Inscape by Louise Carey

January 21, 2021

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 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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