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.
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.