. When Sidonia is summoned to court (the Chrysanthemum) as a hostage because of her fathers suspected heresy, Nemesis poses as her to keep her safe.
What follows is a lot of death, torture, betrayal with a splash of love and self-discovery. It’s quite an intricate weaving of beauty and brutality. This is not a story for younger readers!
“Are you quite sure this girl is dangerous?”
The plot is fairly straightforward (although there are plenty of twists) but at times I felt like it was a bit overdone when it came to things such as character motivations and their actions. A lot of it felt like a convenience for the plot to drive on. There’s also one part of the plot that I just couldn’t get round and ignore: in a world where there is designer humanoids and spaceships, there is no new technology, and there hasn’t been for a while. This is because the dominant religion believes that the Living Cosmos provides for humanity and that technology and learning are acts of sacrilege. If you can get over that and not let it bug you every time it’s mentioned then you might get on better than I did.
I also felt like the pacing of the writing was a little clunky, there were times when the story felt like a list – this happened, then this happened, so that means this will happen – rather than a flowing story.
“I wouldn’t kill her for now. I just hoped I never came to regret it.”
The characters themselves were pretty polarising too. Tyrus was a brilliant character – he kept surprising me and was genuinely interesting to read about. Sidonia was an utterly uninspiring character and I felt bad that Nemesis had no say in being bonded to this drip. Nemesis herself was a little clichéd, but I feel that she could have been better if the writing that brought her to life was a little more varied. In fact the first half was very, very repetitive. Nemesis’s entire focus was ‘Sidonia this, Sidonia that. I am not human, I am a Diabolic’. It was incredibly painful to read through time and time again. Luckily the second half was much better!
The world-building was a little lacking; it kind of just throws you into it (although it wasn’t as bad as Carve the Mark!) and doesn’t develop much. It was like getting an amazing meal description on a menu but when the meal arrives it doesn’t seem that impressive. A lot of the background and supporting characters suffered this fate too – it got to the point where character deaths had little effect on me as a reader, and seemingly even less of an effect on the characters in the story and their actions.
However, the descriptions we did get were gorgeous. The building interiors and house sigils and various other aesthetics were described in rich detail – I just wish this was applied to the main story!
There was a little side-story or two of love which seemed a little bit timeworn (except for one which I didn’t see coming at all!), which I could have forgiven if this was written for younger readers who were perhaps coming across genre tropes for the first time. But judging by the violence and adult themes (such as rape and sexual assault of young girls) my guess is that The Diabolic is for more mature readers and therefore the love story is a bit tired.
“Instruct her to begin skinning herself. Starting with her arms.”
The various twists and turns, rebellions, house conspiracies and betrayals and focus on positions of power have meant that The Diabolic has been compared to Game of Thrones a couple of times. Whilst I can certainly see where the dots have been connected, I don’t think the comparison is strictly accurate. The Diabolic seems like it would be a good simplistic and gentle introduction to stories such as Game of Thrones but to compare them directly isn’t fair – an orange isn’t the same as a pear, but they are both fruit. That about sums up my comparison of these two books and their themes.
The Diabolic was a good book, don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy it and I certainly don’t regret reading it, I just feel as though I’ve read it before, or seen it in a movie somewhere. It’s a very fast read, but there is a clear danger of people adding it to their DNF (did not finish) pile (it nearly happened to me) because the first half is almost unbearably repetitive
YA Science fiction, or science fiction in general, isn’t really my thing but The Diabolic was an easy introduction to the genre and I would recommend it as a ‘starter’ book to try to get into a genre you might not usually consider.
The story seems complete to me, and it was nice to read a self-contained story for once, but I have this sneaking suspicion that this will probably be the beginning of a series. Only time will tell.
“The seeds of distrust, once sown in the mind of a tyrant, flourished rapidly.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.