Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: Incarceron

By Catherine Fisher
Publication date: January 26, 2010 (US)
My rating: *****

My review:

Finn Starseer doesn't remember much before he awoke in Incarceron. His strange visions and dreams lead him to believe he must be from outside Incarceron but no one else believes it is possible. The prison has been sealed shut for centuries. Will he ever find out the truth about himself? Claudia Arlexa is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She is betrothed to a spoiled prince she does not want to marry. Her path crosses Finn's when she finds a mysterious crystal key in her father's study. Now a plan is hatched to free Finn from Incarceron. Incarceron was supposed to be the ultimate social experiment, the ideal place to rehabilitate prisoners. They would receive the best in education and care. They would be guided by some of the leading minds of the day. They would be protected. Incarceron however had other ideas...

When I first heard about Incarceron I didn't think it would be the kind of book I would like. All I knew was that it had something to do with people living in a futuristic prison. Thankfully I read some positive reviews that changed my mind. Incarceron is part dystopian novel, part adventure story, and part mystery. The story is told through the eyes of Finn and Claudia. The sections about Finn are usually more exciting and suspenseful particularly at the beginning of the book. The mystery of his past is presented right away when he meets someone who appears to have information about the strange symbol on his wrist. I found myself pulled into the story at once, wanting to know more. Then we get to Claudia's chapter which describes her lifestyle, her relationship with her father, and the marriage she does not want. It is a compelling juxtaposition of life inside and outside of Incarceron.

Finn is a noble protagonist. He may not be as brave or strong as the typical hero but he is the kind of person who wouldn't leave a wounded friend behind. Claudia on the other hand isn't always likeable. She can seem spoiled or controlling at times. Her father brought her up to be calculating and that has a lot to do with it. She was raised without her mother's influence and her father is often away from home. When he is there he is a chilling presence and their interactions are like battles or unfriendly chess matches. As the story progressed I liked Claudia more and more. I found her to be a courageous and intelligent character. She reminded me of a young Elizabeth I during the early years of her reign.

I thought the supporting characters were excellent. Inside the prison with Finn are his cocky oathbrother Keiro and Gildas, an elderly wise man who believes Finn is his ticket out of Incarceron. Keiro is an interesting character and at times I was unsure of his loyalty to Finn. Gildas is an eccentric who practically worships Sapphique, the only man believed to have escaped Incarceron. He believes Finn's visions are a link to Sapphique. The other supporting character that I particularly liked was Jared Sapient, Claudia's friend and tutor. Claudia's father, John Arlex, is truly formidable but I liked that he is a complex character and not just a villain. Of course the most creepy character is Incarceron itself. This living prison that can communicate with people, put obstacles in their paths, and create "life" is unforgettable. Incarceron makes Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey seem as sweet as Wall-E.

One of the most fascinating elements in the book was the idea of a futuristic society that would give up modern technology and comforts to live as though it were the 17th century. In Claudia's world, men wear doublets, women wear cumbersome gowns, people ride in old fashioned carriages and when they are sick they are even supposed to use medical treatments from the proper historical period. The description reminds me of the holodeck in Star Trek only instead of a recreational device it is their permanent home. The people tried to create a twisted Utopia both for themselves and for the prisoners in Incarceron and it backfired.

I loved Incarceron and thought it was a fantastic tale. I couldn't put it down. One thing that I didn't like was that at times the transition between Finn's point of view and Claudia's point of view could be jarring. Thankfully that was a minor issue. Overall I thought it was one of the best books I've read this year and I can't wait to see what happens next in Sapphique.


  1. I'm glad you liked it, Christina!
    The thing that was hard for me to get into was how un prisonlike it was. I kept thinking, "wow, they've got a lot of freedom to move around and stuff."
    Your assessment of Claudia was spot-on. She can come across as arrogant, but the novel does a pretty good job of explaining why she is the way she is. You may not like her as much in SAPPHIQUE, because then it's like she's mean just to be mean, without any purpose.

    Great review! I always enjoy reading what you think.

  2. This book is on TBR, and now I want to move it up! Great review!

  3. Great review! I've seen only good reviews about this book & I want to read it a lot!

  4. Oh wow! Great review. I've been curious about this book, but wasn't really sure if I wanted to read it. Your review definitely makes me more interested though. I might just have to buy this one soon.

  5. Nice review.This was one of my favourite books I've read this year. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  6. thanks for the wonderful review! this one's on my TBR, and i'm pretty darn excited about reading it :D i hope i enjoy it as much as you did!

  7. Whoa, this sounds amazing! The characters sound well-developed, and that plot is too great. I'll have to check it out!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it. I love dystopian novels so I was hoping I'd love this one too but it just didn't do much for me. I thought it was ok. I'll probably get the sequel though see how everything pans out.


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