Kaitlyn Sage Patterson’s debut fantasy YA novel, The Diminished, takes place in a world that has been destroyed and remade by angry gods and goddesses. Human survivors of the cataclysm have been split in two, Patterson writes, “so that everyone would go through life with a twin, a counterweight—a living conscience.” A few remain “singleborn” because they are precious to a particular god. At least, that’s the origin story taught by the culture’s rulers and religious authorities.
Patterson’s teenaged protagonists, who narrate their stories in alternating chapters, experience this world in very different ways. Bo is a singleborn, destined to rule the Alskad Empire when he comes of age. Vi belongs to the diminished—people whose twins have died. “Dimmys,” as they are called, are expected to die shortly after their twins’ deaths, as well. Those who do not are ostracized because they are prone to sudden mental collapse, the result of unbearable grief, and bursts of horrific violence. Having lost her twin as a young child, Vi has been raised-in poverty and subject to physical and psychological abuse—by the anchorites of a powerful religious order.
Because dimmys are closely watched by the brutal temple police for signs of instability, the resilient and headstrong Vi struggles every day to keep her emotions under wraps. As she watches the anchorites’ heartfelt farewells to her only childhood friend, who is not a dimmy but who has aged out of the foundling system and must leave the temple, Vi understands her place all too clearly: “Even though we’d grown up in the same hall, in the same building, raised by these same women, our lives could not have been more different, and it had taken me until that moment to realize it fully. I would never be missed, never be wanted, never be anything but a burden.”
Meanwhile, naïve and anxious Bo has been raised in luxury but also amid palace intrigue, assassination attempts, and betrayal. He too feels the pressure of his unique station in life: “My whole life, I’d been told I was special because I’d been born alone. Singleborn. The conscience of the empire. Every move I made was lauded, commented upon. My interests became trends. I was deferred to, admired and praised at every turn. But Mother’s eyes never rested on me for a moment without the expectation that I could do more, be better.”
Patterson, a Maryville native and graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, is a meticulous world builder. The Diminished incorporates themes of sexual identity, individual freedom, and cultural expectation under repressive rule by church and state. Neither Bo nor Vi is entirely free to be themselves: Bo is gay but destined to be married off to a singleborn woman in order to produce an heir, while Vi is strong and resourceful but faces a life of indentured servitude at best, sudden madness and death at worst.
When their respective journeys lead them both to a distant kingdom—a wild land full of offbeat characters and deadly conspiracies—their paths cross, the truth about their families is revealed, new alliances are formed, and unlikely romances bloom. Neither will ever be the same again.
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.
Tagged: Book Reviews, Children & YA