Cover Image: Inscape

Inscape

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Member Reviews

There are so many excellent dark dystopian thriller concepts out there, so it's sometimes hard to compare, however, that being said, this was an excellent book with an interesting twist on how AR can be abused by organisations, really enjoyed the main characters too.
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This was a perfect, razor-sharp slice of cyberpunk action. An explosive beginning, a devastating finale and a great adventure in between, I couldn't stop turning the pages. Can't wait to see what Louise does next.
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“We live in strange times..” – how often have you heard that lately? As I type this, many workers are in lockdown here, with occasional excursions allowed for essentials like food and exercise.

It is getting to the point where many can’t remember a world outside their own walls, their last journey to work – or indeed their last visit to a city. I was reminded of this whilst reading Inscape – a novel set in some sort of corporation-led future London. It really is set in what feels like a different world – one where people are surrounded by tall buildings of glass and steel, go outside, go to bars and restaurants, even talk to one another in close contact – all those things people vaguely remember doing a year ago.

It is a world of cities divided up by corporate gates, each with its own culture and ambience. The two biggest companies here are InTech and Thoughtfront, who are entwined in an ongoing corporate battle for supremacy. In the future it seems that wars are caused less by military actions and more by corporate ones. The world outside the corporate zones, though briefly glimpsed, sound like what I remember East Germany was like before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The businesses however reign supreme, with skyscrapers of glass and ultra-modern architecture towering over all of the city. Think The Shard or the Freedom Tower, but bigger.

Our story is very much focused around Tanta, a newly-qualified Corporate Ward. Having being brought up by InTech from a baby in a Ward House – some sort of corporate creche –  she is extremely well-trained and perhaps unsurprisingly supremely loyal to the company – some would say perhaps too loyal. She is deliriously happy when praised for her work, usually by her boss Jennifer Ash, and mortified when she is criticised for doing something below her optimum level.

Her first mission seems fairly simple and straightforward – to go outside InTech’s zone and retrieve a stolen hard drive. However, when she takes her team into the field of action two of them are unexpectedly killed. It seems that there is more to this than Tanta expected. Some sort of cybervirus seems to have attacked InTech, probably because of the information on the hard drive Tanta and her team went to collect.

Instead of being reprimanded, Tanta is asked to discover who leaked the data. She is then given a new colleague to work with – a middle-aged cyber-expert named Cole who was in some sort of strange accident that has left him with a mysterious past that he cannot remember.

Together they both uncover secrets that involve their pasts and lead to them questioning everything they know.

Inscape is a great fast-paced read. It’s an intriguing premise, that deals with corporate high-jinks in a place where businesses rule the world. Typing it like that, it’s not too far a stretch of the imagination to see companies like Amazon or Microsoft covertly behaving like what we read here in a world where the stakes for success are so high. (but please note that I’m not saying those companies are doing this!)

As this is a future-novel, there’s a certain degree of poetic licence with future technology involved – self-driving vehicles, top-secret adaptations of the brain, the ability to mind-wipe, and so on. And whilst the corporate shenanigans are ramped up to the ninth in some sort of Big Brother world where surveillance is normal, loyalty is paramount and you can be killed for not doing your job properly, there are some aspects that are pleasant and likeable. The main characters in particular are nicely paired, with Cole becoming a father-figure to Tanta, which is needed when some home truths are revealed to her. Tanta herself is intriguing as some sort of corporate super-soldier who eventually questions everything.

 

Although Louise has co-authored two books already for Gollancz, this is her first solo effort. As the Acknowledgements at the end of the book show, it’s been in the making for nearly five years, and it shows. It’s a good solid page turner, which sets off at a fast pace, creates an intriguing world (even if it’s not one I’d personally like to live in) and some characters who are worthy of your attention. The end clearly leaves room for a sequel, which would not be unread by me. Though we live in strange times, Inscape shows that they could be stranger.
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Warning: use of this gate will take you outside of the InTech corporate zone. Different community guidelines may apply, and you may be asked to sign a separate end-user license agreement. Do you wish to continue?

 Tanta has trained all her young life for this. Her very first mission is a code red: to take her team into the unaffiliated zone just outside InTech’s borders and retrieve a stolen hard drive. It should have been quick and simple, but a surprise attack kills two of her colleagues and Tanta barely makes it home alive.

 Determined to prove herself and partnered with a colleague whose past is a mystery even to himself, Tanta’s investigation uncovers a sinister conspiracy that makes her question her own loyalties and the motives of everyone she used to trust.

This week’s review is science fiction thriller Inscape by Louise Carey. If you are looking for a new read featuring some clandestine rendezvous, shady high-level conspiracies and a dash of future-tech enhanced action then this is the book for you. 

The protagonist in the novel is a newly promoted InTech agent called Tanta. She has spent her life in the care of this huge, faceless conglomerate. When we first meet her, Tanta is the blueprint for the perfect employee. As far as she is concerned blind obedience to her bosses is all that matters. From Tanta’s perspective praise makes her feel worthy while criticism cuts deep. It’s simple, InTech is her entire world. Everything the company does must be for a good reason. I enjoyed the evolution of Tanta. By the end of the novel, she has come to realise that perhaps life isn’t quite as black and white as she thought. Most of us live in the myriad shades of grey that exist in between. That slow revelation has a profound effect that fits her actions perfectly.

Tanta is partnered with an expert neuro-engineer, called Cole, to investigate a case of industrial espionage. Highly classified documents have been stolen and all evidence points towards InTech’s main rival. Unfortunately for Tanta, Cole isn’t exactly what you would call a field operative. He surly, often stubborn and snarky with it. There is also a subtle air of mystery the surrounds the man. Cole has been assigned to Tanta after losing a large chunk of his memory in a mindwipe accident. Tanta knows she needs Cole’s help; he is undeniably brilliant in his realm of expertise. The only question is can he be trusted?

When their investigation leads Tanta and Cole beyond the boundaries of InTech the plot picks up pace. I enjoyed the nods to old school spy movies. It felt like the partners were entering the near future equivalent of East Germany in the 1950s. Everyone they meet is a potential enemy and seem to have ulterior motives. This gives the author plenty of opportunities to ramp up the tension.

The dynamic between the two main characters is one of the book’s many highlights. Cole is more than a little jaded and his attitude is a nice counter to Tanta’s by the book approach. Carey’s writing perfectly captures that sense of initial distrust that morphs into a strong bond as Tanta and Cole come to rely on one another. When events escalate you need someone you can trust at your back. Tanta comes to realise Cole may be the only person that fits into that category. 

As the pieces of the puzzle start slotting together, Tanta and Cole realise they are in a race against time. Each new chapter manages to increase the sense of urgency. The whole novel has a cinematic quality that makes the action scenes really sing. I’d love to see this on the big screen. There are moments that I’m sure would take my breath away. Inscape ends with some nice, juicy revelations. There is also a short epilogue hinting that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these characters. Sounds good to me, I’d happily read more of their adventures. 

Louise Carey’s confident debut is thoroughly entertaining. Lying somewhere between Logan’s Run, The Ipcress File and Ghost in the Shell there is plenty of action and intrigue to enjoy. I’ve read the suggestion in the past that ultimately corporations will replace governments*. Inscape’s taut narrative takes that premise and runs with it. It’s never explicitly said how the world has ended up in the situation that they are in. An ominous term called “The Meltdown” pops up a couple of times but only ever in passing. I hope future novels will delve into this backstory. I’m dying to find out more, I do so enjoy a good techno-pocalypse. What triggered the event? Who is responsible? How has the Meltdown changed other societies across the rest of the world? So many wonderful questions!

Inscape is published by Gollancz and is available now. 

My musical recommendation to accompany Inscape is the epic soundtrack to Tenet by Ludwig Göransson. It has a suitably tense electronic ambience that captures the dovetails with the tone of the novel perfectly. My advice, listen to the music while reading the book and enhance your enjoyment of both.

*I would not be at all surprised if this does eventually happen.
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When reading the synopsis of Inscape by Louise Carey, I was hooked from the start. This premise of a dystopian London, with technology a large part of everyday life, meant I wanted to read more. I love this idea of the adaptation of tech and how it can be incorporated in every day life. Similarly, it makes the technology around at the moment seem almost prehistoric.

Throughout this book we read from two main perpectives; Tanta and Cole. Tanta is the young and naive to Cole’s old and suspicious. However, despite their differences, we soon realise that Tanta and Cole can learn a lot from eachother. As where Tanta is proactive and wants to make her bosses proud, Cole urges Tanta to really think about things, and whether or not she is acting with the best possible intentions.

As the story develops and progresses, we soon realise that everything Tanta knows could come tumbling down around her. Despite this, I feel this shows how much Tanta is willing to grow, and how despite being apprehensive of Cole at the start, they realise how much they need each other.

While I enjoyed the premise behind the plot, it is clear that Inscape is Louise’s first novel. I noticed a couple of editing errors, as well as some repetition. However, this is not a bad thing, and I am very excited to see where Louise goes next with her writing. The best part about reading a writer’s debut? Seeing how much they grow in their craft. It’s clear that Louise has some amazing ideas and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.
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A lot of the political hustle and bustle in today’s world has its roots in how far you think capitalism should go. Some countries are all for state control, others are far more laissez faire. Do private companies already have too much power pulling the strings behind our elected representatives? If these corporations are really in control how long will they be happy to stay in the shadows? Are we heading towards a corporate sponsored lifestyle like in Louise Carey’s Inscape in which Big Business owns our humanity and fight Cold Wars among one another? 

Tanta and Cole are two mismatched Agents for the mega corporation InTech. Tanta is young, driven, and loyal to the company – what they say goes. Coles is older, jaded and has large chunks of his memory missing after an accident with a memory wiper. They are an unlikely team, but Tanta has exceptional espionage skills and Cole is an expert in Cybersecurity. They have been tasked with discovering a leak and potential mole in the company. A safe assignment apart from the enemy corporation agent who can burn holes in people’s chests and seems impervious to pain.  

Inscape is a future techno-thriller that takes a few pages from the Cyberpunk genre, but it is told from the perspective of the corporate drones. More Cybersquare and at first it is difficult to feel sympathy for Tanta, a young Trainee Agent who is blinded to anything apart from her job and her lover. However, it is not long until things start to feel a little wrong as Tanta’s loyalties may be manufactured beyond her control. The juxtaposition between Tanta’s and Cole’s overview on life is one of the most interesting aspects of the book as they both grew up as orphans who were took in and trained by InTech. Why did one see the orphanage as a place of fear and the other loved it? 

One of the main technological advances in Inscape are the internal rigs that the characters have. They can read data and communicate through thought. The fact that this technology is different depending what corporation you work for leaves them open to industrial espionage. When you rely on something that is projected into your head, when can you trust it?  

The central relationship between Tanta and Cole develops over the book into one of friendship and trust. They are vastly different but have skills that complement one another. You get the feeling of a great partnership developing like a Mulder and Scully. The book is not all character development as it is certainly a Techo-Thriller. There are plenty of great action set pieces were Tanta goes up against an enemy agent that is better in every way. 

The way in which Carey has developed the world of Inscape makes it feel futuristic but is also very reminiscent of a good Cold War Thriller. Replace Communism versus the West with rival corporations and you have the same idea. There is even a bridge that you must cross to get to the other corporation run lands. When our protagonists are asked to go undercover the tension is heightened as they must stay hidden in a location designed to unearth them. 

Like any good thriller, the tension rises as the book progresses. The conclusion is both explosive and intelligent. Some of the twists were signposted earlier for the more observant reader but even if you could see what was going to happen, it is a twisty and fun ending to the book. There are some nice pace shifts throughout the novel that makes it both a successful action book as well as a character study. There is a lot of juice to squeeze out of the Inscape world and the book has an open conclusion that promises more to come. Tanta’s new perspective on life will be interesting to follow as her trust drifts, yet her corporate masters still believe her dependable.
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I received an uncorrected proof copy of Inscape in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Louise Carey and Gollancz.

Inscape is a high-quality cyberpunk thriller that's set in a futuristic version of London following an event called the Meltdown. Throughout the novel's pages, we follow Tanta, a young CorpWard, which is essentially a trainee spy for the InTech corporation. It doesn't take long for the action to start and in the very first paragraph, we are made aware that something important is about to go down. Through her Inscape, Tanta is informed that she is acting as team leader for her first mission - a red assignment - which is the initial sign that something is seriously wrong.

The mission is a disaster, a contingency which they couldn't pre-empt causes the deaths of two of Tanta's colleagues, with another being gravely injured. The whole incident raises many more questions than answers, and Tanta, who barely makes it home alive herself, will do all she can to shed light on the mysteries and conspiracies that surround this tragic night.

Inscape is a gripping and thought-provoking SF debut and I can't think of anything negative to say about it. Carey's cyberpunk world features a cold war between two rival corporations, mind programming, mind-wiping, and Inscapes which I'd describe as being a bit like an iPhone for your mind. The Inscapes are really intelligent pieces of kit with built-in GPS, silent MindChat, Zoom-like screen share, amongst many other applications, and you can swipe notifications away that you want to ignore. What was enjoyable to read about, but also quite tragic and harrowing, is that nothing Carey presents is that far-fetched. In fact, I was picturing the events happening here as being as little as twenty years in the future, with some of Carey's enhancements and advancements actually being very conceivable ideas.

Tanta is Inscape's main character and I had a great time following her. In this first of a trilogy, she discovers a lot about herself and changes drastically from the first to the final page. There is a lot of self-contemplation and reflection by our lead as events cause her to question her past, present, and reality. She is the top CorpWard and she has been raised to be a weapon for InTech. She lives, breathes, and loves her corporation. She is also in a nice and loving long-term relationship with a sex worker.

In addition to Tanta, there are two other point of view characters. One is Cole, an expert programmer who has had a great amount of his past erased from his memories. Throughout a large portion of Inscape, he is acting as Tanta's partner as they look into the mystery of what happened on that chaotic night, and even venture undercover together in rival corporation territory. The duo had great chemistry and it was excellent to read about how they get to know each other whilst also getting to know themselves. The other point of view perspective is that of Director Jen Ash. She is Tanta's senior manager and has overlooked her training and upbringing. Tanta will do everything she can to impress her.

I'll wrap up my review by saying that Inscape is an impressive SF action thriller. It presents a disquieting and eerie vision of what may come, made even more haunting by the fact many of the leaps Carey's made from our now to her future don't come across as ridiculous or far-fetched at all. Inscape is a well-written, intriguing and exciting debut that has a fine finale and works neatly as a standalone. The strengths of the story and the world-building leave lots of potential for the future of the trilogy, and I will be continuing Tanta's dystopian tale.
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Team bonding… I don’t know about you, but I think that is a phrase that will always send shivers down my spine. Events designed to make the workplace be treated like a family. Learn to embrace the corporate strategic mission statement etc etc devices designed to make you see the ‘bigger picture’. As we get older, we are more attuned to what is actually going on and trying to get out of it is a constant battle, but I do look back on my days starting out as a graduate trainee with feelings of horror at how some jobs expected everything. A saying from the trial of a member of the East India Company had a great perspective,” Corporations have neither bodies to punish nor souls to be damned” that its easy to avoid blame think scandals such as Thalidomide or how Detroit still has citizens without drinking water. In SF corporations are seen in the shadows pulling strings be they William Gibson’s cyberpunk entities or the infamous ones seen in Blade Runner or Alien – total loyalty is always expected never repaid. To that line up we can add the chilling world of Louise Carey’s Inscape a brilliant yet unsettling science fiction thriller that asks some probing questions of how far that loyalty will be pushed and refreshes this subgenre deservedly into the 2020s.

In the future the UK no longer exists as cities are divided between the fiefdoms of corporations. In what was once London now one side of the riverbed belongs to InTech while another belongs to Thoughtfront. Someone has attempted to leak some important classified data out of Intech’s headquarters, and this leads to a team of agents including keen rookie Tanta to try and retrieve it. The mission fails bloodily due to an unknown, extremely well-armed operative but Tanta’s efforts lead her to be rewarded with the mission of finding that data and eventually who was the leak. Tanta is assigned the middle aged, introverted yet extremely tech-savvy Cole to assist. The duo investigates the black market; infiltrate enemy lands and find deception, betrayals and danger lurk everywhere as the truth is something many do not want these agents to uncover.

Its tempting to think we already know corporations can be evil what else is there to learn, but I really liked how Carey’s take in this story has a closer look at how in particular the ideas of augmented reality software (here known as the Inscape) crosses further the lines of technology, corporation and human. In this future ‘sleepers’ are a popular form of low-grade work. Come to the office and the corporation will take your body over for mundane tasks while your brain is effectively switched off. Imagine if that could go wrong as well as the moral question posed. For agents like Tanta, it offers maps, medication and means you’re in constant checks with your bosses and teams. I loved the plausible nature of this path we are already starting on and at the heart of this novel is a troubling question of how far can this go? It is a fascinating and disquieting dystopia more so as you don’t feel it can’t happen.

Into this are the double act of Tanta and Cole and I was very happy Carey avoids re-treading familiar ground. We usually get by the book rookie with cynical older guy but this story plays with that format. Tanta is extremely perky very much has Intech and her manager Jen at the focus of all her actions. She seeks praise and fears criticism yet despite that she is physically and mentally adept and a highly skilled agent even on her first assignment. When she has to act her scenes are hugely impressive and the professionalism used and explained is smart. Despite that love of her employer, she is still grounded with her loving girlfriend Reet and a sense of humour and kindness. Cole may be less in love with the bosses, but he is actually quite inexperienced of the outside world – he is more used to sitting at a terminal solving problems avoiding people and certainly not used to spying or physical efforts yet again a sense of morality, kindness and respect for boundaries exists. We like both yet can see their pasts have tales to tell and learning more about how this Corporate Wards (children brought up from an early age to work for the corporation) raises again a lot of issues over control.

The plotting of the story is also a delight to read. We move from tense scenes of investigation and cyber-security into missions into enemy territory, fights with guards and rescue missions. Impressively Carey ensues the skills of Tanta and Cole are highlighted separately and then as the story moves on, we see them working together as well. It’s not always smooth sailing as they come from different approaches, but it feels a truly real developing partnership. One that the story leads open-ended to continue in new adventures after a brilliant final set-piece finale.

Smart, fast, and impressive this was a delicious read to get stuck into and I always will love a book that challenges how we look at things in our own world especially with a look as to where AR could take us. The wider mystery takes the story to further dark places, but everything serves that central theme. An early SF highlight for 2021 and that fans of Adrian Tchaikovsky and Claire North would definitely enjoy - strongly recommended!
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It took some time to get into the book, but once I got the hang of it, I was hooked and wanted to see how everything plays out. Especially the world building and technologies were intriguing and made it an enjoyable read!
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Tech, twists and turns. 

We follow the 2 central characters in this novel as they learn about themselves, each other and the company they work for. Go along for the ride as we explore life in a dystopian future, with technology that I would personally love to use, until one thinks a bit more about the consequences. I really enjoyed following Tanta and didn't want to put down this book. 

This novel is satisfying as a stand-alone, but has enough loose ends to want me to cheer on the author to write more. This book has easy to follow characters and plot lines, but you do take some time reading this book, picturing the technology and the world that’s not as we know it.

I would recommend this book for sci-fi fans, for those new to sci-fi and for those who just want to pick up a good book!

 - The blurb from the publisher, as they do it best -

'Louise Carey's dystopian future is chillingly plausible' Claire North

Inscape is the dystopian future we would do best to avoid.

Warning: use of this gate will take you outside of the InTech corporate zone. Different community guidelines may apply, and you may be asked to sign a separate end-user license agreement. Do you wish to continue?

Tanta has trained all her young life for this. Her very first mission is a code red: to take her team into the unaffiliated zone just outside InTech's borders and retrieve a stolen hard drive. It should have been quick and simple, but a surprise attack kills two of her colleagues and Tanta barely makes it home alive.

Determined to prove herself and partnered with a colleague whose past is a mystery even to himself, Tanta's investigation uncovers a sinister conspiracy that makes her question her own loyalties and the motives of everyone she used to trust.

'In Tanta's world, warring corporations battle over the ruins of our civilisation. This is cyberpunk rebooted' Stephen Baxter

Thank you to NetGalley, Gollancz & Orion for an advance copy.

@BubblyBookReviewer #BubblyBookReviewer @Gollancz @OrionBooks @Netgalley
#Inscape  #Gollancz #NetGalley @netgalley  

Links to Amazon will be added when approved.
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Inscape is a brilliantly escapist read, imagining a dystopian future where corporations rule and the social hierarchy is purely realistic to the premise.

It is a pacy, involving read that I banged through in short order, featuring a heroine who is engaging whilst on a personal journey towards the truth of this world she lives in, with the edgy feel of a modern thriller and plenty of twists and turns in both action and event.

Inscape is one of those novels you fall into, spiralling into this world and leaving ours behind. I highly recommend it for anyone needing a reading distraction with terrific writing and a chilly, immersive story and setting.

Looking forward to more from this author.
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Louise Carey’s stylish and sleek first book is a sci fi thriller set in a post - apocalyptic London. 

Following a cataclysmic event called The Meltdown, the world has been taken over by corporations, run by boards and CEO’s. These corporations are warring factions that dominate the people of the world and the story revolves the cold war between Intech and the breakaway corporation Thoughtfront, who have both taken control of London, dividing it equally on each side of the Thames. 

The story starts with a mission to retrieve some stolen data files that have been taken to a place that has no allegiance to either of the two Corporations called the ‘Unaffiliated Zone’. And it is here that we meet Tanta. A rookie agent for the Intech Corporation who has been given the task by her mentor ‘Jen’ to retrieve the stolen files. However, the mission is a disaster and the squad is attacked by an enemy agent. 

After returning to Headquarters, Tanta is debriefed and despite her first field assignment not going to plan, she is given the task of finding out what was on the stolen files. She is quickly promoted from rookie to Agent and later in the story, introduced to her ‘partner’ Cole. A neuro engineer that has been involved in a corporate accident, that whilst leaving him incapable of carrying out his original job, he is still a valuable asset, particularly in relation to this case. 

As we move through the story, we are introduced to the world of Inscape. From the very beginning of the book, Louise Carey carefully starts introducing to the world and the technology that is predominant in the book. We are shown that the Inscape is a piece of biotech that overlays the world that the protagonists live in with an Augmented Reality. I really like this idea of the Inscape, and Louise Carey does a fantastic job of showing the reader how the it affects the characters and those around them.

One of the strengths of the book, is that Louise Carey does not info dump the world on you but unfurls the environment as the story progresses and we are always learning some new nugget of information about the city. She carefully adds layer upon layer of information showing how the environment, monetary systems, political systems and technology impact on those living in this world and it organically feels part of the story rather than one big info dump which you can get in both sci – fi and fantasy novels. 

Inscape mainly revolves around the two main characters, Tanta and Cole. These are the two that have to hold the weight of the story on their shoulders. So, it is a good job that they are solid, believable and relatable characters. Especially Tanta! 

When we first meet Tanta, I didn't find her very likeable. She’s a little too quick to please the commands of her mentor Jen, and the corporation as a whole. It almost seems to border on subservience. We learn that she is a Corpsward, an orphan who has been brought up by Intech and we know that there is something a little off about Tanta (I am not going to elaborate too much as this is part of the plot). As the plot moves on and events come into play. Tanta changes and you warm to her more. Particularly in the second part of the book! This is when Tanta starts to learn and experiences things about those she works with and herself. As she realises the impact of the thing she discovers, she changes, and we get to share that change with her.

Cole is a little different. As I said earlier, he has been involved in an accident that has rendered him unfit to complete his original job. In some ways, when they first meet it is like the traditional pairing story in a police procedural. One cop does it strictly by the book and is teamed with the maverick who breaks all the rules. However, the relationship between the two grows throughout the book, and again, Carey cleverly layers this growing relationship and we learn that this friendship doesn’t come out of the blue. As the story progresses we can see that there are reasons for this relationship and that Cole has some latent feelings for Tanta. 

From the very first chapter, Louise Carey immerses you in the story from the outset. And, even though initially you are a little disorientated with the world of Inscape, trying to work out what this does, why this works the way it does etc.go with the flow and you will find that all is revealed one way or another. 

It took me a little bit to get used to the book at first as it is written in the present tense. I have always found that I have a bit of a problem getting into books that are written in the present tense, for some reason. I don’t know why, but I need a period of adjustment. But it didn’t take me long and then I was fine, happily immersed in the world of Inscape. 

Obviously, as a thriller, you need to be able to write good action sequences. And Louise Carey certainly can write good action sequences. The hand to hand combat sequence with the enemy agent for instance is cracking. The visual aesthetics of it really worked and I  felt that I was actually watching this on a screen in my head rather than it being a sequence of letters on a page. 

On the whole, I enjoyed this book. The pace is cracking, the writing immersive, the action sequences excellently visual, and the characters are solid and relatable. As one of the first books that I read this year, I hope the rest of  the books that I read can compare to this standard. Apparently, this is the first one of a series. So I cannot wait to see what happens next.
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Inscape is the debut (solo) novel of Louise Carey, and it’s a great one; interesting, immersive and mature. The name of the book and the description gave me the notion that Inscape would be some sort of virtual reality scape into which special agents entered their minds at their own risk while their bodies were suspended elsewhere, like in Matrix. That’s not the case at all.

The book is set in future London in a world that has suffered a catastrophic event called Meltdown, though what it was and when it was isn’t explained. It’s not really important anyway. The current world is. London is divided into two zones on both sides of the Thames, which is only a dried-up riverbed turned minefield. Each side is ruled by a major technical corporation that have hostile relationship with the other, InTech in the north and Thoughtfront in the south. Everything and everyone is in the service of these corporations.

Inscape is an AR system installed directly in people’s brains and everyone on InTech side is augmented with it; the other side has their own system. Not only does it enhance people’s abilities—or supress them in case of mindless slaves—it also spies the residents. But it’s all perfectly normal as far as Tanta, the main character, is concerned.

Tanta is a CorpWard, an orphan who has been raised by InTech to be of service for the corporation. She is happy to serve, lives to please her superiors and fears their upset. She has been trained as an agent whose job is to prevent the other corporation from operating on her side of the river. She is absolutely loyal to her handler Jen, and will do anything she tells her. Her very first assignment doesn’t go as planned though, which causes her great deal of distress. But she doesn’t need to worry; she’s being given another chance: find out what has been leaked from InTech and by whom. She’s assigned a partner, Cole, a fifty-something neuroscientist with no field experience whatsoever and who suffers from a grave memory loss thanks to an accident with a device that wipes off peoples’ memories.

The first half of the book is a bit slow, and took me several days to read. We follow Tanta in her new role as an agent investigating the leak. The investigation seems somewhat random and produces results that don’t seem to lead anywhere. But the focus is, for the reader, elsewhere. We learn, unlike Tanta, that she has been carefully conditioned to be a perfect tool for the corporation. She is physically incapable of disobeying orders or being disloyal. She doesn’t understand other peoples’ reactions to her when they fear or pity her. And she doesn’t understand how anyone could betray the corporation by deliberately leaking its secrets.

The pace picks up on the second half. Something happens to break Tanta’s conditioning, after which she has to question who she is and why she is doing what she is. It’s not easy for her, but the process is described well. Nonetheless, she’s determined to finish the assignment given to her. Only, the truth turns out to be even more mind-shattering, not just for her but for her partner Cole as well.

Tanta is a great character and the reader follows her path from a mindless tool to independent thinker with interest. Cole, with his memory loss and timidness, is interesting too, and the two form an unlikely friendship. The characters without their own point of view, like Tanta’s girlfriend Reet, aren’t quite as well-rounded, but they serve a role in Tanta’s change too. The world with its technological wonders is kept simple and no explanations are given to why it has turned the way it is. The reader plunges right in and is taken for a ride. The writing is competent and the pacing is good. And if events fold out a bit too neatly for Tanta and Cole, every plan and operation executed as intended without surprises, it has enough twists and turns that the reader can overlook it. Besides, I like books where nothing bad (relatively speaking) happens to the characters. The book ends with a teaser for the next book and I’m definitely interested in reading that one too.
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When I began reading this novel I wasn't sure it was for me - as this is a sci-fi future novel you have to be ready for some grand ideas right out of the box.  After the first two chapters though, something clicked and I found myself rushing through and devouring the pages!  The story is really good, with the idea of corporations ruling a city through AR technology and how the hierarchy of the residents evolved.  Characters were well fleshed out, however, I felt at the beginning there was an information dump with the amount of characters introduced - maybe a little more space with this would have helped when beginning so keep this in mind when starting the novel.  All in all, if you're looking for a dystopian future tech novel with some elements of a Bourne Identity spy story then you can't go wrong.
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