I wanted to wait until I'd read both Incarceron and Sapphique before I wrote my review. While each book stands on its own, I had to see where the storI wanted to wait until I'd read both Incarceron and Sapphique before I wrote my review. While each book stands on its own, I had to see where the story went (after finishing Incarceron) and how I felt about it.
Let me preface this by saying I didn't not like the book. If Goodreads allowed half stars for rating, I would've rated both as 2.5s. Personally, I thought Catherine Fisher was quite innovative in creating a Matrix-steam-punk-YA mash-up: in some future time, because of all the wars and rebellions (and maybe the destruction of the moon??), the leader of The Realm decides that the only way to stop dissension and chaos is to stop time. He gathers up all his enemies and creates a prison for them. Incarceron is meant to house the rebels and dissidents but it's also designed to be a paradise, where the prisoners won't want for anything and will eventually create a culture/civilization of their own separate from those in outside world.
For himself and his people, he decrees that they should live in a world of Protocol, set in Regency Era times. When living within the confines of Protocol, people live their lives without the benefits of technology and modern day science or medicine. Nothing new can be created and no tech can be used. Records of technological advances are sparse and are available only to a select few, such as the ruling class and the Sapienti, who have partial access to some old records. But the records aren't complete, so they can't reconstruct any technology. In this manner, time stops. Still, while the poor live in misery and suffer the same fate as people in the 18th and 19th centuries did, the rich are allowed to have tech, as long as they hide it and act "in Era" when around others (i.e., they can have actual bathrooms and washing machines, scanners, computers and communication devices, provided they remain hidden at all times).
Near the beginning of Sapphique, I actually started to wonder if The Realm was actually the prison, and the prison was reality. When Incarceron starts creating a human form for itself, draining power reserves both in the prison and out in the realm, it seems that Incarceron and the realm are nothing more than one gigantic holodeck. The question of what was real and what wasn't, of whether there was a way out of Incarceron, of the growing sentience of a prison -- these were fascinating concepts and really made me enjoy both works.
...and here's my list of howevers:
• There was a lot of hostility in both books. Most of Fisher’s main characters (with the exception of Jared) were almost always annoyed, raging, fuming, seething, untrusting, wary and/or cross. Almost no one trusted any other character; there was always someone who was willing to question another person’s motives or was quick to antagonize someone else. Her characters were quick to judge and provoke others and no one ever apologized or tried to understand where anyone was coming from. But I get it: if I were imprisoned (whether literally, in Incarceron, or metaphorically, “Outside” in The Realm) I wouldn’t be in a good mood, either. At some point however, you need to learn to trust someone. While everyone’s definitely in “survival of the fittest” mode, I found it odd that even when characters had the same goals and were “helping” each other out, they were still bitter, insolent and untrusting.
• This general aggression and animosity made it very difficult for me to like any of the characters. For me, this took away from the experience. While the creation of a sentient prison and the exploration of reality vs. illusion was great, I felt that the characterization – and character building in particular – was two-dimensional. I wish the characters had grown. I wish they’d learned from their mistakes and from their interactions with others.
• The writing. I always come back to this because there is something to be said about a beautifully written narrative. It can take you away; it can make you not want to put your book down; it can make you fall in love with the characters and make worlds and people come alive. Fisher isn’t a very sophisticated writer. The fact that she came up with a fantastic concept shows that she’s got real promise. However, there’s a difference between the creativity and the mechanics. For me, she succeeded in coming up with an engrossing premise, but the mechanics needed work. She tries. She really does and every now and then, she comes up with something really well-written. Her pacing was surprisingly good (I cannot stress how important pacing is!) -- there really weren't any dead spots. I felt that she handled switching the characters' POVs quite well. But she’s not subtle. There were no sublime moments. There were rarely any passages that just whisked me away or drew me in. I wondered if this was why the characters felt a little stiff and two-dimensional to me.
Nevertheless, this series is worth a read, if only for the speculative aspects of both novels. A lot of people love this series and I have heard that some fans have even created Claudia-and-Jared fanfic. I wish it struck the same chord in me, but it sort of fell short.