4:00 pm EST, February 2, 2018

Serial Box’s ‘False Idols’ book review: ‘Tomb Raider’ meets ‘Kingsman’

Do you want all the glamour of the art scene with a rags-to-riches spy thriller twist? Then False Idols is the book for you!

About ‘False Idols’

FBI Linguist Layla el-Deeb is deep undercover posing as an heiress in the Middle East. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale.

But Layla’s troubled past and growing feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.

‘False Idols’ book review

I’ve talked about Serial Box plenty of times in the past, including in an interview with co-founder Julian Yap. It’s an amazing new way to get your book fix — novels are delivered in seasons and episodes, which makes them extremely cinematic in nature. They’re also created by a group of writers who work together in a writer’s room to bring you the most imaginative story possible.

I knew I would love False Idols going in. I graduated with a degree in Art History and once dreamed of becoming an archaeologist or museum curator (alas, writing stole my heart in the end). Knowing this series would put me back in the art world was enough for me to place it at the top of my list. And it was well worth my time.

There are a lot of reasons to love False Idols, but first and foremost there’s the protagonist, Layla el-Deeb. She hails from Egypt, but got her education in the United States. She became an FBI agent and found herself back in her home country, only this time she looked much different. Growing up extremely poor helped motivate Layla in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t help her much when she goes undercover as an heiress to infiltrate Egypt’s richest social circle, looking for a connection between stolen art and a terrorist organization.

And this is just one of the problems Layla comes up against. Her mentor is hiding a secret, the guy she’s falling for is part of one of the families she’s investigating, and her real-life brother may have gotten in over his head. Keeping up her undercover identity is hard enough on its own, but as the investigation begins to take shape, keeping her head may prove to be impossible.

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Layla is an independent, headstrong character. I don’t love all the choices she makes, but I can understand why she makes them. I’m sympathetic to her plight, even as she starts to lose grip on which persona is the real one. Sometimes I want to shake her — but only because I care about what happens to her.

False Idols paints a bright picture of Egypt and its culture. It’s careful to show us both the light and dark in equal measure. The characters are just as vibrant, and it’s nice to see a realistically diverse portrayal of the world.

This story is a slow build in the best possible way. Every episode brings you close to the truth, while still tantalizingly holding the answer just out of reach. It’s less of an action-packed spy romp and more of a down-and-dirty detective thriller, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments.

When multiple authors are working on a book together, there’s always a concern about consistency, but there’s no need to worry here. Though three different authors work on False Idols together, each episode smoothly transitions from one to the other with a killer cliffhanger each time.

Seriously. Every time I think I’m going to put the book down at the end of one episode, the final sentence forces me on to the next. Each new development will keep you hooked until you’re done with season 1 and begging for season 2.

‘False Idols’ season 1 is now available from Serial Box

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