False Hearts by Laura Lam. ★★★★
False Hearts is a science fiction thriller which I feel like would appeal to fans of Orphan Black.
Tila and Taema are twin sisters who were conjoined until the age of sixteen, when they escaped the isolated cult they grew up in. Now they live separately in a futuristic San Francisco, but they’re still close enough that Taema doesn’t consider it possible that Tila could be keeping any secrets from her. Until the night when Tila arrives at her apartment covered in blood, before being arrested for murder. The police suspect that she was involved with a criminal organization producing Verve, a drug used to send people into a dream world of their own making. Taema’s given a choice – save her sister by pretending to be her, going undercover and gathering information on Verve. And there’s nothing Taema wouldn’t do for her twin sister.
This book has everything. Murder, mind-scapes, cults, organized crime, assassins, twins, twins pretending to be other twins, undercover agents, psychoactive drugs, shared dreams, mysteries. It’s an eclectic collection, but Laura Lam manages to weave them together into a convincing whole.
I had assumed that False Hearts would be solely from Taema’s perspective, but it actually contains POV chapters from both sisters. Tila’s take the form of a first person confessional she’s writing while under arrest. Instead of directly explaining her current situation, she instead narrates the story of how she and Taema escaped from the cult. She and Taema’s sections are more tightly intertwined than it would initially suppose. Questions raised in one sister’s section are answered in the other’s, and vice versa.
The emotional underpinning of False Hearts is the relationship between the two sisters. Taema and Tila are incredibly close. For sixteen years it was impossible for one to keep secrets from the other. But now Taema’s finding out that her sister had a secret life. She feels betrayed and uncertain, choosing to try and trust Tila but nevertheless doubting her. It is rare to see the relationship between sisters receive such focus in science fiction, so I really appreciated it. Tila and Taema were also mixed race and bisexual, and it was nice to see some queer women of color getting a chance to lead the story.
If I had one criticism of False Hearts, it’s that the pacing wasn’t as fast as I typically expect from a thriller. I’m not saying that it dragged or felt too slow, but I had an easier time putting it down than usual with thrillers.
Laura Lam seems to be steadily improving as a writer, and I look forward to what she releases next.