Monday, February 1, 2010
Review: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
18-year-old Finn was “born” three years ago in the massive prison Incarceron. He can’t remember life before the prison, but he is sure that, unlike nearly everyone else in Incarceron, he came from somewhere else, somewhere Outside. Aided only by strange visions, a mysterious crystal key, and the legend of Sapphique, the only man who ever escaped Incarceron, Finn is determined to escape as well.
Outside Incarceron, in a world trapped in time by the royal dynasty’s will, Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is about to undergo an arranged marriage that she has no desire to be a part of. She steals her father’s key to Incarceron, but what began as an act of petulance soon gives way to something more sinister and significant when she discovers that she can talk to a boy named Finn through the key, and a boy who is trapped in Incarceron and asks for her help to escape.
Neither one of them, however, can begin to imagine the scope of what they’re dealing with. There are plenty of people who want to keep the teens in the dark about Incarceron and court politics. And the prison itself is alive, and it is not so willing to aid them…
There are two kinds of great novels. There’s the kind that you can’t put down, an addiction running through your bloodstream, the kind that, time permitting, you inhale in one single reading. That kind would be those rare books like The Hunger Games.
Then there’s the other kind of great book. This kind shakes the foundations of your literary beliefs. It haunts your dreams, your thoughts during the daytime, and may even give you nightmares. But you can’t read this in one sitting, so intense it is, so much figurative weight it holds.
INCARCERON is this type of novel.
It’s not a book that makes you immediately fall in love with it. In fact, in many aspects it’s actually quite the opposite. Neither Claudia nor Finn are extremely likable: Claudia was raised by the Warden to be shrewd and calculating, while Finn often feels like a passive goody-two-shoes undeservingly stuck in a horrible situation. Catherine Fisher also drops readers unapologetically into her world, with the result being that you’re left scrambling for something to hold onto as you struggle to adjust yourself to this confusing world full of court intrigue, secrets, and threats.
But as the story moved along, I found myself slowly being drawn in, gradually getting caught up in the parallel desperations of Finn and Claudia’s stories. While the plot arc of the novel seems to move slowly, each chapter is packed full of interesting conversations or scenarios, so that, while you are able to put down the book, you will hardly lose interest. Fisher has an effortless way with words, mesmerizing and creepy at the same time.
The revelation at the end is of the jaw-dropping degree, and is what convinced me of Catherine Fisher’s literary mastery. It’s not often that an author can manage to string readers along, and then throw them for a completely unexpected—and yet, if you think about it, actually quite brilliantly sensible—loop. Fisher’s storytelling experience shows in the way she weaves together this complex novel.
INCARCERON will probably best appeal to fans of high sci-fi or fantasy, as it is a difficult story to digest. But if this is the type of book you crave, then you will be justly rewarded for your time. Perhaps you, too, will be like me, and try to recommend this book to everyone you know, believing that it is a book worthy of handselling and wider recognition.
C. S. Lewis
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Cover discussion: 3.5 out of 5 - For me, it looks a lot better in real life. And the key doesn't look the way it did in my head. But it's a great unisex cover that should attract readers of both genders.
Dial / Jan. 26, 2010 / Hardcover / 448pp. / $17.99
ARC given to me upon request by a Penguin employee at the NCTE conference. Thank you! It made my weekend.
And if you're like me and keep on getting giddy over additional Incarceron information, check out this Publishers Weekly article about Dial's hopes for this wonderful UK import.