Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First off, let me say that this book is a bit hard to describe. It is a unique fantasy/sci fi book that takes place in two worlds. First there is the world of Incarceron, the cruel prison that watches all the prisoners, recording their lives, and in some cases causing their deaths. Then there is the world outside of Incarceron, where although the people appear to be free, they are actually confined by the Era. Everything must be in Era. Everything not in Era is illegal. Although the more wealthy may have such modern conveniences as washing machines, everything must be scrupulously concealed so that it appears to be an Era centuries in the past.
Finn is a prisoner in Incarceron, and though everyone states that no one ever comes from outside the prison and many believe that outside doesn’t exist, Finn knows he has seen the stars and was not born in Incarceron. Finn’s memories are full of holes, and on occasions he gets flashes of things not from Incarceron. He longs to find out more, and to find a way out of the prison. When a woman in the prison mentions a key, Finn believes he may have found a way out.
Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, a formidable and scheming man. Her father has arranged for her to marry Caspar, who will one day be King. Claudia longs to be free of her engagement with the sniveling Caspar, and longs to be free of the confinements of the Era. She also seeks Incarceron, her father’s best kept secret. Although she knows the prison exists, she doesn’t know where it is. She doesn’t even have proof of the prison’s existence, until she finds a key and ends up communicating with a young man named Finn.
The dichotomy of the book is interesting. You have two separate worlds, a world that appears to be perhaps 17th century and a prison world that is a technological machine governed by what appears to be an artificial intelligence. In both worlds you can see that the society is more technologically advanced than we are now, but the outside, where Claudia lives, does its best to make you think time has stopped somewhere in an era past. Meanwhile, inside the prison, you see how the technology has been integrated into the bodies and lives of the prisoners.
I have to say that I like this book from the very beginning. It was gripping and I didn’t want to put it down. It is probably one of the most original fantasy novels I have read in a long time. Both Finn and Claudia were likable characters struggling to survive in their own prisons. Incarceron was not only a setting for the book, but a character. It is a scary unpredictable place. It watches you, knows you and interacts with you. Incarceron will try to bend you to its will or it may just destroy you.
In the end, I found myself wanting to know more about the prison’s intelligence and how it became what it did. You also find you self wanting to know more about the other characters, like Claudia’s father, and the Queen. The book leaves you wanting more, so I hope that the sequel due out in 2011 will address some of these questions.
This is definitely a favorite for me. Highly recommended.
Cautions for sensitive readers: There is some violence in the book.
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