I read a bunch of books over the holidays this year that I haven't had a chance to review yet, but I lurved them and want to share the glory with you. So: a series of brief review posts!
I really wanted to do a post of its own about S.J. Kincaid's The Diabolic,
which I read over Christmas, but it sat half written through the flu
and now it's too late for the lavish, loving extravaganza of a review I
wanted to give it.
Nemesis is a Diabolic, a genetically engineered humanoid who is designed to be a bodyguard. Big, fast, strong, ruthless, she's been imprinted on a girl named Sidonia, who becomes her best friend and the star around which Nemesis orbits. But when Sidonia's family falls out of favor with the Emperor, she is summoned to his space station palace as hostage, and it's clear what her fate is to be. The only way for Nemesis to save her is to take her place.
Okay, so this is a fish-out-of-water story about someone bluntly practical trying to imitate royalty, which is TOTALLY MY JAM. I was all over this, and it generally did not disappoint, in many ways soared far beyond my hopes for it, and in one way really made me mad--partly because it was otherwise SO GOOD why did you use Literally The Worst Trope? Why? (Note: I will spoil in "The Bad" section below. Warned!)
What was good: The complicated political games Nemesis has to learn how to play. She's more of a trouble-comes-punch-it type of person, but she knows full well that she can't show that or everyone will know she's not Sidonia, so she takes her lessons very seriously. There are many layers to alliances and manners and invitations and appearances, and they are treated with the solemnity they reserve, which is to say that everyone knows they're ridiculous, but they dictate how the world is run, so you have to play them. This isn't about how snobs are shallow; it's about how snobs are cutthroat.
What was even better: I find that futuristic stories that try to hinge on manners and mores and appearances the way Victorian novels do tend to be unbelievable. It's very hard to convince me that a romance in the future is shocking in its impropriety. But Kincaid made the silly, meaningless rules of court hugely important. Honestly, it was almost Dune-like in how it folded real politics into frivolous appearances.
Also, Nemesis's explorations of what it means that she's not human, the fact that she doesn't just discover that she's really a human being after all, but that she gets to be who she is--not human, but a person. Something different, but still someone worthy. The things that make her different make her better not just in the ways they are intended--strong, brave, loyal--but also in unexpected ways--perceptive, just, sympathetic.
The bad: Again, this is the spoilery section. I saw the plot thread coming for ages, but I'm so mad about how it ended. Sidonia and Nemesis had such a lovely relationship--it was complicated by a lot of factors, but I really hoped it would turn into a romance. Even later, after the male lead showed up, I had my hopes. And you know, I can live with not getting a lesbian romance out of this. But you know what happens to lesbians in The Worst Trope, right? Yup.
So, aside from that one big, glaring caveat, this book was amazing. I highly recommend it, really, even if you have to brace yourself for The Worst Trope. In so many ways it's a sharp, fast, smart story that really thinks about personal relationships and what they mean.