The Diminished scratches so. many. itches.
Kaitlyn’s book is the one of my fellow 2018 Debs’ that is closest to being in the world I know. YA SFF and adult SFF do not live that far apart, and sometimes the distinguishment is really down to where any given bookstore feels like shelving things. Many authors of one also write the other (I don’t know if I ever will, being over-fond of sex and profanity past the degree that YA finds acceptable, but never say never), and we are definitely all up in each others’ conversations on Twitter and Tumblr. Those conversations are often in the form of, “I wish I saw more of X”. Kaitlyn has given us more of X, Y, Q, and 12.
I could not stop reading this book. The Diminished takes the reader into a richly-imagined world where almost everyone is born with a twin — and those whose twins die almost always follow them to the grave. It’s a fascinating concept, and there are some as-yet-not-fully-explored metaphysical reasons for it, that I look forward to seeing more of in the next book.
Our heroes are Vi, whose twin died in infancy but who failed to succumb to grief and is thus seen as “diminished” — a supposedly dangerous state, as the diminished occasionally go into murderous rampages with no warning, and Bo, who is “singleborn”, someone who never had a twin, and thus considered to have an almost divine right to rule, because the singleborn are both so rare and viewed as complete unto themselves. Kaitlyn intertwines their stories with a deft hand. The girl from not-quite-the-gutter the boy prince end up a part of each others’ worlds (although completely not in the cliched way you might expect), and the tangling sociopolitical intrigues accelerate rapidly as the book goes on. Their shifting fortunes kept me turning the pages long after bedtime.
But as to items X, Y, Q, and 12:
SFF is, inherently, a political genre. In my opinion, anyway. (Some people argue about this, but they’re, well, wrong. They’re allowed to be wrong, but it doesn’t make them less wrong.) When you’re inventing a world or warping the one we live in, the choices you make are political, because you’re taking a stance on the shape that the world takes. Is it good or bad? Will the future be better or worse? Does technology/magic help or hurt? How did the past get us where we are? All of these things have political considerations at their base, and so, ours is a political genre.
As such, lots of our community conversations are about political things, and representation is a major one. We want to see many races and skin tones and cultural influences present in a story, and we want to see them handled respectfully, not exoticized or appropriated. We want to see worlds where the gender binary is a less dominant concept, worlds where male-female monogamy isn’t the only relationship option. We want to see worlds that embrace every size, shape, ability that the human race can give us. We want worlds that are as imaginative about people as they are about elves, dragons, spaceships, and time travel.
Kaitlyn has created a world with little of what we would call racial tensions — skin color doesn’t matter, though nationality does, a bit — and no prejudice against queer relationships. They’re not made a Thing out of; they’re just part of the world, utterly normalized, which is so refreshing. They’re also not relegated only to minor characters and marginalized in that way. It’s a really wonderful example of how SFF could frame these dynamics, if writers chose, and I hope we see a lot more like this in the future.
That doesn’t mean the world is without prejudices, however; Kaitlyn showcases that dark side of the human psyche in other, quite creative ways. Apart from the various superstitions about the diminished and the singleborn, she also highlights economic tensions and the blindness that rank and wealth create. I love a dose of socio-economics in the conflicts in books I read, and The Diminished delivers.
In summation: I absolutely devoured The Diminished, and I hope you will, too!