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.


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


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


Book Review: Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Book Review: Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows

By Frances Hardinge

YA, Historical Fantasy

Sometimes when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Young Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts that try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish, and strong, and it may be her only defense when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful family. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans to escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession—or death.


You guys, I cannot get enough of Frances Hardinge. After Face like Glass her books are an automatic buy. A Skinful of Shadows is, thus far, my favorite of her books. I absolutely love the dark whimsy and bite of her worlds and characters. It’s like reading the original Grimm Fairytales in all their terrifying glory.

Makepeace is crafty, intuitive, trusting, and wary and is caught on the backfoot in the political game she gets tossed into once she reaches her relatives’ castle. Her partner in crime, James, matches her in wit and skill and—HAPPY DAYS—there is no romantic love plot! James is her best friend and Makepeace moves mountains to help him, but there are no true love confessions at the end. They continue on their way as best friends and it’s LOVELY. I am always here for platonic friend love.

Makepeace does spend the first quarter of the book doing everything she can to keep the spirits out of her, but when times get desperate, she starts looking for allies. The first spirit is a wonderful surprise, so I won’t give that away, but acts as Makepeace’s guardian and confidant and it’s the purest thing ever and I love it.

The other spirits she acquires are varied in their temperaments and skills and not all of them are super welcome at first. There is a great chapter where Makepeace picks up a male doctor’s spirit and they get into a scuffle over who can control Makepeace’s body. It’s rage-inducing and brilliant and I love the way it’s written and handled throughout the rest of the book.

There’s a lot of text and subtext on consent and body autonomy, not just life and death and life after death. This book is packed full of metaphors and just writing about it makes me want to reread it.

I really enjoyed the final battle because it comes down to Women Helping Women and Burn the Patriarchy and Eat the Rich and I stan for all of that. It takes all of Makepeace’s wit and intellect as well as the unique and everyday skills of her skinful of shadows to win the day. The best part about the win is that all these shadows Makepeace has, all these ghosts, they work together, not just to save themselves, but because they respect Makepeace enough as a person that they want to preserve her right to choose which spirits she holds inside her and her body autonomy. That’s probably the biggest reason I like this book.

So while I will always recommend Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows in particular is a phenomenal read and will do well on any bookshelf.

Barnes and Noble


And learn more about the author: Frances Hardinge