I am sort of a twin. And by ‘sort of’ I mean not a twin at all.
But I have an older brother who is ten months older than me, and I was born with hours to spare before I would have been in the school year below him.
So, being in the same school year, and the concept of ten months age difference between siblings being too crazy for people to accept meant that we were often viewed and treated as twins (and there are dozens of people who still believe we are to this day).
That means I have a significant amount of experience in spending my formative years being considered only as part of a package, a yin to a yang, a reflection and projection of my brother’s reputation, and he of mine.
It was safe and suffocating. Annoying and a buffer. It meant little privacy in our uncomfortably overlapping social circles (my now-husband was a football friend of his first).
When I saw First Born featured twins I didn’t really give any thought as to whether I’d relate to it personally, simply assuming I wouldn’t. But I found myself having mini flashbacks to claustrophobic sibling struggles as I was invited into the mind of Molly on her mission to discover the truth behind her twin’s sudden death.
22-year-old Molly Raven wakes up to a nightmare: her parents calling from New York during their visit to Molly’s twin sister, Katie, to inform Molly that her twin has been found dead. Perpetually and irrationally fearful, Molly embarks on a trip from London to New York to join her parents for mutual support.
Before she and her parents return home, she also hopes to assist the police in the murder investigation they open, working to keep the case moving forward before it’s buried beneath the inevitable arrival of new ‘young dead girl’ cases.
Molly quickly finds herself tied up in dangerous circumstances, uncovering more than one explosive revelation during her investigations, and discovering that all with Katie was not as it seemed.
It’s really difficult to talk about this book without giving away a load of spoilers! So I’ll try to do it justice while keeping its narrative safely intact.
I found Molly to be a really unusual character who I couldn’t warm to at all, and I think this is intentional. She goes to extreme measures and research to ensure she is safe at all times, such as keeping a fire extinguisher in every room and learning how to make a monkey fist weapon.
But then I found myself questioning the believability of some of her actions that seemed to not fit with that level of safety compulsion at the start of the book. I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder myself, so I could recognise some of her irrational safety behaviours (even if I don’t go to those extremes myself).
But then, in other places, she seemed completely unfazed by doing things that would have rendered me, personally, immobile. I found myself frustrated with these juxtapositions for much of the beginning half of the story…but had lightbulb moments later on when subsequent plot points explained much of that.
I also don’t generally like lots of place names in fiction, and there were a lot once Molly reached New York. I feel like when place names are dropped without elaboration they are meant to have some significance to me and feel frustrated when they don’t because I don’t know the place (I notice novels set in London do this a lot).
However, as the story progressed I found my mental map of New York to be rather vivid and colourful. It actually made me want to visit! And, again, it makes sense with later revelations why the city itself is significant to the narrative.
There was some tasty food description too, which I highlighted to return to later in case I want to try to recreate some recipes.
My favourite feature in this novel was the stark change of pace and perspective around halfway through. I thought that was very cleverly done and it was at this point the novel really picked up for me.
There is a lot of duplicity within the story in place of extensive prose on Molly’s deeper thoughts on her relationship with her sister. I really appreciated that, particularly with reflection after the ending.
The story makes you question the natural assumptions you have about twins. I could relate to a lot of the feelings the twins may have had toward the pressure that comes from outsider assumptions.
All children, I think, have a natural inclination towards pleasing and receiving praise from adults. Our culture trains them that way. But with twins, and possibly siblings extra-close in age, like my brother and I, I think there’s an added layer: wanting to affirm grown-ups’ happy assumptions that siblings close in age are mutually, lovingly close too.
And that, as First Born highlights, can have devastating impacts post-formative years.
First Born is a thrilling read for fans of:
- unreliable narrators
- New York City setting
- strained family relationships
First Born is released on 14th April 2022. Here are some non-affiliated pre-order links:
Will Dean is active on Twitter and Instagram, despite living in a snowy, remote forest in Sweden with his family and St. Bernard (and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m a MASSIVE FAN of The Last Thing To Burn, which you should also read).
Many thanks to Will Dean, NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC.