False Hearts cleverly alludes to a famous Macbeth line about deception. Laura Lam’s sci-fi thriller combines a futuristic Face/Off twist for some serious identity theft issues with a pair of formerly conjoined twins (connected through a shared heart before getting their own mechanical hearts--false hearts literally), the mafia, and an extreme hippie cult.
It seems to be a pretty straightforward thriller at first. The setting is a futuristic San Francisco with advanced technology, such as implants that put a smartphone's abilities right into a person's head, downloading learning material in a night's sleep, changing one's face and appearance down to the genetic level, and hacking brains with drugs and technology. People can look perfect and live near-perfect lives. It is practically a utopia with no reported crime. Until Tila. Evidence points to Tila murdering a man in cold blood, so she is arrested and will be given essentially a death sentence. Her twin sister, Taema, is approached to go undercover as Tila to uncover the mystery of the murder and possible mafia connections in exchange for saving her sister. She has to alter her appearance, change her identity, and get a crash course on her sister's life, the mafia, and what her sister may know.
The character development of the twin sisters and their relationship are the strongest elements. The story is told from both Tila and Taema's views. Tila is in jail, supposedly writing her will but is recounting their past. Taema is getting fast-tracked through training and preparing to go undercover. Both accounts flesh out their characters and what led them to where they are now. Readers see how close the sisters are, by their conjoined heart, their love for each other, and their shared lives in the hippie cult, even after they separated and moved on to different lives. Tila, especially, becomes more than a murderer. The sisters have to rely on how well they know each other to get through this. There is a whole other compelling side to the story. Lam's pacing is strong and suspenseful, as she releases information yet maintains the mystery of what really happened.
Maybe you have heard stories about twins pretending to be each other and go to their twin's class as a prank? This story takes it to a whole other level, and getting caught can get deadly. The theme of identity is fascinating with Taema assuming Tila's identity in every way that counts. Knowing who you are has never been so fragile and easily undone. Taema can change her face, but her heart is still the same--is that enough to carry off this deception?
Look for False Hearts and its sequel, Shattered Minds (coming June 2017), in the VBPL Catalog. Try Lam’s teen Micah Grey series for her interesting premises and combinations (see review). For more identity-themed speculations, try S.G. Browne’s Big Egos.
Review by Tracy V.