ARC review – The Diabolic by S J Kincaid


Title: The Diabolic
Author: S J Kincaid
Genre: YA, Science Fiction
Expected Date of Publication: 1st November, 2016
Page Count: 416 pages
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

Red Queen meets The Hunger Games in this epic novel about what happens when the galaxy’s most deadly weapon masquerades as a senator’s daughter and a hostage of the galactic court.

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.

Short Overview

Wow. WOW. I don’t know that I have the words to describe how much I love this book, but gosh darn it, I’ll try. It’s just a bit hard when my primary emotions are, ‘HEART EYES, MOTHERFUCKER.’ This is all my hopes and dreams for YA sci-fi come true!


In Greater Detail

Main Character

Nemesis is a killing machine bred to serve and protect Sidonia Impyrean, a senator’s daughter. She is such a fabulous, dynamic new breed of character in a genre I feel is overpopulated with generically similar leads. I love how ruthless and amoral Nemesis is – she has such a unique perspective given that she is LITERALLY PROGRAMMED to love and worship Sidonia and prioritize her life above all others. I’ve searched for books with assassin protagonists because I have a soft spot for anti-heroes, but unfortunately all too often, they’re all bark and no bite, and their supposed badassery is all for show with little follow-through, but Nemesis totally shows how she earned her name with zero regret for the blood on her hands. Finally!


She was raised to believe she’s a soulless monster with only one purpose in life, but of course as our lead character, Nemesis has a great deal more growth in store as she transcends past merely pretending to act human. It’s beautiful seeing her growing humanity as other characters encourage her to believe her life is worthy in and of itself, not just in service to others, and her struggle to deal with having impractical feelings and emotions when this wasn’t meant to be possible for her. Nemesis is really put through an emotional wringer throughout this book and I ended up in tears at a couple of her low points. I just want good things for her, but she really suffers a lot. 😦 Nemesis needs all the hugs!

I adore her drive and determination, her sheer competence, her vicious efficiency, plus her hilarious mental scenarios where she wistfully envisages the best way to deal with threats (hint: it’s usually murder) but pragmatically decides against it in the interest of keeping a low profile. It’s so refreshing to have a young female lead who isn’t preoccupied with her social status or impressing a boy, nor is she interested in overthrowing a despot or saving the universe – the main focus for her is keeping Sidonia safe.

Some reviewers don’t understand the blurb’s comparison to The Hunger Games, but that to me is where it comes in – the lead struggling and making sacrifices to protect a more vulnerable female character. I always valued that Katniss was staunchly Team Prim over everything else, but then of course the dreaded Love Triangle intervenes. I cannot praise The Diabolic enough for avoiding that vastly overused trope! Nemesis has more important things to do than decide between two boys, thank you. There is a bit of romance, but it is NOT insta-luv and it is so well-developed and actually plot-relevant! My favorite trope is ‘reluctant allies turned friends turned lovers’ and this book fulfilled that in spades. ❤


Supporting Characters

Donia isn’t as vibrant and well-rounded as Nemesis, but this is from the latter’s point-of-view and she wholeheartedly adores Donia so that makes sense to me, although I do think she could’ve had a little more development aside from wringing her hands and proclaiming her mutual devotion to Nemesis. But on that note, at least there’s a teensy bit of LGBT representation! What’s interesting to me is that the writer foreshadows her romantic interest in Nemesis for a good portion of the book and I held my breath wondering if this would remain subtext or become maintext. Usually I would be championing the lesbian ship, I am all about gay romance, but given that Nemesis had no choice in being hardwired to love Donia, I couldn’t root for them here which is such a change for me. It’s a very interesting moral conflict!

Tyrus…I didn’t see him coming! His character was so cleverly handled by the writer, I am really impressed with his character’s development. There were hints of his true nature from the start, but I never realized just how significant the insane heir apparent would become. As with Nemesis, he isn’t your typical YA male lead, he’s not the pushy arrogant Bad Boy and his life doesn’t revolve around winning the heart of the female lead. That’s what impresses me most about this book, how the protagonists have other vital goals and ambitions instead of just romance and that they’re capable of seeing the bigger picture.


There’s many other wonderfully written supporting characters – Neveni, the one friend Nemesis makes at the Imperial Court, who has her own minor character arc (I love when minor characters are allowed to have agency and their own motivations); the other Diabolics, who offer a fascinating counterpoint to Nemesis; the rest of the Domitrian clan, who are all corrupt and sinister…plus an adorable monster-dog, Deadly! It’s the mark of a great book when its world is populated by lots of well-drawn memorable characters, which is another area this one excels in (especially the true villain of the piece *shudders*).


I found this to be a breath-taking rollercoaster ride from start to finish. I couldn’t put this down, I stayed up past midnight to finish this book all in one sitting because I was so enthralled! The twists and turns, the blindsides, the shock and awe of it all…


And best of all, this is a self-contained novel, it’s not being stretched out over a trilogy! On one hand, that’s a little sad because I loved everything about this and would happily read more, but on the other, I get weary of pointless obstacles and cliffhangers thrown in just to draw out a series unnecessarily, so it’s fantastic when an author concisely tells their story!

There was quite a bit of politicking in The Diabolic, but while that usually bores me, I wasn’t put off by it here. I chalk that up to the fact that it wasn’t an overly dense political atmosphere – for eg. you didn’t have characters betraying each other just to throw in an unexpected twist, it was all informed by their personalities and ambitions, and it isn’t like Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire with several different houses and hundreds of different clans with thousands of characters of varying allegiances to sort through. Again, it’s concise storytelling and I appreciate that, but it’s also just plain clever. I found the dramatic crescendo and resolution absolutely stunning and well-worth sacrificing a few hours sleep over!



It can sometimes be tricky fleshing out a new world without overloading readers with exposition, but The Diabolic achieves that effortlessly. I never felt like I was being spoon-fed the necessary details and I didn’t have to skim through lengthy paragraphs of info-dumps. What helped was that the conflict made sense – if you disregard the sci-fi context and fictional names, basically it’s a war between the Haves and the Have-nots, which is simple enough to grasp.Sometimes the conflicts in YA novels are overly convoluted or aren’t grounded in reality, but you don’t need any logic jumps to understand corrupt people in power wanting to maintain their status and continue oppressing those under their authority.

There isn’t an exact parallel for our society, but the history of this universe is definitely easy to relate to, especially in the way that a natural disaster was attributed to an Act of God and how the religious majority took that as a sign to shun science and punish or execute those who tried to restore the scientific method to their community. It’s scarily believable that would be the way a powerful sect would react, even if it was to their detriment since machines run their ships and stations and powers their society!

Personal Rating

5 out of 5 kitties adore this book!

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC free from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. 

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