Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 25 January 2022)
Series: Inscape – Book Two
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Impressive rising science fiction author Louise Carey continues her awesome first series with Outcast, a brilliant and powerful cyberpunk thriller read that is incredibly fun and very clever.
Outcast is a sequel to Carey’s debut novel from last year, Inscape, which told a unique and intriguing story about espionage, betrayal and corporate politics in a cyberpunk world. Set in the distant future after a major calamity, the fractured world is now ruled over by all-powerful and advanced corporations who battle for dominance while they attempt to create the latest in weaponry and bio-tech upgrades. The protagonist of the series, Tantra, works as an intelligence operative for one of the largest companies, InTech, and investigates a mysterious theft that could have dire consequences for her company. Filled with dystopian cyberpunk elements, such the built-in communication and information technology known as scapes, this ended up being an excellent and captivating science fiction thriller that was one of my favourite debuts of 2021. Carey has continued her amazing series in a big way here with Outcast, which serves as an outstanding and impressive sequel to her first solo book.
Following the success of her first mission, Tantra’s life has been turned upside down. Despite saving her company and uncovering a traitor, Tantra has been sidelined by a jealous supervisor and now works as a lowly security guard. Worse, Tantra now knows the terrible truth: that the company who gave her everything has long controlled her mind with the invasive Harlow Programming, which she has since been freed from. With her loyalties tested, Tantra is thrust back into the thick of the action when she discovers a bomb sent to InTech’s headquarters.
InTech soon finds itself thrust into a brutal corporate war with its main competitor, Throughfront. The bombing of their headquarters is the latest in a series of attacks on InTech assets, and the board are desperate to get them under control. Determining that she is their best operative to stop the culprits behind the attack, Tantra is assigned to the case. Teaming up once again with her former partner, Cole, the brilliant scientist with severe gaps in his memory, Tantra attempts to find the culprit before they cripple InTech for good.
But, facing opposition from both deadly internal InTech politics and lethal external forces, their chance of succeeding seems slim, especially when they are banished to a remote InTech facility in the Unaffiliated Zone for the remainder of their investigation. Barely escaping a deadly assassination attempt, this unconventional team find themselves caught in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy that is determined to bring InTech down for good. However, when they discover that InTech is planning their own sinister machinations, will Tantra and Cole still be as eager to save their company?
Wow, Carey follows up her excellent solo debut in a big way here with Outcast. This second book was even better than Inscape, taking the reader on a wild and action-packed adventure through the author’s unique cyberpunk world. Bringing together some amazing characters with a powerful and thought-provoking narrative about control and the potential evils of technology, this was an exceptional read I powered through in a few short days.
Outcast has an excellent story that perfectly continues the fantastic narrative started in Inscape. Taking place shortly after the events of the first book, Outcast sees a struggling Tantra and Cole once again placed in the middle of a big investigation with major implications, this time involving the destruction of company drones outside the city, which is impacting the company’s food supply. At the same time, Tantra finds herself forced to deal with deadly company internal politics, while Cole finds himself involved with a mysterious rebel group who are attempting to stop InTech’s more troublesome activities, including their latest upgrade. This forces them to venture outside of the city where they encounter unaffiliated mercenaries, enemy agents, dangerous rebels and deep secrets about InTech’s past. The middle of this novel is filled with an excellent series of great emotional sequences, action scenes, world building, character development and shocking twists, as the protagonists get closer to finding out who is behind the attacks, as well as the true plans of their parent company. This leads up to a brilliant final sequence where the protagonists are forced to make some very hard decisions in a great no-winners situation. This leads up to the amazing and powerful conclusion where the protagonists, despite their best efforts, are left devastated by the events that unfolded, and which ensures that all the readers will be back for the third entry in this awesome series.
There are so many cool elements to Outcast which really help to turn it into a first-class read. I deeply enjoyed the way the impressive story unfolded, and Carey makes great use of a couple of alternate character perspectives to tell a unique and multifaceted tale, such as the entertaining scenes told from the perspective of a smarmy and desperate secondary antagonist. The author does a great job of combining a thriller storyline with the unique science fiction elements, and it results in a fast-paced and action-packed story that takes the time to explore certain technological implications. There are some brilliant twists loaded throughout the book which are well paced out and ensure that the reader is constantly on their toes. I liked how, despite the sheer amount of world building featured in the first book, Outcast still came across as an accessible novel, and new readers can probably jump into the series here. That being said, I think you would be missing out if you didn’t try Inscape first as this sequel does an amazing job building on and expanding some excellent storylines from Carey’s debut. However, nothing will compete with the awesome ending that this novel has, and the reader is chucked through the emotional wringer as the book’s characters are put into an impossible situation, which produces some very dark results for them.
The excellent cyberpunk science fiction elements of this series once again shine in Outcast as Carey continues to explore the advanced biotech that was such a great feature of the first novel. Not only is a lot of this technology very cool, especially as it results in some brilliant moments in some of the action sequences, but this mind-connected technology continues to be a key part of the plot. Multiple storylines examine the ethics behind this technology, especially as the protagonists are now fully aware of the full extent of their parent company’s attempts to program their employees’/residents’ minds using their scapes. This leads to some intriguing and deep discussions, especially as you get to see corporate greed and a desire for control weighed up against the rights of a person and their desire for independent thought and identity. This exciting look at the series’ unique technology becomes even more intense and important as Outcast continues, especially when certain new advancements are revealed which could have devastating impacts on all the characters. I loved how deep and captivating some of the scenes involving this technology get, and it results in some of the best bits of the entire book. I cannot wait to see what happens with these cool technological aspects later in the series and I imagine it is going to be very fun.
I was also very impressed with the incredible character work featured throughout this book as Carey did a wonderful job expanding on her complex and damaged protagonists. Like Inscape, Outcast is primarily focused on the characters of Tantra, a young intelligence officer, and Cole a formerly unethical scientist whose memory was completely erased, giving him a very different personality while retaining his brilliant mind. These two formed a unique and fun pairing in Inscape, where they both experienced a lot of development and trauma, and it was great to see them back together again here.
Both characters had some brilliant moments throughout the novel, especially Tantra, who realised in the first book that her mind and her actions have been subtly controlled by a program her entire life. Now rid of the Harlow Programming, Tantra is in full control of her mind, but must keep this hidden from InTech, who would kill her or reprogram her if they found out. Forced to act like the obedient drone they think she is, Tantra chafes against the restrictions and contradictions of her superiors and the company, as she can see many of the injustices or manipulations now that her mind is solely hers. This also results in are also some excellent ethical and loyalty implications for her as she can finally see how nefarious InTech, the company who raised her, really are, and she must decide whether she is still loyal to them. It was especially powerful to see how her relationship with Reet, her lifelong romantic partner, has been changed. Reet is still infected by the Harlow Programming, and Tantra can only watch as she toes the company line and fails to understand Tantra’s many concerns, criticisms or newly awakened point of view. This puts some real strain on their relationship, and it was heartbreaking to see Tantra suffer even though she is now free. This was easily the best character work in the entire book, and if the tragedies and hard decisions that occurred towards the end of Outcast are any indication, Tantra is going to be in for a rough ride in the third book.
Cole also had some outstanding moments in Outcast as he continues to struggle with his sense of self and identity following his memory loss and the eventual revelation that his past self was responsible for many of InTech’s evils, including the Harlow Programming. Now mistreated and mistrusted by InTech, Cole works with a mysterious group outside of InTech to try and bring them down, while also attempting to learn more about his past actions and what led him to do what he did. He does get some of the answers he wants as the story progresses, especially when he is reunited with an old colleague, but it only leads to tragedy and despair. Cole’s story gets pretty dark in places, especially when he realises how InTech have repurposed and enhanced his original work, and it was fascinating to learn more about his past mistakes.
Aside from these two, there are several awesome supporting characters who also add a lot to the novel, especially as several of them are utilised as point of view characters. This includes Douglas Kenway, a senior director at InTech and Tantra’s boss, who is determined to keep his position and power no matter what. Convinced that Tantra is gunning for his job, he spends most of the novel trying to undermine her, while also inching closer to discovering the truth about her lack of Harlow Programming. Kenway serves as an excellent secondary antagonist, and his dive into company politics and sabotage of the protagonist adds a fantastic and entertaining edge to the novel that I really enjoyed. Despite his self-centred nature, Kenway does provide an intriguing alternate perspective on the events of the book, and he gives some corporate context for much of what is going on. I also really liked how his fears were mostly realised towards the end of the book, although not in the way he expected. I should also mention new character, Fliss, the leader of a rogue gang out in the Unaffiliated Zone who gets dragged into the conspiracy attacking InTech. Fliss provides another great alternate perspective, especially as she and her friends have no technological upgrades to their bodies and are naturally human. I liked the story that surrounded Fliss, especially as she struggles to control her gang when forced to work for a corporation, and she ended up being an excellent addition to the plot. These characters, and more, help to turn Outcast into a first-rate book, and I deeply enjoyed seeing all these amazing personal stories unfold.
Louise Carey continues to shine as one of the most impressive new authors of cyberpunk fiction out there with her second novel, Outcast. This outstanding sequel does a brilliant job of continuing the powerful storylines from Inscape, while also introducing new dangers, betrayals, and some great characters. Filled with action, intense character moments and captivating cyberpunk science fiction elements, Outcast is a fantastic novel that proves to be exceedingly addictive and fun. I am really starting to get hooked on this outstanding series, and all cyberpunk and science fiction fans need to do themselves a favour and check out Carey’s impressive Inscape series.