Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron
Author:  Catherine Fisher
Publisher: Dial
Genre: YA/Sci-fi/Fantasy
Hardcover: 448 pages
ISBN:    9780803733961
Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells, but also metal forests, dilapidated cities, and vast wilderness. Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, has no memory of his childhood and is sure that he came from Outside Incarceron. Very few prisoners believe that there is an Outside, however, which makes escape seems impossible.

And then Finn finds a crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl named Claudia. She claims to live Outside- she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, and doomed to an arranged marriage. Finn is determined to escape the prison, and Claudia believes she can help him. But they don't realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost more than they know.
  • Overall rating: 9/10

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A young man's desperate quest to find his way out of a mysterious and terrifying prison collides with the court intrigue of a technologically-advanced world that has been forced into a faux bygone era by its oppressive rulers in Catherine Fisher's Incarceron.  This highly original sci-fi/fantasy follows two characters - Finn, a young man who is trapped inside the frightening Incarceron, and Claudia, the clever daughter of Incarceron's warden.  With their own fates depending upon their every choice, Finn and Claudia must navigate their way through two worlds filled with dangerous threats.

What I Liked:
-     The inventive world-building is shown rather than described.  Fantasy novels sometimes suffer from too many dry descriptive passages, but this book jumps right into the thick of things and reveals the world through the characters' experiences.  Not only is the prison environment intriguing and menacing, but the odd faux-historical nature of the outside world is also fascinating and strangely suffocating.
-     Claudia is a brave, observant, and determined heroine.  She is calculating, has a complicated relationship with her father, worries about her tutor's health, feels compelled to help Finn escape, and dreads her arranged marriage.  I loved her calculating nature and her ability to play the games necessary to her success at court.
-     The relationship between Claudia and her tutor, Jared, is one of my very favorite aspects of this book.  She trusts and cares for him, and he would willingly risk his life for her.  Jared is wise and devoted, and he knows Claudia as well as she knows herself.  His cautious nature provides the perfect balance to Claudia's bold personality.  When I first read this book's description, I imagined I would be rooting for a romance to blossom between Claudia and Finn, so I was surprised to find myself utterly charmed by Jared.  Their relationship has a quiet, unspoken subtlety that I loved.   
-     Finn is a compelling character with a strong conscience.  His past is mysterious.  His relationships with Keiro and Gildas are interesting and potentially dangerous, and it is easy to find yourself hoping for his escape.
-     I liked the complexity of the court intrigue and look forward to learning more about the outside realm in the next book. 
-     The secondary characters are enjoyably memorable, each with their own motivations and vibrant personalities.
-     Finn's journey through Incarceron is like a hazardous and twisty roller coaster ride, and the dramatic tales of an individual who escaped from Incarceron help propel his quest forward.  These legendary tales of Sapphique are relayed by one of Finn's companions, and are also shared in little snippets at the start of several chapters.  They often sound like passages from a richly-detailed mythology, and they help explain Incarceron's history as well as offering hints about the events to come.

What I Wished:
-     The shift in perspective between outside and inside Incarceron is occasionally frustrating.  Most of the time it is skillfully used to build tension, leaving a character in one location in peril while the perspective shifts to the other location to reveal some crucial information.  It does draw the story forward and keeps all the characters in focus even when they are in two separate worlds, but I sometimes found myself wanting to hurry through the chapters set within Incarceron in order to see more of the outside world.

Incarceron is the type of well-crafted fantasy world that is so full of mysteries that you find yourself hanging on each chapter wondering where the characters are heading, and the science fiction elements in this story succeed in bringing the stakes up several notches.  I would recommend it to fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopian fiction.  And I very much look forward to reading the sequel, Sapphique, which is scheduled to be released in the US on December 28th!  If you would like to learn more about Incarceron, please visit Catherine Fisher's website.  I was excited to learn that Fox 2000 has purchased the film rights to Incarceron because this is definitely a story I would love to see take shape on the big screen. 

June update:  Blog with Bite is featuring Incarceron as their YA book of the month this month.  Click the banner below to visit Blog with Bite and check out several other reviewers opinions on Incarceron.


Mrs. DeRaps said...

You rated this a little higher than I would have, but I agree that this was an entertaining and creative read. Thanks for the review!

Chachic said...

Like you, I really liked Incarceron. I liked it for the same reasons that you mentioned - the worldbuilding and the complex relationships of the charactars. I read Sapphique right after (I got a UK edition from abroad) but I was disappointed with it. I hope you have more luck when you get to read it.

Staci said...

I really enjoyed your thoughts on this one. I must read this in the summer!!!

Violet said...

Mrs. DeRaps - I considered giving this book 8/10 flowers, but the fact that I am still thinking about the characters a few months after reading it pushed me toward 9/10 flowers. My husband also loved Incarceron, so it received bonus points for that too. ;)

Chachic - I am sorry to hear that you were disappointed with Sapphique. Sequels can be tricky & this story certainly does have a lot of subplots to resolve in the second book. Now I am a little nervous to read Sapphique, but I look forward to checking out your review once I do. :)

Violet said...

Staci - Incarceron is an absorbing read. I hope you will enjoy it! :)

Chelle said...

I just read/reviewed Incareron and loved it. Funny thing, I couldn't wait to get back to the prison perspective and got ansy during Claudia's up-side point of view. I guess the flipping perspectives makes the book appeal to a wide audience? I won a copy of Sapphique and will read it this summer. I hope it's as exciting as the first and not too disapointing. Nice review!

Violet said...

Chelle - Fun! I will have to stop by and read your full review. :) So interesting that you were eager to return to Finn's chapters while I was longing for more of Claudia's chapters. I think that is awesome and definitely proof that the alternating perspectives helped the story appeal to a wider audience. Congratulations on winning a copy of Sapphique! I am so curious to see how Claudia & Finn deal with the results of Incarceron's conclusion. :)

Andrea said...

My mom has that book and told me I should read it because it was so good. I have yet to read it though. I was planing on saving it for when I move back to NY, then I'll have plenty of books to read there without buying anything.

Candace said...

I'm really looking forward to this one. Especially after your review. I like the way you describe how it's described. LOL. No, your review was wrote well and I can imagine it a bit better then I did from other reviews. I think I may have a copy of this (or the ARC) coming for review. Not sure though.

Audrey; (AyC) said...

Great review! I liked this book a lot myself, and I totally agree with how wonderful the premise of the novel was, along with Claudia/Jared :) can't wait for Sapphique.

Oh, and I really like your review structure

Violet said...

Andrea - Glad to hear that your mom liked it. It will be fun to return to NY with a bunch of exciting books awaiting you. I hope you will enjoy Incarceron.

Candace - I think you will like it. I generally prefer my fantasy/sci-fi with a bit more romance, but the world-building in Incarceron is incredibly interesting. It has elements of sci-fi. fantasy, steampunk, and dystopian, so I found it kind of difficult to classify.

Audrey - Thanks! Glad to hear that you liked Incarceron too. :)

Midnight Sapphire Books said...

I want to read this book. i didn't know that fox purchased the rights. That is great

My 5 Monkeys(Julie) said...

great review and there were some of the same things I liked too.

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