Book Reviews

Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

This is a combination of action, cyborgs, tears, and strong emotions. The Diabolic serves you back stabbing, violence, and emotions all wrapped up in one. There’s a tremendous amount of potential, mixed with a few qualms, but that leaves you with an enjoyable smile all things considered. Think I’m being cryptic? Well then that’s the perfect, because this book is nothing if not cryptic.


Nemesis is a Diabolic. They are trained to be ruthless, strong, and to protect only one person. She has been tasked to protect a senator’s daughter, Sidonia, whose father is getting on the wrong side of the Emperor. Because of this, Sidonia is summoned to the court as a hostage and the only way Nemesis can protect her is to become her. Her life becomes one of elaborate dresses, subterfuge, and politics. Great news for Nemesis, who struggles with social cues, has no taste in fashion, and cannot seem to make friends. But the key to Nemesis’ success, and ultimately Sidonia’s life, will be whether Nemesis can convince the world she is who they want her to be, human.


The entire plot hinges on political intrigue, back stabbing royalty, and subterfuge at the highest degree. Because of that, for the most part, you’re left wondering whose side you’re on and whether or not you’re safe. Actually, that brings me to one of my minor qualms, you can see the plot twist for Tyrus, at least in my opinion, for galaxies away. But moving onwards, one of the things I did enjoy was the amount of mind tricks. Even till the end, we aren’t sure what will happen. However, speaking of the ending, I have a major qualm with it. The ending was tied up nicely and too neatly with a bow.

Now I know that part of the reason why this could be, is that this was designed to be a standalone, emphasis on the past tense though since now it has been expanded. Because of that, maybe Kincaid wanted to give us an ending that would tie together the plot, and at that she excels, but it just felt too convenient for me. Perhaps that is because throughout the whole novel we are taught, again and again by Kincaid, to always suspect the convenient answer, that it is absolutely never what it seems. Even so, while it was supposed to make my little heart sing, in the end it kind of fell flat for me.

Enhanced humans, Human feelings, and performance, oh my!

But I should address the cyborg in the room: Nemesis. ((Now I also want to be clear that Nemesis is not a robot, she’s an enhanced super human, with human DNA, but also manipulated by science. So while this isn’t the typical cyborg, it is coming pretty close and the ‘awakening’ process they go through is also similar. Also I believe that even today the line between cyborg and human is evaporating before our eyes, as we become inseparable from our phones, living in smart houses, and integrating our heart beats with watches.)) But anyways, give me a cyborg trying to find their humanity any day. It is my kryptonite, but it also means that I have high standards with it. I wrote a whole thesis on cyborgs who are trying, imitating, and failing at being human. So, when I say I have high standards and that it’s kind of my forte, or at least what I spent researching for my thesis, I’m not kidding. That being said, I love the whole interplay between humanity and non-humanity.

‘Or we’re talking about a girl…A girl who grew up treated like a monster, so she thinks of herself that way, a person who’s never allowed herself to feel because she thinks she shouldn’t’ (Kincaid, 151).

What I loved specifically is the way the book stresses the importance of self-determinism and perception. If we are assumed to be an animal, and treated as such, we view ourselves as an animal. Continuing that logic, if we are assumed to be non-human and incapable of emotions, we view ourselves as such. This beautiful point was portrayed to the last detail, for example with Nemesis’ unlikely pet.

The Characters

As a whole, I enjoy Nemesis. I enjoy her confusion, her thoughts, her inability to read social cues sometimes, and her relationships. It is one of the better “robot grapples with humanity” narratives I have read. Yet, I must say that, for me, Nemesis’ emotions were confusing. They seemed sudden and abrupt. Maybe this is because the process of her humanity and all the confusion about: can I have emotions, what is this madness I am feeling, is supposed to be just that: madness. But for me, it was almost too startling, jarring in fact. The question of cyborgs and robots wondering about their humanity is a trope. I’ll be the first to admit it. Do I think that this book transcends the trope? Eh, not really.

But will I keep reading all the cyborg tropes? Absolutely. For me, to transcend the trope, just needed a little more push in the right direction.

‘Those are valuable artifacts called ‘books.’ They’re ancient repositories of knowledge bound in mobile fashion”. (182) [[I have a little moment of happiness whenever I see people talk about books in books, or certain texts in books. LOVE it]]

But enough about cyborgs feelings and their lack of tear ducts, let’s move on to some humans. I really enjoyed the side characters, especially Deadly, Sidonia, and Neveni. They really challenge Nemesis and most definitely serve a role in her character development as well as the story. And that’s where a little bit of sadness comes in, in some ways they seem like plot advancements. They get stuck in this rut where they serve their purpose and seem a little one dimensional, especially Sidonia (which makes me so sad because I genuinely like her). There’s also very little diversity and what is also so sad about that, is that Kincaid misses out on a major piece of the diversity puzzle: the possibility of modifications.

The Society

The society that Nemesis lives in is entirely focused on appearances and performance. (But I do have to point out that the society is organized in a completely interesting way where they’ve basically limited science because that causes problems. I loved it). They modify their faces beyond recognition and chase shallow pleasures of stimulants. It is basically demanded that you augment yourself too, but the one rule they cross is that you never bend genders (it also may be a small rule that you keep one feature the same so that you can be recognized). But there’s where I was frustrated, because you tell me modification software and I immediately see its potential, but from the get go that door is firmly closed.

In Conclusion,

So did I like The Diabolic? Yes I did. There were some great aspects, like Nemesis’ character, or the interesting society mix, and the intellectual cyborg journey that Nemesis undergoes. Additionally, while the ending irks me, I am looking forward to the next because I can see where the plot wants to go and I’m totally with it.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon, add it to Goodreads, or visit the author’s site.


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