Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic

By S.J. Kincaid

YA, Science Fiction

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.

Nothing else.

For Nemesis, that person is Sidonia, heir to the galactic Senate. The two grew up side by side, and there’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the Imperial Court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced Senators’ children, and Nemesis must find within herself the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have—humanity. With the Empire beginning to fracture and rebellion looming, that could be the one thing that saves her and the Empire itself.

oOo

The writing in Diabolic is A+. But I couldn’t really lose myself in this book. The premise of Diabolics themselves make me a little itchy. The first chapter we meet Nemesis. She’s kept in a cage, like an animal, and Sidonia’s family comes through and chooses her like a puppy at a pet shop. She’s then taken to a laboratory and she’s introduced to Sidonia and *waves hands vaguely* science happens. But the important part is that whatever they do to Nemesis—grow her frontal lobe?—she cannot not love Sidonia. The entire premise of the Diabolics is that they don’t have a choice in these people they are bonded to. People come through and chose them and Science and then they are pair-bonded for life to this person and that never changes. Nemesis has no choice but to love Sidonia, to want to die for her to keep her safe, not because they are friends or lovers or have any sort of intimate bond, but because she has to.

So Diabolics are test tube grown, genetically modified, People who are trained and treated like animals and then when someone comes through and picks them out they are forced to love whoever is put in front of them. They are slaves and they have no choice in their lives nor in their deaths. Nemesis is fully aware that she exists only to keep Sidonia alive and healthy, but all of that is underscored by the “love” she has for Sidonia.

And I just can’t get behind any of that.

But I read through Diabolic really hoping that we’d hit a turning point that would make the first few cringe chapters pay off and…no. There’s an effort made to…do…something? There’s a sci-fi version of a dog fighting gambling ring with genetically modified animals that fight to the death for the Senators’ kids, and Nemesis feels a kinship with them but that’s as far as it goes.

It all feels very clumsy. Like, you can tell the author is trying to make this a story of love and triumph, but the whole issue of Diabolics themselves is never touched on. And it never shakes that itchy cringe feeling of the first chapters. Nemesis is a slave. She is a person who is treated as a thing, an animal, a dog. And I’m just not here for it.

There is a second book called Empress and maybe it does more to fix the issues laid out in Diabolic, but, personally, I’m not invested enough in the story to find out. The Diabolic is a well written book from a technical perspective, I just did not like how the portrayal of slavery, love, and personhood were presented. We all have our hills to die on. While I personally could not recommend The Diabolic, there are plenty other reviewers that say it’s a great read.

If you’d like to give it a go, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author: S.J. Kincaid

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Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

27 Hours

By Tristina Wright

YA, Sci-Fi

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from under his mother’s shadow and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

oOo

I wasn’t sure if I would even review this book since an arc reviewer, Aimal, did a really great job of laying out the good and bad of this book. I really encourage you to read her review.

So Tristina Wright does a great job of gender/sexuality inclusiveness; Rumor is bi, Jude is gay, Nyx is pansexual, Braeden is ace, and Dahlia is a trans girl. Nyx is also deaf and uses ASL and reads lips for the entire story. Again, great representation in this area and I know a lot of people are going to be moved to happy tears reading about characters that feel the same things they feel. And good, that is awesome and we need so, so much more of that.

Where we start to go off the rails is when we look at the ethnicity of our main characters. And by that, I mean there is none. If there weren’t a few sentences of each character listing their heritage there would be nothing to distinguish these characters from any other white sci-fi heroes/heroines.

27 Hours is set in the future, it’s never said how far in the future, but humans boarded a generational ship and then landed on a forested moon. Our main characters are the first generation born on the moon and they’re all about seventeen. Now, all these humans live in colonies and they’re a cross-section of humanity. And yet the only human-on-human prejudice we see is against the “forest-humans” who live with the Chimera outside of the colonies.

I know we would all like to believe that one day we’ll move past racism, but I can hardly believe that just because you put a bunch of humans on a ship and blast them off to a moon they’re going to come out of it with perfect equality. And maybe Wright is more optimistic than me, but if you’re going to tell a story with POC characters who never once experience a microaggression or any sort of racism, you’re gonna have to dedicate a paragraph or two to how that came about. We’re one hundred and fifty years removed from the Civil War and there are still people on TV right now who will say without hesitation that black people aren’t people. There are people on Youtube right now posting vlogs about genocide. How much time has passed in 27 Hours that this generational hate has burned itself out?

**Slight Spoiler Alert**

No major plot points are given away, but it might take some emotional suspense out of the end of the book.

I will say, one thing I found particularly cringe worthy that I haven’t seen anyone else comment on: Dahlia’s near death experience. The book revolves through four different POV, Dahlia, our black/latinx trans girl doesn’t have any chapters. She’s not quite a side character but not really a main character. When we get down to the wire and war is imminent it’s pretty obvious our plucky little group is going to suffer some losses. And Dahlia takes the hit, literally. I don’t want to bombard you with statistics, but one of the most vulnerable populations in the US today are trans women of color. They’re more likely to be homeless, more likely to be beaten, more likely to be killed. They’re also one of most underrepresented groups in…well, everything. So when Dahlia, a trans girl of color, who is essentially without a voice in this narrative is the one who gets mauled and almost dies…Yikes. Maybe I’m reading too far into it and I don’t think there was a ‘better’ character who could have been attacked, but again, Yikes.

**End of spoiler**

I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, except Angel and George, two Chimera that only get a handful of pages each. But they seem like fun people. Rumor is so driven by hate for the Chimera he flings himself into suicidal battles and drags everyone else along with him. He has nothing left to lose and it shows in the decisions he makes.

Jude was a bit more interesting since he had a lot more at stake, since he is a human who lives among the Chimera in a commune thing. He’s an enemy to colony humans because he lives among the Chimera and many of the Chimera see him as an enemy because he’s human. Divided loyalties are always interesting.

Braeden also has divided loyalties, his mother is in charge of the colony military that are tasked wiping out the Chimera, but he’s also open to Jude’s way of life. He’s also ace, so I enjoyed his chapters because they were the only ones not saturated in teen hormones and sex.

Nyx spends her chapters pining over Dahlia. That’s it. That’s what she does.

Overall, I think if the characters had just been white and not airbrushed darker, this would be an enjoyable middle of the road YA science fiction story. But the gaps in the world building in regard to how humans have shed all of their racial biases left me wondering more about those questions than anything going on in the story.

 

You can find 27 Hours at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about Tristina Wright at her website: www.tristinawright.com

 

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Adult, Science Fiction

In a dark future swamped by rising seas, depleted resources, and endless civil war, the price for survival is brutally high. The wealthiest powers buy and breed self-protection by creating bioengineered “augments”: half-men, half-beasts designed solely for combat and blind obedience. But then an anomaly breaks free: the legendary half-man known as Tool.

Tool has found a way to resist his genetically controlled impulses and has gone rogue from his masters, emerging as the victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by a global force determined to destroy him, led by someone who knows the darkest secrets of Tool’s past. Soon, Tool must make the inevitable, bloody choice of whom to serve: his gods, his pack, or himself.

oOo

Originally, I bought this because it looked like a good comp title for one of my manuscripts. This is the third book in a series of connected stories set in the same world. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the characters so I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first two books, but I really enjoyed this world and Paolo’s writing so I’m going to pick them up as well. The first two are called Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities. I powered through Tool of War in a day. The characters don’t have a great deal of nuanced inner lives, but their struggles and conflict keep the story moving forward.

The main character is Tool a genetically bioengineered Frankenstein monster or some kind. I never got a clear visual of what he was supposed to look like, but I haven’t read the first two books, so it’s possible a more detailed description has been given before. I do know that the augments are made to be virtually indestructible. Tool is napalmed, shot, stabbed, and falls out of the atmosphere and still gets up ready to maul. So he’s kind of a badass. Reading this book is like reading a Superman comic. You’re told right off how goddamn strong and resilient he is and the other characters spend the book looking for chinks in the armor.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the more I thought about it the more I realized Tool’s character is an iteration of the “Noble Savage” trope. But literal. He has some human DNA in him—which I assume is what allows him to speak despite having a dog muzzle for a mouth—but he’s mostly animal. He’s a military genius, which again, I assume is illustrated more in the first two books, because here he gets out of a few tight jams, but he does that mostly because he’s eight feet tall and can throw a full grown man through a wall. There’s some strategy he uses when he’s evading his pursuers after he’s injured but again, the ‘genius’ part doesn’t seem very apparent.

He speaks in a stilted overly formal way. I’m really curious to know what kind of schooling augments are given because none of the characters he interacts with speak like he does. Except other augments. All the augments have the same Thor-esque manner of speaking with grand statements and rhetorical questions.

The antagonists aren’t much more than antagonists. Like I said, it’s the action and conflict that really drive this story. I think there’s supposed to be some love/hate relationship between General Caroa and Tool, but it never really comes to fruition. The final confrontation between the two has a good bit of drama but it still felt a bit lacking. The emotional attachment didn’t quite take hold. And even if that relationship is explored in a previous book, the lack is still apparent in this. This is Tool’s story. The other two books center on human characters wherein Tool is in a supporting role. The emotional history of General Caroa and Tool should bleed through the pages in this book. Luke vs. Darth had more emotional output than the final battle between these two characters.

So I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more from the characters, but I still enjoyed this book and I’m sure I’ll read it again once I get the first two. It’s a good quick read and if you’re looking for something like a palette cleanser between genres this would be a good one. There aren’t a lot of characters you need to keep straight and it doesn’t delve too deeply into the politics of the world. It’s pretty much nonstop action from start to finish.

If you’d like to read Tool of War you can find it at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Paolo Bacigalupi at his website: www.windupstories.com

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End

By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Sci-Fi

 

Esme Coromina has always known that one day, she would run the Four Sisters, the small planet system that her father grew into a corporate empire. Raised as the pampered heir to the company, Esme lived the best years of her life at Star’s End, the estate her father built on the terraformed moon where he began his empire. In the tropical sunlight and lush gardens, Esme helped raise her three motherless half-sisters. But as Esme is groomed to take over the family business of manufacturing weapons for the mercenary groups spread across the galaxy, she slowly uncovers the sinister truth at the heart of her father’s company. And when those secrets are finally revealed, Esme is sure that she’s lost her sisters—and a part of her soul—for good.

Now, after a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme has a second chance. For the first time, Esme is making her own decisions and the impact of her decisions will reverberate throughout the Four Sisters. As Esme struggles to assemble her estranged sisters for one last good-bye with their dying father, she has to choose whether she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps—or blaze a daring new path.

 

It took me awhile to finish this book. The world building is stunning and it’s well written, with an interesting narration choice. There aren’t chapters, but the book alternates between a third person limited present storyline, following Esme’s current mission to find her sisters and a first person past storyline following Esme throughout her young adult years. The past portion on the book really dragged for me, I was much more interested in what present day Esme was up to than her growing up in Star’s End. Despite the back cover synopsis, the only way Esme helps to raise her sisters is telling the fleet of nannies and tutors to keep an eye on them while she’s off doing her company internship.

I could not find it in me to care about Esme. The Coromina family owns four planets. They literally make trillions of dollars a year manufacturing bioengineered soldiers and weapons to equip those soldiers. The ‘company’ is a government system called coporcracy and Esme’s father is the current ruler/CEO. People who live on the four planets are called citizen-employees. This is capitalism at full throttle. Everyone and everything on the four planets exists solely to fuel the weapons manufacture and to add to the upper echelon’s wealth. There’s a hefty dose of Big Brother as well, of course. Media is strictly monitored, business espionage is the norm, and the CEO often has troublesome people ‘relocated’.

So there’s a lot going on and in the middle of it is Esme and I wouldn’t say I hated her, but I disliked her immensely. She’s a coward and despite what the ending tries to spin, she is just like her father in terms of power ambition. She only on two occasions finds her spine and stands up to her father, but those moments are quickly over and she goes back to doing everything her father asks.

Her father is Exhibit A for sociopath. He doesn’t care about anything but his wealth and status. There are a few moments in there where Esme thinks she sees something else in him, but I chalk that up to an unreliable narrator ploy. The dude is an AssHole.

This book is 432 pages of things happening to Esme. She’s never proactive and most of the book is her waiting to be summoned or waiting for the other shoe to drop. She spends a lot of time slumping against chairs, sitting on beds, headaches from too many thoughts, and sleepless nights. The only reason this story exists is because her father sets her out to collect her estranged sisters. She wasn’t going to do it on her own.

She also spends the entirety of the book afraid. Honestly, her entire narration is dictated by fear. Fear of her father, fear she’s becoming like her father, fear for her sisters, fear of her sisters, fear for her mother, fear she’s going to do/say the wrong thing. The list goes on and it never ends. I can’t tell if Esme is supposed to be a sympathetic character or an unlikeable character. All those fears would make sense if this was a YA, but Esme is in her forties. At this point it’s Learned Helplessness and I have no time or sympathy for it. She has the emotional depth and fortitude of a wet tissue.

The characters of this book never fully come to life Esme, with all her cowering, is the most well rounded of them all. Her sisters are plot devices on Esme’s convoluted journey to redemption, her closest friend, a bioengineered soldier named Will, is another plot device whose only purpose is to help her find her sisters. Her father is the evils of capitalism personified. It gets tedious, especially since Esme does little more than fret about everything.

The ending of the book, I think, is supposed to have an A Tree Grows in Brooklyn vibe; not happy, but hopeful, but it falls a little flat. Esme may not have her father’s cruelty, but she still wants the power being CEO/ruler affords her. She promises to only use her powers for good and she’s going to help people and blah, blah, blah. But the whole thing reads like those ridiculous accounts of ‘good’ slave owners. Yeah, so some of them didn’t flay children, but they still had slaves. Yeah, Esme wants to change the company’s focus, but she’s still keeping a system in place that has proven to be easily corrupted, abused, and refers to its citizens as employees and property.

I can’t say I’d recommend Star’s End. As a dystopic system of government, it’s awesome, but the main character, Esme, has little to enjoy and can make getting through some places a chore. But if you’d like to give it a try, you can find it here:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about the author Cassandra Rose Clarke