THE DIABOLIC by S.J. Kincaid | Book Chat on Chapters 1~19
Oh my goodness. This book was so good that I honestly wished I didn’t have to read it by the assigned chapters I set per week for the Wandering in Words Book Club.
Nevertheless, I had to force myself to stop reading after Chapter 19, WHICH IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE WORST PLACE TO STOP IN THE BOOK.
I have no idea how this book is going to end.
But yay there’s still like 235 pages left in the book so I guess I’ll see soon????
*flails under the tohubohu that is going on in the story*
For those of you who are contemplating whether you should read The Diabolic or not, so far, in my opinion, this book has been splendidly wonderful. This book really makes you think about what it means to be human, and the mind games these characters play with each other remind me so much of the clever dialogue and plotting from The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski. (Yes. I still haven’t read the third book. I shall do that… soon.)
For the rest of you who are reading this, I’m assuming that you’ve already read the book and want to dive into this book chat. I have so much to discuss, so
The prologue was SO. TENSE. We learn about how Nemesis was created, her experiences as a Diabolic-in-training, and how she was programmed to love Sidonia. Sidonia’s mother, whom Nemesis refers to as the Matriarch, had told Nemesis that “If you wish to be something more than an animal in this dank pen…. then prove yourself worthy of serving the Impyrean family. Show you can obey when it matters. Kill this man” (5). These words were so calculating and so cleverly designed to make Nemesis do the Matriach’s bidding. The Matriach knows that Nemesis had never been loved or properly cared for. She knew that by calling Nemesis “an animal in this dank pen,” Nemesis would be pushed to do anything to get out of her cage.
The really scary part of the Matriarch’s dialogue is the part when she says, “Show you can obey when it matters.” How can Nemesis know what matters in this world when all she’s known is orders and fear and learning to be ruthless? I was so scared for Nemesis at the beginning of this novel when the Matriarch says this — will the Matriarch lead Nemesis into doing things that are morally wrong, and will Nemesis do them despite their wrongness because she can’t decide for herself what is wrong and what it right yet?
What I found interesting was the fact that Nemesis seemed so human at the beginning of the novel, even though she keep reminding Sidonia later in the novel that she isn’t human — she’s a Diabolic, designed to be ruthless, to not feel, and not think about morals. Yet Nemesis displays some clear traits at the beginning of the novel that expose just how human she is:
- She admits that she felt fear, and that she hated how fear controlled her. Someone who is utterly ruthless and emotionless should not be able to experience or feel fear.
- Nemesis mentions that she “didn’t know what [love and comfort was], but [she] wanted them” (5). I don’t think people are meant to be completely alone and derived of care or affection from other people, and Nemesis never had that because she was treated like a dangerous animal in her creation and early life. For her to say that she wanted love and comfort — despite the fact that she didn’t know what those words meant — truly displays how her inner humanity is seeping through.
- Also, how can someone not human feel love? Nemesis feels love for Sidonia, and though I don’t understand how exactly scientists can force the feeling of love for Sidonia on Nemesis, I still feel like Nemesis has to have some amount of humanity if she has the capacity to love.
Nemesis’s Journey to Humanity
I wrapped my arms around her, a gesture that still felt unnatural and strange to me, and contemplated the oddity of tears. I had no tears ducts and was totally incapable of weeping, but I’d seen tears often enough to know they were about pain and fear.
But it seemed they could come from joy as well. (21)
Throughout the story, the humanity of Nemesis seemed more and more apparent, especially due to her affections for Sidonia.
My throat tightened at the thought of seeing revulsion blaze over Donia’s face when the blinders were finally ripped from her eyes, but I had to do it for her sake. (65)
In Chapter 16, the Diabolic who had been following Nemesis for a while — Enmity — finally stopped because apparently Emnity had never met someone as kind as Nemesis, and that’s her reasoning for why she sensed something slightly off about Nemesis when they first met. I find that so… wow.
Nemesis, a Diabolic who is supposed to be ruthless and cruel and show no mercy, was able to trick another Diabolic into thinking she was human by being overly kind.
AND she laughed when Deadly, her new PET (YES SHE HAS A PET OMG), jumped on her. I repeat, SHE LAUGHED.
How can Nemesis not be human after that? How can she deny that she can love and feel empathy, which possibly makes her more human than the aristos she’s surrounded by at the Chrysanthemum?
So many deep questions to ponder…
Thoughts on the Education vs. Religion Theme
I feel like the problems we see in fictional books are just reflections of the problems in reality — even those in fantasy or sci-fi novels. In The Diabolic, Sidonia’s father, Senator von Impyrean, is considered to be a very reckless man due to his “strange ideals and an absurd devotion to learning.” Nemesis narrates that “[h]e believed humanity needed to embrace scientific learning again, and he never gave a second thought to how his actions would impact his family” (23).
Senator von Impyrean’s love and desire for education would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the most powerful families in this galactic setting are Helionics, those who believe in the superior being of the sun (or something like that). The fact that religion and education are warring aspects of society in this book seems to relate to infinite historical events — and even some current events that are happening in the world right now.
You know how there’s a saying that goes something along the lines of, “Everyone should learn from history so we don’t repeat the same mistakes”? As readers, I feel like we gain so many different perspectives and ideas and learn so much about what-if’s that the same idea could be applied to books. I’m really curious to see where this war between education and religion will end up going, and I hope the conclusion will be satisfying and leave me with something to think about in relation to historical and current events. So far, this book has done a wonderful job showing the tension and irrationality between those who are for education and those who are Helionics.
*crosses fingers for good ending*
Introducing… Tyrus Domitrian
Oh my goodness. I have to say, S. J. Kincaid has successfully made the character of Tyrus Domitrian stick in my mind.
I mean, how can you forget a character who enters the story being naked????
Nemesis first meets Tyrus through her first impersonation of Sidonia through Sidonia’s avatar (which is another aspect of the story that is SO INTERESTING. Conversations and meetings don’t even require face-to-face contact? Only you’re avatar needs to be present? I feel like that seems like a perfect solution for some introverts, but at the same time, without our body language and facial expressions, lies would be harder to catch. Also, the avatar doesn’t even have to match the person’s actual physical features, so anyone can make them more attractive than they actually are? That’s INSANE).
When Tyrus revealed that he actually thought he was wearing “the finest imperial fashions,” I was immediately hit by The Emperor’s New Clothes vibes, which is a Hans Christian Anderson tale. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, two tailors tell an emperor that they have a cloth that only the wisest of people can see. Of course, because of the emperor’s pride, the emperor pretends to see the cloth even though he sees nothing — because there is nothing. The emperor pays the tailors to “make” the robe, and the tailors pretend to put the robe on the emperor for his procession through a crowd. Once he’s out in public and everyone starts laughing at the haughty, naked emperor, the emperor realizes how foolish he was and how his pride led to his utmost embarrassment and shame.
The thing is, Tyrus doesn’t have shame at all — though the story so far has labeled him as insane and mad, I think he knows what he’s doing. I think Nemesis does, too. Remember when Nemesis-as-Sidonia’s-avatar tells Tyrus that he’s putting on a great performance and that “maybe [he] wish[es] to draw the eye in one direction so no one will look in another” (28)?
Tyrus had momentarily let go of his faux-madness and said, “Perhaps some who are close to you should embrace such tactics themselves” (28).
Everyone caught that, right??? The psychological games that are played in this novel are SO EXPERTLY AND ARTICULATELY PLANNED AND WELL-WRITTEN. The dialogue and actions of the characters are subtle and eloquent, and only by stopping and going deeper into scenes can I catch these little tidbits and hints about what is truly going on behind this mask of superiority that all the characters seem to be hiding behind in this story.
And let’s not forget that literally everyone in this novel has their own agenda — and I’m freaking out because I don’t know everyone’s agenda yet. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO CONTINUE ON WITH DAILY LIFE WHEN I DON’T THE EVERYTHING OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING IN THIS NOVEL?!?!?
(But seriously — the revelation of whether Tyrus is really insane or not needs to come SOON for my well-being and bookish sanity.)
There was a piece of dialogue in the story that I thought was hilarious between Tyrus and the Emperor, and it occurred after Tyrus killed the suffering Servitor, Leather, with this laser beam he oh so just happened to carry around with him in his pocket:
“Tyrus!” rebuked the Emperor. “What have I told you about killing people?”
“Yes, yes, ask you first, Uncle,” grumbled Tyrus, sweeping into a bow. “But in my defense, she was irritating me.”
“Oh, you,” said the Emperor fondly. “She was dead anyway. Why hasten it?” (86)
The Emperor’s response to Tyrus’s murder was “Oh, you.”
That cracked me up and revolted me at the same time. I can’t believe the Emperor and Tyrus bond fondly over murdering other people.
Though perhaps Tyrus ended Leather’s life early because he knew Leather was suffering…?
And would that make him slightly compassionate?
What if Sidonia Narrated This Story?
I’m kinda caught between two feelings I have about Sidonia:
The first is that I think she isn’t a very well-developed character. I mean, she’s just there. She loves Nemesis, she fragile, she can’t defend herself, blah blah blah. I mean, overall, she’s kinda boring.
But then again — this entire story centers around Sidonia and how Nemesis protects her. She’s an important enough person in Nemesis’s life to blackmail Nemesis into surviving, because Nemesis’s main purpose is to protect Sidonia, and if Nemesis dies impersonating to Sidonia to protect Sidonia then Sidonia will kill herself, which would mean Nemesis had failed at her purpose in life to keep Sidonia alive…
Wow. I did not realize how complicated this all was until I wrote it down.
Anyways, if Sidonia narrated this story instead of Nemesis, I feel like we would get a better emotional sense of all the characters around us. Nemesis said that Sidonia “was the only one who could pick up on my subtle changes of mood” (40).
“I had no soul and very little heart, but what heart there was belonged to her” (40).
At the same time, though, Sidonia would not notice the acute things Nemesis does in the story. Nemesis notices how “[Elantra’s] eyes shone into [hers] with amusement for one last moment, the accusation in their depths, You faker!” (97). While Sidonia might shed light on what other characters are feeling, Nemesis shows us the dangerous realities in this world and the cutting-edge psychological games these characters play with each other, because that’s what Nemesis was designed for — to seek and find out any possible dangers that might harm Sidonia.
The Science and Setting
“No one knows anyone’s true age, skin color, hair color, lip shape, weight, eyelid composition, or other features. A child of a great family has the means to modify his or her appearance at will, but one learns quickly that changing everything all the time is highly frowned upon…. It’s positively gauche to undergo chromosome resequencing just on a whim or for a party” (46).
I’m continuously wowed by the science and the setting of this story. No one knows anyone’s true appearance? Anyone can change their face and body size at any time? Can you imagine how absolutely insane that would look like IRL?
Me: “Oh, cool! Did you go through chromosome resequencing and change your entire face and also dye your hair green? You look great, btw.”
Person: “Um, actually, no — I’m just a new student here.”
Me: “I see, I see. It’s just that everyone changes their appearance here every day so I never know who is who until I ask them.”
Chaos. It would be absolute chaos.
I have to admit, though, that would be pretty convenient for P.E. Nemesis went through procedures to lessen her muscle percentage in her body, but I’m pretty sure you can do the opposite and tone up or strengthen your body… meaning those push-up tests and mile tests would be easy-peasy.
One can dream.
Though would the easiness of P.E. class overshadow the negative repercussions of chromosome resequencing and the other (kinda useless) technology that exists in the world of The Diabolic?
SO MANY THINGS TO THINK ABOUT.
Especially since lions can apparently be genetically modified to be tame???
My brain is frying up…
Gotta <3 books for repeatedly turning our brains into margaritaceous mushy puddles of jumbled thoughts.
(Why margaritaceous, you may ask? Because I think it’s an awesome word and I’m trying to use it whenever I can because it sounds so cool ?)
Possible Use of the Mandarin Language?
Von is used to mean “of” in Senator von Impyrean’s name, but the Excess (who are different than the Exalted and I’m already forgetting how because there are so many different groups of people in this book GAH) are given “nan” and “nu” to go in between their names. For example, a female Excess was named Sutera nu Impyrean, while a male Excess, the Impyrean family’s physician, is named Doctor Isarus nan Impyrean. I know from taking Mandarin classes that the character 男 (nán) means male, while 女 (nǚ) means female — which correlates with the genders of the characters listed above. Was that intentional?
This is so cool. I would never guess that learning another language would have made my reading experience deeper and more insightful.
Pat on the back for making this connection!
What Does it Actually Mean to be Human?
How is one supposed to define being human, anyways?
According to Google, human has several definitions, including
- of or characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals or machines, especially in being susceptible to weaknesses.
- of or characteristic of people’s better qualities, such as kindness or sensitivity.
- relating to or characteristic of people or human beings.
- a human being, especially a person as distinguished from an animal or (in science fiction) an alien.
- of or belonging to the genus Homo.
I think in this story, S.J. Kincaid is referring to human as the second definition, which defines human as one who can feel emotions and have empathy for others. I really want to delve deeper into this question in relation to this story and Nemesis’s character arc, but I feel like my thoughts will be more formulated after I finish reading this entire story.
I’m going to put this quote in here because I feel like it may be important to consider for future discussions on this book:
I’m telling you, aristos are cold-blodded. They don’t feel the things normal people do. Too many genetic mods over the centuries. (73)
Okay, with that in mind, I do thing that names are a big defining factor of one’s identity, and I noticed that all the Diabolics have non-human names — they’re named after negative emotions or ideas, like Nemesis, Hazard, Anguish, and Enmity. All the other “humans” in this novel have what would be considered typical names for people, like Tyrus, Sidonia, and Neveni. The Servitor named Leather had a name that wasn’t really a name — leather is an object, and therefore she was treated like an object.
Are the people in this setting trying to strip Diabolics and Servitors of their humanity by giving them names of negative emotions and ideas and objects?
One Annoying Repetition…
And finally, one last thought — too many chapters ended with a sentence along the lines of “If I don’t do this, then he/she/they/it would kill me.” There’s one on page 137. Then there’s some scattered within the chapters. Then on page 168. Like, it kinda got annoying after awhile.
BUT WHO CARES WHEN THE REST OF THE BOOK HAS BEEN UTTER PERFECTION SO FAR?
And that is it for this book chat! If you’ve read ’til the end, then yay! Comment below and share your opinions with me — I would love to hear them. The book chat for next week’s chapters — Chapters 20~31 — will be posted soon!
Now, off to find out what happens after that tense cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 19….
*dives into story*
Thanks for reading, and cya next time!