The Power Dynamics of Identity: A Review of Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian

Every story has a theme, a focus running side-by-side with the plot that thoroughly defines the very nature of the book.  When a person asks what a book is about, there are always two answers; the plot, and the themes.  For example, The Lord of the Rings is about the battle between good and evil, and the nature of heroism.  It is also the story of a hobbit crossing the world to throw an evil ring into a volcano.  In a similar vein, Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian, is a story about bodily autonomy and the nature of identity.  It is about what happens when outside machinations violate one’s body and personality without consent.  It is also an engaging science-fiction thriller about a professional dominatrix charged with assassinating a mob boss.  The high level of technology present in a science-fiction setting allows for a practical examination of identity outside of the thought experiments of today.

Deborah Teramis Christina, the author of Splintegrate, is an exceptionally talented and intelligent individual.  While Splintegrate is only her fourth novel, her career has reached across a multitude of industries with more variety than most will ever experience.  According to her author’s bio and linkedin page, Christian began her professional career as a Radio Intercept Operator and Translator in the US army in the 70’s, translating East German messages for the NSA in West Berlin.  After the army, she then briefly worked as a freelance writer and game designer, working on projects such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, before working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a number of years.  From there, she went on to run an IT consulting company as CEO, and become the President of both a rpg studio and an academy for writing and game design.  On top of all that, she has written several fiction novels.  It is difficult to find a more accomplished writer than Deborah Teramis Christian.

Splintegrate is set on the fictional planet of Lyndir, a member world of the Sa’adani Empire, a galaxy spanning empire reminiscent of ancient Earth empires.  Sa’adani employs a strict caste system throughout their core worlds, but Lyndir is different, enjoying a semi-autonomous status and a measure of freedom the central empire has never experienced.  Several times, we see Sa’adani citizens meet with residents of Lyndir and other planets they have annexed, and the caste-based citizens struggle to deal with people outside of their traditional hierarchy.  One of the main attractions of Lyndir is a special administrative district known as the Between-World.  There are more than a few similarities to the relationship between Hong Kong and Communist China in the Between-World.  Technically a member of an authoritative nation, the Between World is allowed to govern themselves and does not permit Sa’adani law enforcement anywhere within their territory.  Mixed into this is an aspect of spiritualism similar to Japanese Shintoism.  To enter the Between-World, one has to cross beneath a gateway, like a Torii gate, figuratively transporting to another world.  The Between-World is also the home of the shigasue; professional courtesans, prostitutes, dominatrices, and entertainers.  It is among them that we find our heroine.

Hinano Kesda, or Kes to those who know her, is a professional dominatrix and a relatively new shigasu, having been purchased from a brothel where she worked to clear her deceased father’s debts.  Kes is known as the Winter Goddess to her clients and the remainder of Lyndir, enjoying an almost mythical status on the planet.  Her home, Tryst, goes to great lengths to market the Winter Goddess and build her burgeoning divinity, along with her client base.  Kes is a thoroughly enjoyable character to follow throughout the novel.  A true dominant personality and sadist, Kes actually struggles with the limits imposed on her by her clients.  Prior to her rise as the Winter Goddess, Kes had led a hard life, but a life which allowed her to meet her lover, Morya, a true masochist willing and able to take all the pain Kes can give.  Similar to Kes, Morya is owned by a brothel, working to pay off her own debts.  Kes wants nothing more than to earn enough money to purchase Morya’s debt from her owners and fly away with her love.  When we first meet Kes, she is an untouchable, powerful goddess.  As the novel progresses, we see her brought to her lowest low, before trying to climb her way back to the top.

Enter Ilanya Casani Evanit, or Eva to her allies and confidants.  Eva is known as the Kingmaker, serving as the chief of the Political Division within the Sa’adani Empire’s Internal Security.  She is also the right-hand of the emperor himself, doing the dirty work that must be done in the shadows.  Eva is as close to a proper villain as we get in Splintegrate, although there are multiple antagonistic characters.  Eva is utterly ruthless and entirely without ethics of any sort.  Arriving on Lyndir to make a deal with the local crime bosses, she finds her negotiations hindered by one of their triumvirate.  To gain their cooperation, she realizes she must have him killed in a way that does not directly connect to her.  The mob boss, Janus, happens to be Kes’ most loyal client.  Taking advantage of an off-world journey by Janus, Eva conspires to have Kes taken without her consent and without legal permission.  Subjecting Kes to inhuman experimentation and torture, Eva plans to turn the Winter Goddess into her perfect assassin.

The process of splintegration itself, from which the novel takes its name, began as a noble pursuit in the context of the novel.  Originally thought of as a way to rehabilitate criminals, murderers, rapists, and the like, the experiment is hijacked by Eva in her machinations.  In the context of the novel, splintegration refers to the splintering of a personality into fragments.  Those fragments are then separated into clones, each bearing a portion of the original personality, although they are still full people.  Once the clones have matured and shown what aspect of the personality they contain, reintegration occurs, combining only the most desirable aspects of personality into a whole.  During the middle section of the novel, Kes undergoes the splintegration process without the reintegration.  She is tortured and experimented upon without her consent or knowledge of what is happening, and her mind is eventually broken down and fractured between several clones.  Without spoiling the excellent plot turn in the center of the novel, Kes is left with only the aspects of personality Eva wants, the aspects that make her the most perfect killing machine.

Splintegrate can occasional be a rough novel to read, especially once Kes is taken from her home and the real plot begins.  Christian pulls no punches when it comes to subjecting our heroine to inhumanity, and I can imagine parts of the novel may be triggering depending on a reader’s background.  Still, the novel is absolutely worth the read and understands how traumatic it can be to have outside forces violate your bodily autonomy.  We are also shown enough of Kes in the beginning to get invested and spend the entire novel just wishing she will get the happy ending she deserves.

Splintegrate can be found in store, online, or wherever books are sold

Total Read Time: 8 days

Next on the List: Fate of the Fallen, by Kel Kade

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