Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Review: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron
Author: Catherine Fisher
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Release Date: 2007
Source: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5

Description: Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born …

Incarceron is a strange book. It’s a very unique story that’s ambitious and well written. However, it uniqueness is also its biggest downfall. While I appreciate Incarceron for its masterful plot, ingenuity and creativity, the world was also very hard to grasp.  Essentially, Incarceron pulled me in two directions. The story and the world appealed to me. It was bold, unexpected and truly creative. The political aspect was also very fascinating. The lack of solid background information caused much confusion about the why of it all.  All the lingering questions posed decreased my overall enjoyment of the book. Incarceron is a book that will appeal to some and be disliked by others.

Incarceron is a completely closed self-sustaining prison meant to be paradise but is instead a version of hell. The prison itself is a completely different beast comprising of its own societies and a peculiar culture. It’s a harsh existence filled with rival gangs, short life spans and a prison who is alive and actively torturing prisoners by changing the circumstances. Incarceron is alive, it has its own personality and goals as if it were a real person and in this book it is.  The landscape within the prison is completely its own, with metal forests, recycled creatures, cities, corridors and animals.  The people within the prison have evolved over time and are no longer like the first people who entered. The prisoners have their own code, myths, and legends. Sapphique’s ledged plays a very important part of this book. Catherine Fisher masterfully creates a meticulous climate, which breathes fear, hopelessness and misery. You can understand why Finn and company want to escape.  Incarneron in a nutshell is about escaping the prison and finding a better life.

Just like with the prison, the outside world is also quite exclusive. The king has decreed that everyone revert back to the 19th century style of living in order to preserve peace. Everyone acts as if they are in the 19th century but advanced technology exists. People are just forbidden from using it. Claudia lives on the outside. She’s fated to an arranged marriage she doesn’t want. In her attempts to get out of it, Claudia gets tangled up in a political plot for the throne and her only hope out is Finn. The story is told from both Finn and Claudia’s point of views. Their paths are intertwined and bound to cross. The connections in their story are subtle and intricately woven. The clues to their past are cleverly incorporated.

Where I had the most trouble with this story was why the world had evolved to be this way. I had many questions about what had happened to make them build a massive prison to trap people in. Why was the outside world trapped in a forgotten century? What events lead to this? These details were eluded to but not well explained. Also we are thrown straight into the story with little explanation about the setting and it takes a while to make sense of what’s going on. This was where I was most confused and it took me a very long time to get into the story. The epigraphs at the start of each chapter were very important to explaining the world and definitely should be read.

While I was reading, I felt like there was something was missing. For me the missing factor was a connection with the characters. I was not really invested in their story, despite them being well-developed characters with many layers.  Finn had a very complicated past and his entire story was a quest for the truth about who he is. He plays the reluctant saviour/hero. Claudia was a more interesting character. She was intelligent and determined to change her fate. The Warden of Incarceron was a shifty little man whose motives were very hard to pin down. This book had very distinctive names that suited the world.

Incarceron is a very different read, with an interesting world despite a little confusion about the world itself.  The ending makes me curios about what happens next. It’s a book you will either love or dislike.

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