The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid is all that - and more.
Here's the premise - sometime far in the future and spread across the universe, an elite class has risen to rule, with an Emperor at the top of the pyramid. That ruling class all own Diabolics - genetically modified and trained killers with no emotion. The Diabolic's reason for living is to protect the person they were created for. Nemesis was created for Sidonia.
"We looked like people, to be sure. We had the DNA of people but we were something else: creatures fashioned to be utterly ruthless and totally loyal to a single individual."
When the Emperor decrees that all Diabolics should be destroyed and then summons all the young heirs to the galactic Senate, Sidonia's mother knows that the Emperor is up to no good. She decides to send Nemesis in Sidonia's place.
I was caught up in the first few pages. Nemesis was such a great lead character - she's ruthless, but ignorant of the ways of the court, the political machinations and human interactions with anyone but Sidonia and her family. She has to both imitate Sidonia and make her way through the minefield she's landed in. Kincaid does a great job with the tension, inserting one nail biting scene after another. The story is action filled and moves forward at a rapid pace. Kincaid's world building is laudable as well. Her society believes it has evolved to the highest pinnacle - unaware that they are simply repeating a history that has come and fallen before. The physical details of her settings are unique and well described. I loved all the 'future' technology Kincaid dreamed up.
"Human history, Tyrus said, is a repetition of pattern. Empires rise and fall into decadence and decay. Time and time again."
The plotting is just as wonderful - a political cat and mouse game well played out. And of course, it would not be complete without a possible romance. But will it be a two sided affair? After all, Nemesis can't feel emotion - or can she? Will Nemesis find her humanity? In time to save humanity?
The Diabolic was a really good read. Good enough that I devoured most of it on my day off and got up early to finish it the next day before I went to work. Take a second look at that cover - it's perfect for the story - sharpened steel sheathed in a beautiful guise. As well as the idea of the diabolic morphing into something perhaps a bit gentler.
And speaking of kicking - I'm kicking myself - this is the first book I've read of Kincaid, but it won't be the last! Read an excerpt of The Diabolic.
The Diabolic is a stand alone - but I kinda wish Kincaid would do a sequel......