Book Review: False Hearts by Laura Lam
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of False Hearts
Publisher: Tor (June 14, 2016)
Length: 384 pages
I really enjoyed this book. Clearly author Laura Lam has been busy honing her craft in the years since her debut Pantomime, the novel that first introduced me to her wonderful writing and storytelling. She’s taken those skills to a whole other level with False Hearts–a very different novel from her previous work to be sure, but it’s no less gripping and emotionally impactful.
Taema and Tila are two of the most amazing characters you’ll ever meet. For one thing, for the first sixteen years of their lives the sisters shared one heart. Even though this book takes place in a high-tech future where most medical conditions have been eradicated or can be cured, the conjoined twins were born to parents who were members of a cult that rejects any kind of advanced technology and medical treatments. In the closed compound of Mana’s Hearth where access to the outside world is limited, the girls grew up under the tutelage of a cult leader called Mana-ma, participating in the kind of mind exercises that keep all the Hearth’s members happily brainwashed. However, knowing that their shared heart will fail one day, worn down by the strain of supporting two bodies, the girls manage to escape Mana’s Hearth to San Francisco where they are surgically separated and given new mechanical hearts.
The main story of False Hearts actually starts ten years later, after Taema and Tila have both pursued their own lives separately but still remained close. One night, Taema is preparing dinner when Tila suddenly bursts into her apartment, terrified and covered in blood. The police arrive to arrest Tila, claiming that she killed someone, but Tila insists that she didn’t do it and Taema wants badly to believe her. After all, separated or not, after everything they’ve gone through together in their first sixteen years, she thinks she knows her sister better than anyone. Tila couldn’t have done it, she isn’t capable of being a murderer…is she? Just how much does Taema know about Tila now that they’ve been living their own lives for the past decade? As Taema embarks on a mission to save her twin, she begins to wonder if perhaps she has been wrong about everything. It turns out that Tila has been involved in some very dark and dangerous activities, and now her secrets are the only hope for Taema’s own survival.
While Taema is working undercover for the police to try to clear her sister’s name, Tila starts writing about her past in a journal as she waits in a holding cell for her upcoming trial. In this way, two stories are woven together, the past and the present unfolding side by side. This duality is further emphasized by the differences in the twins’ personalities. Tila is the more open and outgoing sister who pursued a career in art before getting hired to work at one of the city’s hottest nightclubs. There she works as a hostess to clients who come to the club to experience Zeal, a drug that allows its users to live out their deepest darkest fantasies in a dreamscape. In contrast, Taema is the more reserved, quiet and introspective one with few close friends. The differences between the two women can be seen in the way they speak, think, and act, and I thought Lam did an incredible job giving each twin a unique voice.
I also really enjoyed the book’s atmosphere. The dual themes continue, as beneath the bright and shiny surface of this futuristic version of San Francisco (where crime is supposedly non-existent) there actually lurks a dark and violent side of the city, where a criminal organization called the Ratel holds all the power. And while the use of Zeal has helped many people live happier and healthier lives, for those who become physically and mentally dependent on it, it can also lead to the exact opposite. I was as shocked as Taema to go from the safe, clean environment she knows into this gritty world of treacherous gang bosses and seedy drug dens. And as if that’s not enough, the twins’ past also comes back to haunt them. There was always this air of tension that kept me on my toes, bracing for the other shoe to drop. This part-thriller, part-mystery story is addictive as hell.
Of course, sisterhood also plays a huge part in all of this. There’s a larger message in here about growing up and realizing that everyone must follow their own path. Taema’s loyalty to Tila certainly moved me, but it also felt so innocent and naïve at the end of the day, when it was clear that their lives were already diverging even when the two of them still shared a heart. Of course, the irony is that the more one tried to protect the other from change, the more they actually put them in danger, and the secrets just hurt all the more in the end. Taema and Tila both attempt to hold on to the past in their own individual ways, and it’s just one wild ride as difficult truths emerge to turn everything upside down.
I was overjoyed when I found out that Lam is planning a follow-up to this. False Hearts works perfectly fine as a self-contained standalone, but believe me when I say that I wouldn’t mind revisiting these characters or even this world if Taema and Tila’s tale is done for now. Yes, I definitely want more after this one. Highly recommended.