Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: Incarceron

INCARCERON (Incarceron #1)
Catherine Fisher
Young Adult
442 Pages
Available Now

Incarceron is a sentient prison. It lives and breathes. It creates and destroys. And its inmates are subject to its whims each and every day. Finn is one such inmate, though he is different from the others he's met. Finn is sure he came from Outside, bolstered in his belief by brief flashes of a different time and place and a man of legend named Sapphique, the only person to ever escape Incarceron's grasp.

Finn and his oathbrother Keiro have been fighting for their lives for as long as they can remember. Though Incarceron rules everyone, there are bands of individuals constantly squabbling for power, and infighting is an everyday occurrence. It's only when a strange woman recognizes a mark on Finn's wrist that he dares to truly hope his visions haven't been figments of his imagination, but rather snippets of a life before imprisonment.

The woman leads Finn to a crystal key and a young woman named Claudia, confined herself to a prison of an entirely different kind. She's on the Outside, forced into an arranged marriage to cement her father's power. Together Finn and Claudia must weave their way through Incarceron's mysteries, but soon they find that like the prison, the Outside has secrets of its own.

Ms. Fisher certainly knows how to write a captivating and completely unexpected story. The questions Incarceron raises are the type to keep one pondering for days after reading, constantly musing over a plethora of possible answers. Incarceron started as a social experiment, one where the dregs of society would be locked away but given the best tutors, the finest education, and an ideal environment where everything they could possibly need would be provided. It should have been paradise. A promised land. A second chance. Instead, it's dreary, dark, and full of hatred, greed, and brutality which begs the question as to whether a perfect society can truly exist given the inherent flaws of human nature? Will the strong always dominate the weak? The rich forever enslave the poor? And perhaps more interestingly, will those with a will to see things change silence their voice in favor of the safety of anonymity? Fascinating questions indeed.

The dichotomy between the Outside and Incarceron is a beautifully executed aspect of the story. On the one hand we have the prison, an environment perpetually changing, shifting and moving forward moment to moment. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Outside, a culture forever trapped in the traditions of a far distant past. The people are static, vehemently denying progress though their technology, medicine, and education are extremely advanced. Instead of embracing their knowledge, they choose to follow customs akin to the time of royalty and court life, even to the detriment of their own people. Instead of saving a young mother dying in child birth with their modern medicine, they choose to let her perish so as to adhere to Protocol. It's absolutely riveting to bear witness to two such contradictory social experiments as they go spectacularly awry, and to be a bit of a voyeur pensively watching as dissension and deception run rampant through both, letting us know that human nature cannot be controlled solely by social and physical parameters, but like Incarceron itself, has a spirit all it's own.

This is a book far more story-driven than character driven. The strength of it lies not in the characterization, as I felt it difficult to fully connect to either Finn or Claudia, but in the mystery and intrigue so beautifully woven page to page. What we think is solid and concrete information is proven to be merely an illusion, one our hand falls clear through as we attempt to grasp understanding, and we emerge on the other side presented with yet another piece to the ultimate jigsaw puzzle that is Incarceron. No single sliver of knowledge stays still long enough for the reader to decipher it's meaning, but instead we are forcibly thrust into the tumult, all the information we need to solve the puzzle rattling around in our heads but moving too quickly for us to allow them to take shape. The answers remain a shadow, ever just out of reach, and like Finn and Claudia, we find ourselves at the mercy of Incarceron to put them together for us.

I'm typically drawn to the stories with dazzling, passionate characters, ones where I get swept up in the emotion and the conflict, but the plot of this one is strong enough to make up for the deficiency and I look forward to putting my mind to work unraveling the riddles of Sapphique.

Rating: 4/5


  1. Wow. Wonderful review. This one sounds very dark and thought provoking. My kind of book. :)

  2. Great review! I really enjoyed this one, too, but I will admit that it kind of confused me a lot :)

  3. This one sounds really interesting-I love YA books like this and am going to have to check it out.

  4. Sounds so dark and scary, thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Great review! I'm glad I wasn't the only one who couldn't connect with the characters... maybe next time. I'm still weighing whether I want to give Sapphique a shot or not.

  6. T - There's a lot going on with this book and it can be a touch confusing at times, but it's a really interesting read which I always like:)

    Melissa - Thank you! Agreed on the confusing part, but I halfway feel like we were supposed to be as confused as the characters, so mission accomplished:)

    Colette - I hope you like it if you give it a try! This one didn't read like a YA at all to me.

    Petty - You're very welcome, I hope you give it a shot!

    Emily - You definitely weren't alone, I never really got attached to Finn or Claudia, but I loved the world that was created.

  7. Great review! I also really enjoyed this book. I found it hard to get into when I first started, because I think this book requires time to be read carefully. I'm also looking forward to reading Sapphique.

  8. So glad I ordered this book. Nice review :)

  9. ahhhhh I simply LOVED this book.
    so glad you enjoyed it ! great review !

  10. Rummanah - Thank you, I agree it definitely requires time to read through carefully, no skimming in this one!

    Tina - Thank you, I popped over and left a comment:)

    Savannah - Can't wait to see what you think!

    Kathryn - I was really surprised by this book, I didn't expect it to be so complex and engrossing:)

  11. Ok, I think I'm going to have to add this to my TBR pile. While I love books that are character driven, your review makes me want to read this to experience the world within Incarceron. It sounds absolutely riveting.

  12. I've been on a YA kick lately and this book is on my radar, but I haven't read it yet. After reading your review, I definitely want to read it! It sounds much more thought provoking than I expected.

  13. I was actually really disappointed in this one. The lack of characterization, as you point out, made it really hard for me to CARE about the fate of our main characters. It was hard to get into. I dunno, I thought this one was a big let down. But I will be reading the sequel just to see how it all turns out. But I'm not eagerly awaiting it.