The Diminished: The moon has two faces

The Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage PattersonThe Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage PattersonThe Diminished by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

A shattered moon, broken into two halves, is featured on the cover of The Diminished (2018), Kaitlyn Sage Patterson’s debut YA fantasy novel. It’s an apt symbol for the world created in this novel: the vast majority of people are born as twins, with a mystical emotional tie between them. The chapters alternate between the points of view of two sixteen year old characters at opposite end of society: defiant Vi, one of the diminished, and kindhearted Bo, the designated heir to the throne.

When one twin dies, sooner or later the other twin almost invariably falls into a profound and often murderously violent grief, unable to cope with life without their twin. Vi Abernathy is one of these surviving twins, called the diminished or (derogatively) dimmies; her twin Prudence died soon after birth. Though Vi has never lost herself to the dangerous grief that is typical of the diminished, her parents abandoned her in childhood to a brutal life of indentured service to the temple. Her only solace is her friendship with Sawny, another temple servant, and the thought that one day she will escape the slavery of the temple and live free.

Oddly enough, considering the low estate of the diminished in the Alskad Empire, children who are born single, without a twin, are part of the upper crust of society. Only a singleborn person can rule the empire. Representing this small social group is Bo Trousillion, a teenager who is designated as the heir to the throne by his great-aunt, Queen Runa. Despite his life of privilege, Bo is a kindhearted young man. He’s in love with his handsome but inconsistent cousin Claes. Being gay in the Alskad Empire doesn’t raise any eyebrows at all, though Bo, as the heir to the throne, is nevertheless pressured to marry soon after his sixteenth birthday.

When Vi is caught with a secret stash of pearls that she was supposed to gather only for the temple, she’s offered a choice between life as one of the dreaded Shriven or a years-long sentence to temple servitude in the distant colony of Ilor, where the harsh life of temple slavery is generally a death sentence. But on the lengthy journey across the ocean to Ilor, Vi concocts a new plan. Meanwhile Bo gradually (and very belatedly) becomes aware that his life is in danger, especially after a secret is revealed to him that may alter not only his life, but the course of the kingdom.

Kaitlyn Sage Patterson

The Diminished has an intriguing concept in the concept of a twin-based society and its various side effects on the people of that society. Its impact was lessened somewhat because I was never able to entirely buy into the fundamental notion of the diminished, partly because it was unclear, for most of the book, whether it is an actual devastating grief or just social conditioning that makes the diminished lose their sanity and will to live. A third reason is suggested near the end of the novel, at least for some portion of the population, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the pending sequel.

The pacing of The Diminished lags in several places, and overall it felt a little flat. Vi is an angry, rebellious soul, most justifiably so, but she expends too much of her energy in impulsive and pointless defiance. Bo, on the other hand, is too naïve, trusting where the situation calls for suspiciousness. But both characters are learning and growing through their experiences. Each one finds a love interest; Bo’s queerness is presented matter-of-factly and not as his defining characteristic.

A strong point in The Diminished is its thoughtful treatment of the issues of colonialism, slavery and agency. We see the dualism of society, the haves and have-nots, and desperation for freedom both on an individual level, through Vi’s eyes, and on a group level, where not only those who have lost their twins are forced into a diminished role in this society. The novel ends with some plot threads resolved but much of the story yet to be told in the still-unnamed sequel to this duology, due to be published in 2019.

Published April 10, 2018. In the Alskad Empire, nearly all are born with a twin, two halves to form one whole…yet some face the world alone. The singleborn. A rare few are singleborn in each generation, and therefore given the right to rule by the gods and goddesses. Bo Trousillion is one of these few, born into the royal line and destined to rule. Though he has been chosen to succeed his great-aunt, Queen Runa, as the leader of the Alskad Empire, Bo has never felt equal to the grand future before him. The diminished. When one twin dies, the other usually follows, unable to face the world without their other half. Those who survive are considered diminished, doomed to succumb to the violent grief that inevitably destroys everyone whose twin has died. Such is the fate of Vi Abernathy, whose twin sister died in infancy. Raised by the anchorites of the temple after her family cast her off, Vi has spent her whole life scheming for a way to escape and live out what’s left of her life in peace. As their sixteenth birthdays approach, Bo and Vi face very different futures—one a life of luxury as the heir to the throne, the other years of backbreaking work as a temple servant. But a long-held secret and the fate of the empire are destined to bring them together in a way they never could have imagined.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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