*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Entangled Teen for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
'By your eighteenth birthday you're supposed to know. They're supposed to tell you. Splicer. True Born. Laster.'It's been a while since I've gotten excited about a dystopian release - they're all basically the same story at this point! - but something about the blurb for 'True Born' grabbed me and made it impossible not to read.
Lucy and her twin sister, Margot, are part of the Upper Circle of society in Nor-Am (yep, North America) in a world that has been decimated by Plague. 'In the past two decades alone the population of the planet has dwindled by half', and based on the amount of people still succumbing to the disease every day that number is likely to keep on rising.
When it comes to the Plague, people fall into one of three categories. There are the Lasters, who will contract the disease and will definitely die. There are the Splicers, who are rich enough to undergo a procedure where 'they use long needles to sew medicine into your DNA. New DNA to take over where your own falls apart and starts to go rogue', meaning that Splicers can survive the Plague longer - even if they have to undergo the procedure more frequently as time passes.
And then there are the True Borns. No one in the Upper Circle acknowledges that the True Borns exist, because being True Born elevates you above the vulnerable Splicers. How? 'True Borns don't catch the Plague. They say True Borns are genetic throwbacks. Something in their DNA has woken up and jumped back in time, back to the OldenTimes when we were animals, mutating and evolving into humans. Some of those genes hold the code for becoming dogs, or apes, or sharks and other fish, reptiles. Some True Borns look a lot like the origins of their DNA: long limbs that hang to their knees, or tongues that loll out of their misshapen mouths. A few, we hear, actually sprout fur or grow gills'.
Lucy is certain that her and Margot will go through the Protocols and will be classified as Splicers. It's the only outcome that she can imagine. They sure as heck aren't True Borns: neither of them have ever grown feathers or lengthy claws. Their parents would never stand for it if they were True Borns, because their father is the Chief Diplomat of the continent, and that position comes with certain expectations - expectations that include having nothing to do with True Borns, at least not publicly.
However, they have to take their Protocols multiple times. They accept that the first samples could have been corrupted; everyone makes mistakes at some point. But when they're called in for a third, and then a fourth, time, Lucy and Margot realise that something bigger is going on, and it isn't long before Margot's life is in danger - one of the Protocol nurses, Clive, kidnaps her and starts harvesting her eggs. Neither twin can work out why Clive, who had always been sweet and happy to see them, would do something so terrible: they can only assume it's a way to blackmail their influential father.
Luckily, Lukas Fox had hired Nolan Storm as additional security for his family.
The Lasters (or the rabble, as Lucy refers to them) have been unhappy with their position in life for a long time. Why on earth should they have to accept their fate and die, when the rich and powerful are allowed a second chance at life? Where is the fairness in that equation? But the Lasters are normally too disorganised to plan an uprising that will shake up society: that is, they were disorganised, until a new preacher - Father Wes - appears on the scene. Soon the Lasters attacked the school that the twins attended, bringing the violence and danger into the forefront of their lives.
Thanks to Storm's team (comprised of Malcolm (a.k.a. Torch), Mohawk (a.k.a. Penny), Kira and Lucy's love interest, Jared) they save Margot. Lucy hadn't trusted Storm - there was something different about him compared to his gang of True Borns - but after he saves her sister she realises he's solidly on their side and he also wants to solve the mystery of what exactly they are that makes them so special. She discovers what it is that makes Storm different - he's a True Born, but his antlers appear above him constantly in a kind of swirling, blueish-white light, and not everyone can see them.
There is A LOT going on in this book. I did struggle to keep up at times: what was the difference between Lasters and Splicers, again? Who was the preacher, and where did he keep popping up from? Who is the mysterious Richardson who appears out of nowhere later in the novel, and how is their father's Russian business partner relevant to their story?
A few of these questions were answered, but I feel as though we're going to be getting a lot more information over the course of the series. Lucy and Margot have no idea - not an inkling - of how they could be special, or why so many people were interested in them, and it meant we were just as confused as them as to what exactly was going on. Lucy was adamant that they couldn't be True Born, so when it looks as though it's heading that way it makes her question everything she's ever known about the phenomenon: the next thing they're being told that they aren't True Born, they're something different, so there is a limitless amount of possibility for where this story could go.
For a first installment, it definitely does the job. It sets up the world and the story behind the Plague and the Lasters/Splicers/True Borns, meaning that the story is logical and makes sense from the get go. The twins are both brilliant characters: Lucy, the dependable one who realises she wants more from life, and Margot, the outgoing and bubbly girl who has a horrible experience and matures drastically. Some of Storm's team could have been developed more (particularly the girls, who were very interchangeable) so I'm hoping we'll get that in the next book too - when working with a team it's overwhelming to flesh out so many characters at once, so I'm glad L. E. Sterling took her time and focused on the relevant people for this first installment.
Storm's theory that the True Borns are "the resurrection of gods" is a fascinating one, and it adds another fantasy element - this is a dystopian novel, but it does have aspects of magic that also give it a lot of room for development. This series is not going to be easily defined.
The romance between Lucy and Jared was a bit cliched - he's the first True Born that she meets, after running into him on the stairs, and their relationship is filled with conflict from the get go. It seems as though Jared is definitely putting his job before his own feelings, so it'll be interesting to see whether their relationship continues - but I'm glad that there wasn't much kissing at inopportune moments: Jared is a badass anti-hero, swooping in and saving Lucy by ripping his panther claws through his victim's head rather than frequently swooning.
I do think the most important relationship in this book was definitely the connection between Margot and Lucy, though. When they were born they were conjoined by their big toes, and they've been gifted since - Lucy can feel when Margot is in pain, having a string of awareness between their consciousnesses. At the end of this first installment Lucy and Margot are separated (Lucy with Storm's group, Margot with their parents and Resnikov) and I can't wait to see how they find their way back to one another. It'll also be fascinating to see how the Plague has effected another country, as Lucy is insistent that she's going to Russia to retrieve her sister.
The second installment in the series, 'True North', isn't out until next April - this is the painful aspect of getting early review copies of books! I'm definitely going to continue onwards with these books, though - I cannot wait to see what happens, because I'm already very emotionally invested.