This book makes me furious. And that might be because I'm in this sort of ragingly-depressed state right now where I'm brooding about my life and what people think of my life and my choices and how it's none of their business, etc. How all of my friends are having babies and I'm over here like, "No thanks."
But what does this have to do with a book about a genetically-altered bodyguard in a far-future space hegemony? As it turns out, a lot more than you would think.
Thousands of years from now, when humans have colonized the stars, this system of worlds is ruled by an Empire. Not a Dark-Side-of-the-Force-Empire with a rheumy-eyed corpse leader, but a straight-up revival of the Roman Empire, complete with extreme debauchery, fratricide, matricide (all the cides, you guys), and a worship-like-us-or-die stance. In this case, the Emperor is not God, but the sun/light is the object of worship. Speaking about God or gods is heresy. But you know what's even worse? Talking about science.
This civilization is crumbling. Having declared all scientific documents and discussions heretical, and possession and study therof punishable by death, there is no forward progress. The people are content to let slowly rusting machines take care of everything--machines and software programs that they have no idea how to repair or recreate. But some people believe that light and science can be reconciled--in fact, that they are mutually explanatory. They don't say this straight out--oh no. But little hints, here and there, little rebellions ... well, the Emperor notices. The target of his ire is the idealistic Senator van Impyrean.
Over a decade ago, the Impyreans purchased a Diabolic to serve and protect their young daughter, Sidonia. Genetically crafted to have superhuman strength, Diabolics are not considered human. They can't cry because they don't have tear ducts, and they cannot be saved because they do not have souls. Via a special process, Diabolics are bonded for life with the human they serve and protect. They would do anything to save that person's life. Sidonia's Diabolic is named Nemesis. Nemesis is a tall, muscular, no-nonsense, kick-butt Diabolic. Her love for Sidonia cannot be explained with simple bonding procedures--they are truly friends. This ensured that Nemesis survived the Empire's purge of Diabolics. Now, the only person other than Sidonia who possesses Diabolics is the Emperor himself, for, as we know, mad dictators never believe the rules apply to them.
This same Emperor does not like the dissent fomented by Sidonia's father, the Senator van Impyrean. So he hurts him by summoning Sidonia to his court as a hostage. Sidonia's mother, loathe to lose her daughter, sends Nemesis in her place. In order to pull off the switch, Nemesis' body is stripped of much of its muscle mass, and nanobots eat away at her bones to shrink her to a more human size. Upon her arrival at court, Nemesis must navigate the treachery of the Grandiloquy (nobility), and avoid the Emperor's attention. Thankfully, the heir to the Empire, Titus, is completely mad and generally draws all attention to himself. After some very fun intrigues, the story suddenly and completely falls apart. All of that cool world-building? Yeah, get in the back seat. The intrigue is no longer about faith and science, or perversion and desire, but about Titus. It's all about Titus.
As you've probably guessed, Titus is feigning madness in order to stay safe from his uncle's murderous urges. The Grandiloquy does not see him as a threat to their position in the Empire, and the Emperor's position is secure as long as the only heir to his throne is mentally unstable. However, Titus' sole desire is to free the people of the Empire, allow them to read and study whatever they want, and to get humanity moving again. Really. I'm not joking. That's what he believes--and in about three paragraphs, he convinces Nemesis of his sincerity.
You're kidding me, right? The Diabolic who's snapped more necks than she has years in her life suddenly and inexplicably decides to trust Titus? What's more, she agrees to marry him in order to help him carry out his plan. She sees herself as a less-than-human, a Diabolic, and therefore the idea of linking herself with a stranger does not perturb her. Nemesis becomes Titus' yes-woman, doing whatever he tells her to do. And she justifies this. She says:
"I loved Sidonia still, but my early life with her had been chosen for me. From here, I chose for myself. And I wanted to help him claim his throne--and deal with a very real threat. That was my new meaning, my new purpose, and it made my life worth living again."So, let me get this straight: your purpose in life is to do whatever that guy over there wants. Cool. This mindset doesn't change, by the way. Until the end, Nemesis is devoted to Titus and his dreams, and throws herself and Sidonia into harm's way just so that Titus can get what he wants. That is the least feminist thing I've ever read and it made my skin crawl. The whole idea of the book is that Nemesis realizes that Diabolics are not subpar--that they are human and have hearts and feelings and a will and a future. But she can only do so by falling in love with Titus.
Please, authors, please. I beg of you: give me a story where a girl finds her strength and herself without the intrusion of a love interest (male or female). Don't give me that "Oh, I'm so incomplete without another person" business. I am single at the moment. I don't feel like less of a person because I don't have a boyfriend. I learned to be self-sufficient by being on my own. I'm still figuring out who I am, but I do know one thing for certain: I will never need another person to make me complete, because I already am.
The Diabolic could have been YA's answer to political sci-fi. It could have explored the ethics of creating creatures from human DNA and yet denying them the rights of sentient beings. It could have done so much--but it turned out to be just another love story.
Readers deserve better than that. They deserve characters who are complex before falling in love. They deserve to learn that they can be strong without depending on someone else. They need to know that a partner is a choice, but not a mandatory one.
Instead of pushing the limits of YA fiction, The Diabolic strains them for a moment, then collapses into a weak story with a strong female reduced to a good-looking puppet.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher at BEA.