Raised in the closed cult of Mana’s Hearth and denied access to modern technology, conjoined sisters Taema and Tila dream of a life beyond the walls of the compound. When the heart they share begins to fail, the twins escape to San Francisco, where they are surgically separated and given new artificial hearts. From then on they pursue lives beyond anything they could have previously imagined.
Ten years later, Tila returns one night to the twins’ home in the city, terrified and covered in blood, just before the police arrive and arrest her for murder—the first homicide by a civilian in decades. Tila is suspected of involvement with the Ratel, a powerful crime syndicate that deals in the flow of Zeal, a drug that allows violent minds to enact their darkest desires in a terrifying dreamscape. Taema is given a proposition: go undercover as her sister and perhaps save her twin’s life. But during her investigation Taema discovers disturbing links between the twins’ past and their present. Once unable to keep anything from each other, the sisters now discover the true cost of secrets. . (Goodreads)
When I heard that Laura Lam had a new book coming out, I practically offered up my left kidney to get a review copy of this book. Thankfully it didn’t resort to me handing over my organ to the publishers for it. However, after reading this book I think it would have been worth it because this is a book that is a little bit different to the usual futuristic fare on offer.
False Hearts is a multi-layered futuristic mystery, topped with a good dose of conspiracy. It is centered around a pair of formally conjoined twins, Tila and Taema, who have been drawn into a plot by the nefarious crime syndicate called Ratel. This crime syndicate is intent to flood the market with a drug that brings out the darkest rages within someone through their dreams. The jumping off point in this book is when Tila is suspected of murder, in a society where violent crime is non-existent and her twin sister is coerced into taking on her sisters identity to find out who is actually behind this, with the aid of an undercover agent called Nazarin.
Told in the first person, you are thrown deep into the plot with Taema and as she uncovers each layer of the plot to destabilise the establishment, you are only faced with more questions. Lam has cleverly constructed this difficult plot at times I found it difficult to determine who, if any one was on Taema’s side. My distrust of her partner was sewn early and I couldn’t help feeling that there was something more to him than we are first presented with.
Since Taema is pretending to be Tila, you are sitting on edge when she has to interact with people that Tila knows pretty well. You wonder if Taema is imitating her sister enough to convince others, especially the Ratel that she is who she claims to be. A scene at a big party, where Taema is tasked with trying to find out the identities of those at the top of the food chain is particularly nerve wracking. The tension builds and you can’t help but worry that she may have been rumbled since the person she has to meet knows Tila intimately.
There are a few little surprises within the plot and though I did manage to half guess one of them, the revelation of who the other top player in the Ratel was did take me by surprise in the wat it was executed.
As for the main character Taema, she was someone who I became rather protective of and who I wanted to succeed in her effort to prove her sisters innocence. She really does grow as a character and you can see that it is her love and devotion to her sister that drives her to take the risks. The motivation for this is made clear due to the fact that they had both been exiled from the cult that their parents belonged to. Tila is the only person she has and it is this fear of being alone that wants the accusations to be untrue about her sister, so that she still has someone. Taema has no friends, so it is a strange irony that through this quest she ends up making some in the form of her partner and also his handler.
Since it is told mainly through Taema’s eyes (with some notebook/journal entries from Tila), you only get to see the other characters points of view. This is normally a bug bear of mine and is a reason why I can find First Person books a bit of a hit or miss, but in this case to go out with Taema’s mind would not give the book justice.
That being said, of all the supporting characters in the book, one that really stuck out to me had to be Dr Kim Mata, a biohacker hired by the police force to give undercover officers new identities, along with some nifty spy gear that James Bond would give his back teeth for. She only appears in the book a handful of times and at first comes off as a typically geeky misunderstood tech nerd. As we get to see more of her back story, we see that this is more than an opportunity to make some extra cash and is also a way for her to get vengeance for a loss she has suffered.
The climax of this book is satisfying and gives enough closure to Tila and Taema’s story. The loose ends are tied up and though the twin’s relationship is not as strong as it once was, you are left with the feeling of hope that bridges may be rebuilt and trust may be gained.
While this book has been compared to Orphan Black meets Inception, for me it is as if someone decided to throw in bits of the Matrix, along with Face-Off and added a dash of the previously mentioned Orphan Black. This is no bad thing because Lam has taken some elements and crafted a very original world with an engaging plot line. When you finish the book you are left with questions and I had a feeling that though Taema, Nazarin and Kim have managed to stop this dangerous drug from spreading throughout the world, it may yet still rear its ugly head.
False Hearts is a book I found difficult to put down, as Taema’s journey had drawn me in so deeply that it was difficult to step away. There was just such a magnetism in having to find out what was going to happen next. Though this was the first book I have read by Lam, I have her young adult titles, Pantomine and Shadowplay sitting on my TBR. If these are half as good as False Hearts, I know I am in for a great read and that these will keep me going until the second book in this series is released. Give it a whirl. You won’t regret it.