S. J. Kinaid’s beautiful, and at times brutal, new novel takes place amid the rarefied setting of a Galactic Imperium.
The Diabolic follows the story of a designer humanoid, created and conditioned to protect the daughter of a rich Senator.
At a young age, the savage Nemesis is purchased and bonded to the gentle Sidonia Impyrean. The pair are raised together, with Nemesis as Donia’s utterly loyal and ruthless protector who is prepared kill at a moment’s notice to keep her charge safe.
Their remote and idyllic life is disrupted however when Sidona’s father incurs the Emperor’s wrath and she is summoned to attend court to atone for his transgressions. Fearing for her safety, Sidona’s mother hatches an elaborate scheme, sending Nemesis in her place instead.
With social interaction taking place in a virtual realm, through customisable avatars, Sidona had been raised within the safety of the Impyrean fortress; in her stead, Nemesis comes face to face with dangerous realities on board the Chrysanthemum, the network of spaceships which form the Galactic court. She soon learns who to trust and who to fear – and makes a big impression on the Emperor’s purportedly mad nephew and nominated successor, Tyrus.
Consciously inspired by I, Claudius, S.J. Kincaid has transposed the power plays and political manoeuvring of the Roman Empire to this futuristic environment and it works incredibly well. We enjoyed the detailed structures of the civilisation, with differing grades of servants and loyalties, as denoted by elaborate family sigils and appellations.
The universe of The Diabolic is rich and complex; after a catastrophe, all scientific learning and the pursuit of technical knowledge has been deemed blasphemous to the prevailing religion which worships and recognises the divinity of the universe itself – the living cosmos.
With technology developed to such a high level, everything is done by computer and the ruling elite have become indolent, spending their days seeking pleasure though intoxicants and tinkering with their appearance.
Among the conspiracies, which kept us guessing throughout and which we dare not spoil, The Diabolic is essentially a coming of age tale albeit with a twist, as it is not her maturity but rather her humanity which Nemesis slowly discovers among the status-obsessed monstrosities who inhabit the society around her.
It is also a love story, and a tale of divided loyalties as Nemesis’s burgeoning sense of self, plus rapidly escalating events, put her at odds with her original mission and force her to carve out a fresh path.
While we have seen comparisons to Game of Thrones suggested, and there is certainly some merit in the comparison with the heady mix of politics and violence, the setting and cataclysmic galactic implications of the story put us in mind of the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Although the story of Nemesis and Sidonia seems quite complete by its concluding chapter, we hope there will be further tales to come set in this richly conceived universe.
Published on Tuesday 1 November by Simon & Schuster.
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