Twin sisters Rafi and Frey live a shared life under a single name, that of Rafi, First Daughter of the city state of Shreve, the public face of the empire who is adored by the citizens for her style, her grace, her affinity for the people with whom she mixes, a human face to soften the rule of her father, the ultimate and ruthless authority.
Frey is the secret, born twenty six minutes later and kept hidden in concealed passages and chambers within the palace, trained and conditioned since she was seven to mimic her elder twin and act as her body double and bodyguard, taking her place in public appearances, both of them feeling as though they were imposters.
The resources of the world depleted, metal can no longer be mined so the only source is the ruins of the fallen Rusty civilisation; House Palafox of Victoria claim the lands where the ruins lie, but access is made difficult by the Rebels. Shreve has the military forces to quell them, but if they enter Victoria, how can it be guaranteed they will not become an occupying force?
An arrangement is made, once known as “hostage fostering;” Shreve will send Rafi to stay with House Palafox to act as a guarantor of good faith, but their matriarch has an eye to a longer term arrangement, conspicuously attempting to matchmake with her eldest son Col, but what they do not realise is that it is not Rafi they host but Frey, playing the part of her sister in an performance extended far beyond a smile at a party or dancing at a club.
Set in the same world as his Uglies series, Scott Westerfield’s Imposters is takes place after the fall of the Pretty Regime, the genetic alterations which perfected physical appearance but curtailed thought; instead, in Shreve, there is a different method of control, the spy dust, ever present and ever watchful for dissent or the wrong opinion.
Separate from her father and sister for the first time in her life, Frey finds that life is different in the less regimented Victoria and finds friendship with Col, something she has never had before, kept hidden and always playing a role; finally able to be herself, albeit under an alias, she has to find out who she is without betraying either her duty or destroying Col’s trust in her.
A world of complex technologies, of pulse knives and hovercars and plasma rifles, Westerfield’s prose is simple and swift but functional and without flair, progressing the narrative efficiently and sometimes with excitement but never expanding the characters beyond what is necessary to make them function.
Oddly, the most superficial aspect is the descriptions of the characters; Frey has wild hair and a fighter’s stance, Rafi speaks French, holds herself like a ballerina and has an eye for fashion her sister lacks, but no clue is given to the colour of their skin, perhaps Westerfield’s invitation for the reader to fill in the blanks, but like the twins’ father it feels as though he is playing a game where only he knows all the rules.
The pace accelerating as Imposters progresses, Frey and Col are good company and their growing affection in their increasingly precarious situation is convincing, but like most young adult fiction the mood is always purposefully light despite the destruction and countless deaths, never truly conveying the despair, the torment or the passion which the story warrants.
Imposters is available from 6th September from Scholastic