Fiction Reviews


(2021) Louise Carey, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, 426pp, ISBN 978-1-473-23274-7


Set in near-future London, there’s been some sort of dystopian meltdown which has left the city shattered but it is rebuilding. But (like many of us have always believed) there’s an almost impenetrable divide between north of the river and the slightly more edgy districts to the south, as different corporations hold each side in their icy, controlling grip (democracy this is most definitely not). InTech is in charge in the north and Thoughtfront in the south and there’s an uneasy truce between them.

Tantra is a ‘CorpWard’, orphaned and moulded by InTech to be a highly malleable Agent: a superspy hardwired for loyalty. She’s young, but personnel shortages means she’s called on while she’s still undergoing training on a mission to retrieve data from the Unaffiliated Zone – a no-man’s land of anarchy and danger. The story kicks in early with high stakes action: there’s another agent in the field, and she’s taking out Tantra’s team, one by one.

The mission lost, Tantra must make amends and is paired with an older operative, Cole, to regain the lost data files – from behind enemy lines. The cold war has heated up – industrial espionage with deadly consequences has closed the borders ramping up tension and making Tantra’s job all but impossible. And then her brain threatens to explode…

What follows is a murky trail of lies, deception, fast moving action and twisting story arc, held together by a strong character journey of self-discovery. Tantra is coming of age and learning that the world she knew and the certainties she felt are twisted inside out – like all strong narratives she isn’t the same person at the end as she is in the beginning.

The driving narrative, dystopian setting and engaging characters make this a satisfying read – from mysterious ‘directors’ who communicate via a mind-wiped ‘sleeper’ to the tech genius Cole with significant gaps in his memory, Carey’s characters are never straightforward.

This book’s not perfect – but the force of the storytelling pulls you through any plot holes without too much trouble. There are threads that I’d have preferred were drawn out more – for instance Tantra’s relationship with fellow CorpWard Reet is never fully explored – if Reet is under InTech’s conditioning, can their relationship be real? And if Tantra has broken her own conditioning, can their relationship be sustained..?  But there’s a sequel, heavily trailed in the closing pages, so maybe we’ll get more there.

This is dystopian espionage cyberpunk, and it’s very compelling. Recommended, obviously. And hopefully Louise Carey writes quickly so we don’t have to wait too long for the next instalment.

Mark Bilsborough


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 21.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]