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Book Review

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Diabolic” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a genetically engineered humanoid bred to protect the elite and wealthy in the galaxy. Diabloics are bonded to one person once they have proven themselves to be strong and deadly. They will defend that person against any threat, even if it means they sacrifice their own lives.

Nemesis is bought by Senator von Impyrean to protect his daughter, Sidonia. Once Nemesis is bonded to Sidonia, she never leaves the girl’s side. The two grow up together, and though Sidonia insists that Nemesis is more human than a mindless weapon, Nemesis refuses to believe her.

An order arrives from the Emperor to destroy all Diabolics because some have gone rogue. They have killed not only to protect their masters, but also to advance their political and social standing. Sidonia pleads with her father to spare Nemesis. Since her father bears only animosity toward the Emperor, he agrees. When an Inquisitor is sent to make sure the order has been carried out, he is shown the body of a dead servant instead.

Senator von Impyrean also opposes the Emperor’s ban on technology and the pursuit of knowledge. The Emperor and the Helionics, those in the ruling class who believe in a religion of the stars, do not want people to gain knowledge because it may give them more power. Instead, they are willing to let planets, space stations and starships decay rather than seek to fix them or create new ones.

When other senators who agree with Impyrean become too vocal, the Emperor issues a new command. All the ruling families must send their heirs to the Chrysanthemum, the Emperor’s Imperial court. Sidonia’s parents believe it is to hold the children hostage so their parents will not rebel. They fear Sidonia will be killed for her father’s disobedience. They concoct a plan to transform Nemesis’s body and features so she appears more human and send her in Sidonia’s stead.

As her body is transformed, Nemesis is also taught human etiquette and how to fake human emotions. When a distraught Sidonia admits their ruse to their etiquette instructor, Nemesis snaps the woman’s neck. She cannot risk anyone telling the Emperor the truth, or Sidonia suffering his wrath.

Despite being horrified at her actions, Sidonia confesses she loves Nemesis. Nemesis claims she can’t return the feelings because of the way she was created. Sidonia begs her to do everything she can to stay alive, for if Nemesis dies, Sidonia will kill herself. Nemesis agrees, as she must do everything she can to protect the young woman.

Nemesis arrives at the Chrysanthemum and is immediately greeted by the barbarity of the Emperor and the immorality of his relatives. The Emperor demands one of her servants skin herself alive as they watch. Desperate to react as Sidonia would, Nemesis pretends to faint.

Later, the Emperor’s niece invites Nemesis to her and her husband’s quarters for a salt bath. Another girl, Neveni, cryptically warns Nemesis not to drink their wine. Since she is a Diabolic, drugs do not affect her, but she is horrified to learn that the couple planned on raping her once she was drugged.

Furious, she forces the pair to drink an overdose of their own drug, and it renders them comatose. As Nemesis seeks to hide what she has done, Neveni jumps out with a knife, ready to strike. She had come to save Nemesis, as she had experienced the same assault. Neveni offers to use her skill with computers to wipe away any evidence of Nemesis’ guilt. The two girls become friends.

Nemesis and the other heirs are called to a special Convocation. The Emperor addresses the crowd and tells of his anger that some in the galaxy do not wish to adhere to his laws. There are senators and viceroys who disagree with his rule against studying technology. For that reason, they and their families have been killed. The surviving heirs will have their parents’ titles and will be expected to abide by the Emperor’s decrees.

Nemesis refuses to believe Sidonia has been killed. For days she tries to contact the Impyrean stronghold, but no one answers. Finally realizing Sidonia is dead, Nemesis strikes out to kill the Emperor.

Nemesis is stopped by one of his Diabolics. Before the creature can kill Nemesis, Tyrus, the Emperor’s insane nephew and heir, interrupts them. When he discovers Nemesis wants to kill his uncle, Tyrus kills the Diabolic and takes the wounded Nemesis back to his quarters.

As Nemesis heals, she comes to realize Tyrus is not insane. He has played the madman in order to keep his uncle from killing him, as his parents and most of his family were assassinated. Tyrus convinces Nemesis to keep pretending to be Sidonia. They will act like a couple in love, and Tyrus will slowly convince the Court that her love is calming his madness.

Once he has proven himself to be sane, they will kill the Emperor, and Tyrus will rule. He promises he wants to help those like the Impyreans, people who long to study the sciences and to learn how they can improve their lives and flourish.

As Tyrus and Nemesis work together, she finds herself in the confusing position of developing feelings for him. She used to argue with Sidonia that Diabolics could never feel emotions like real humans, but Nemesis is attracted to Tyrus and the two share several intimate moments.

The Emperor sends Tyrus and Nemesis on a diplomatic mission to Neveni’s planet to calm unrest. He wants Tyrus to use a biochemical weapon to kill most of the inhabitants. Nemesis helps to thwart an assassination attempt on Tyrus’ life and he, in turn, is able to convince the people that once he is Emperor, he will work to restore their world and others. They agree to let them go. Tyrus and Nemesis return to the Chrysanthemum to a hero’s welcome, although the Emperor is not pleased that his heir did not destroy Neveni’s planet.

As Nemesis’ feelings for Tyrus continue to grow, she is shocked to learn that Sidonia is alive. She snuck away from home to visit Nemesis before the Emperor’s attack. Sidonia can’t take her place in the Senate because it will reveal their deception to the Emperor and would mean certain death for both her and Nemesis.

Eventually Nemesis tells Tyrus that Sidonia is alive so he can help them both live. After speaking to Tyrus in private, Sidonia confesses her love to Nemesis. She tells her that Tyrus is not convinced they can transition Sidonia back to being a senator even if he is successful in taking his uncle’s throne. Both she and Tyrus are committed to protecting Nemesis’ life above all else.

Tyrus’ grandmother, Cygna, suspects that her grandson’s madness has been a ruse. She attempts to coerce Nemesis into spying on him for her. When she refuses, Cygna becomes her enemy. After an attempt on his and Nemesis’ lives, Tyrus pretends to switch his affections from Nemesis to the Impryeans’ sworn enemy, a girl named Elantra. He announces his engagement to her, and she demands that Nemesis attend her on the morning of the betrothal ceremony. Since Nemesis does not know the elaborate patterns she must paint on Elantra’s skin, Sidonia pretends to be her servant and gives directions.

When it comes time for Nemesis to anoint herself with special oil, Sidonia insists on doing it for her. The oil is poisoned, and Sidonia quickly succumbs to the effects. Nemesis, however, does not. She rips out Elantra’s heart just before Cygna arrives.

Cygna spins a tale that indicts Tyrus with the plotting and the poisoning. He knew the poison would not affect Nemesis but kill Sidonia. He knew Nemesis would kill Elantra in retaliation. Now he is free to marry Nemesis, and Sidonia would never be revealed as the true senator. When Nemesis accuses both Cygna and Tyrus of conspiring against the Emperor, he orders his Diabolics to kill his mother, but they refuse. They are actually bonded to Cygna.

Cygna orders them to kill the Emperor and then demands Tyrus blame Nemesis if he wants to be the new Emperor. At his coronation ceremony, Nemesis will be the fire sacrifice. Tyrus agrees, and Nemesis is imprisoned to await her death at the ceremony.

When the day arrives, Nemesis is escorted under guard to the ceremony. Before she can be sacrificed, Tyrus stands and reminds his grandmother that she once made a rash vow, that if he were ever to be crowned Emperor, she herself would be the fire sacrifice. As her Diabolics try to save her, guards attack them.

Nemesis realizes that Tyrus has managed to sneak in senators and viceroys, who have pledged their allegiance to him rather than his grandmother. Cygna admits to killing her son, the Emperor. She also confesses that she, not Tyrus, conspired to have Sidonia and Elantra killed. With her final words, Cygna warns the people that Tyrus is the cleverest fiend of all her relatives.

Tyrus begs Nemesis to marry him and become his Empress, even though many believe Diabolics are monsters. She agrees, but knows she will have to be careful. She wants to believe that Tyrus is noble and true, but she must never let her guard down, in case he is the tyrant of Cygna’s warning.

Christian Beliefs

Neveni’s mother taught her that the Cosmos is only a thing and that God created humans and the universe.

Other Belief Systems

The Emperor and Helionics worship the Living Cosmos, Helios, the birth star. Helios was believed to spark the creation of life on Earth. The entire universe is considered divine. Sidonia teaches Nemesis that people are created of elements that come from nuclear fusion within the stars.

Nemesis feels as the though the stars have blessed her when she discovers Sidonia is still alive. Sidonia once told Nemesis that people see a beautiful light when they die. Some believe it is just a chemical reaction, but others believe it is the Living Cosmos leading them to the afterlife. When Sidonia is poisoned, Nemesis prays to every god imaginable that her friend will be healed.

At the ceremony for the Consecration of the Cherished Dead, a human engineered to be pure and innocent, known as the Exalted, is put onto a starship and shot into the corona of a star where he/she is incinerated as an offering. The Helionics hope the Cosmos will forgive the sins of their dead relatives so they can be blessed in the afterlife. The Exalted was treated as a treasured pet or honored guest by the family who had ordered it, until the time of the ceremony.

Since humans manipulate their genes to create Diabolics and Servitors, the religious authorities teach that they do not have the “Divine Spark” from the Cosmos and therefore can’t be blessed. Sidonia tries to convince Nemesis that the clerics are wrong and that Nemesis does have a soul.

Authority Roles

Sidonia’s parents love her enough to come up with the plan to have Nemesis take her place in court. There is no physical affection between them, however, and her father risks their lives by his open opposition of the Emperor. The Emperor and his mother are portrayed as selfish, egotistical and power hungry. For the most part, the young people are left on their own, with no guidance from adults.


The word my” is used with *God, but as the characters do not believe in the Judeo-Christian God, it appears to be just an expression. D--n and h--- are used.

Nemesis was bred in captivity and taught how to be a vicious killer. When Senator Impyrean and his wife first come to see Nemesis in action, they bring three convicts to throw in her pen. They tell the men they will go free if they can kill her. Nemesis bites the first man’s hand until blood spouts from it, breaks his arm, knocks him to the ground and then splinters his skull with a kick.

Nemesis thrusts her palm into the second man’s nose and drives the cartilage into his brain. The third man begs for mercy, but after being promised to be freed from her pen, Nemesis snaps his neck. Nemesis’ brain is then altered so she feels an obsessive loyalty to Sidonia. She never leaves the girl’s presence, unless ordered, and she will protect her from all danger, even if it costs her own life. Nemesis agrees to undergo painful skeletal and musculature alterations to her body in order to make her look more human to take Sidonia’s place at the Emperor’s court. When Sidonia admits their plan to their etiquette instructor, Nemesis snaps the woman’s neck.

When Nemesis, posing as Sidonia, arrives at the Emperor’s court, he demands a test of her allegiance. He asks her to call forth her favorite Servitor — a humanoid engineered to serve without question. The Emperor then makes Nemesis order the Servitor to take a knife and skin herself, starting with her arms. The female servant obeys, cutting the skin from her arms and legs as the court watches her scream and bleed. Nemesis pretends to pass out so that she might not watch the massacre. Tyrus, the Emperor’s nephew and heir, appears to be offended by the servant’s screams and so kills her with a kind of energy gun.

Nemesis begins to drown the Emperor’s niece and her husband when she realizes they meant to drug and rape her. She stops before she kills them but then forces them to drink the poisoned wine. They both fall into comas that cause permanent brain damage.

A favorite entertainment is to bet on the outcome of animal fights. These beasts have been genetically bred to be vicious and fight to the death. Nemesis offers to help Neveni obtain an animal. When the beast is baited to fight with “chum,” an innocent human, Nemesis is reminded of her own horrendous training. She jumps in the arena, not to save the human, but to save the beast.

The Emperor ordered all Diabolics, except his own, to be killed after many went rogue and killed people for minor offenses to their masters. Others killed family members they felt might threaten their charge in the future. The Emperor also ordered the destruction of all the powerful families who opposed his views on technology. Nemesis watches in horror as the fortress that houses the Impyrean family explodes on a video screen. Other children also watch as planets, starships and fortresses containing their families are destroyed.

In her grief, Nemesis attempts to kill the Emperor. One of his Diabolics stops her. The fight is described in brutal detail. As Nemesis is about to be stabbed, Tyrus shoots her opponent with an energy gun. It takes several shots to kill her. Later, Nemesis is appalled to see the Emperor’s treasured fighting beast eating her opponent’s corpse. Cygna, the Emperor’s mother betrays the Emperor, when she orders her Diabolics to kill him.

Tyrus and Nemesis practice hand-to-hand combat. The sparring is brutal and often ends with Nemesis breaking some of Tyrus’ bones. Medical bots easily repair his wounds, but they are painful. Tyrus insists on the practice as he had watched mercenaries butcher his mother when he was a child.

Nemesis kills to protect herself. She smashes two men’s heads together. She throws another into a glass table. Cygna attempts to kill Nemesis and Tyrus by destroying the air lock in Tyrus’ spaceship. The two almost die of suffocation.

Nemesis’ pet dies a horribly painful death after ingesting something on a foreign planet. Sidonia suffers terrible pain as poison burns through her body. In retaliation, Nemesis twists Elantra’s arms from their sockets, breaks several ribs and then rips Elantra’s heart out of her chest.

Tyrus orders Cygna to be the human sacrifice at his coronation ceremony. She boards a spaceship that is then shot into a star to be burned up.


Children of the ruling class often gather together in virtual reality parties to “meet” each other. Tyrus’ avatar appears naked at one such party.

Nemesis and Tyrus share many passionate kisses. As she is unused to any emotions, she describes in detail how his touch makes her feel.

The Emperor’s niece and her husband drug Nemesis so they can rape her. Because drugs do not affect Diabolics, Nemesis is able to defend herself from their attack. Neveni confesses that they did the same thing to her. She can’t remember everything they did, only the degradation after the incident. The couple was known to have abused many innocent children. Whether true or not, Tyrus confesses to having sex with the Exalted, the humanoid raised to be a virginal sacrifice to the gods.

Sidonia admits that her love for Nemesis is a romantic love. She equates it to the way Tyrus loves Nemesis. But she also knows that Nemesis has no choice but be devoted to her and so she will never press the Diabolic for more.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Several characters drink wine.

Drugs: Mind-altering drugs are legal and used among the elite class to enhance social gatherings. Opiate rubs are used to help them relax.

Lying: Nemesis lies about being Sidonia in order to protect her. Tyrus pretends to be insane to protect his own life. The Emperor and Cygna lie about their involvement with the various assassinations in their family.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


S. J. Kincaid






Record Label



Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers


On Video

Year Published



YALSA Teens Top Ten (TTT) Nominee, 2017


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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