Genre: Science fiction
Publisher: Macmillan (UK)
Release date: June 16th 2016
This edition: ARC
TO SAVE HER TWIN, SHE MUST TAKE HER IDENTITY
One night Tila stumbles home, terrified and covered in blood. She’s then arrested for murder, the first by a civilian in decades. The San Francisco police suspect involvement with Verve, a powerful drug, and offer her twin sister Taema a chilling deal. Taema must assume Tila’s identity and gather information to bring down the drug syndicate. The police may then let her sister live. However, Taema’s investigation raises ghosts from the twins’ past.
The sisters were raised by a cult, which banned modern medicine – yet as conjoined twins, they needed life-saving surgery to replace their failing heart. And with help from co-conspirators, they escaped. Taema now discovers that Tila had found links between the cult and the city’s criminal underworld. The twins were once unable to keep secrets, but will learn the true cost of lies.
My first encounter with Laura Lam’s work was very different to this one. I picked up her young adult debut novel, Pantomime, a couple of years ago on the recommendation of another book blogger, and fell head over heels in love with it. I remember saying I wish I could have read it in my teens; it spoke to me on that kind of intimate level. And it was wrapped up in a really gorgeous setting. I had Squee in abundance, and I shared it with whoever would listen. I still do.
False Hearts is nothing like Pantomime. This is Laura’s adult science fiction debut, and is worlds away from that first book. That said, I think I’m falling just as hard in love with it.
A popular tag line to describe this book that keeps popping up is “Orphan Black meets Inception”, and beyond just being a really intriguing hook for interested readers, it’s pretty much spot on. Though I’d throw in a dash of Blade Runner for its futuristic-noir style, too.
For all of the book’s style, however, it’s the substance that has me still thinking about it long after I’ve finished reading. The plot is deliciously murky, with its murder mystery and organised crime syndicate, and the Inception-esque twist on virtual reality – drugs that allow the user to build entire, fantastical worlds in their dreams – is both chilling and deeply fascinating. The contrasts and the connections between the slick, technology-driven ‘utopia’ of urban America and the cloistered community of the cult of Mana’s Hearth are intriguing enough to keep the reader engaged, and getting perspective on both of these worlds, one from each twin sister, keeps the whole story cohesive without either signal getting lost in noise.
As you might expect, the twins are night and day in terms of personality. Taema pursued a scientific career, and has a stable job with good prospects, a neat and tidy apartment, and keeps herself out of trouble. Tila is the adventurous one who altered her appearance so that they would no longer look identical. She works in a nightclub – and, completely unbeknownst to her twin, was getting mixed up with criminals. It appears, after Tila is arrested for murdering a Ratel hitman, that she was infiltrating their organisation. What Taema needs to know is why – and it compels her to agree to help the police bring the Ratel down by assuming her sister’s identity before they get suspicious about her absence, and finishing whatever Tila started. But why did she start it? Their paths in life were diverging more and more after they settled in San Francisco, and the time when they couldn’t keep secrets from each other is behind them. Maybe this was inevitable, but it plants a doubt in Taema’s mind – what was her sister really doing working in a Ratel-owned club?
Under all the trappings of plot and sci-fi flavouring, this is a story about what happens when you have to grow up and leave home. You can stay in touch with the people you love, even stay the same yourself if you try, but sooner or later the world you move into changes you. It changes the people in your life, and whether it’s for good or bad, sooner or later you have to make the choice of adapting to it and letting those relationships grow, or resisting it and letting it all fall apart.
I’m nobody’s twin and I’ve never gotten into organised crime, of course, but that underlying element, that central theme of family, loyalty and the hardships of real life? That’s something I can connect with. It’s a quieter, more gradual sort of connection, one that needed time to filter in my mind compared to the way I fell so hard in delighted love with the Pantomime series, but that strikes me as the difference between ‘teenager’ love and the adult kind, which makes this all the more poetically apt.
It’s difficult to write about this book without going into spoilers or turning this into a confessional post, but to sum it all up, my love for this book goes beyond what’s on its pages. If Pantomime came along fifteen years later than I would have liked, then False Hearts came along at just the right time. Regardless of what I read at the time, I am not the person I was fifteen years ago, and a lot of the time and for a lot of reasons, that’s been difficult to come to terms with. Some experiences, however hard they might seem at the time, are meant to teach you something – about the world, about the people around you, or even about yourself. To me, that’s the real story within this book, and the one that’s left me holding it as dear as I do. There’s no flailing or squeeing here. Just a heartfelt recommendation. You need this book in your life.
And that’s why I’m going to give one lucky reader the chance to do just that.
Oh yes. I am giving away a shiny, shiny hardcover copy of False Hearts, right here, and all you need to do is leave a comment on this post to enter. I do have to limit the giveaway to UK readers only, sadly, but beyond that it is open season! If you’d like a chance to win, get commenting! The giveaway will run from today until Monday, June 13th, in time for the book’s official publication on June 16th. Good luck, everyone!