Kris's Reviews > Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
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's review
Jul 01, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: ya
Read in June, 2010

Final Verdict First:

If you enjoy YA speculative fiction (without romance), this book is for you. A dystopian setting full of magic, advanced technology, court intrigue, an intricate and mysterious plot that delivers surprises from beginning to end and characters you will become best friends with, this is a literary treat that is not to be missed. Excellent — definitely going on my bookshelf reserved for my favorite YA series.

The Full Review:

Sometimes I find myself pining to read a book, purchasing it as soon as it’s released…and then not reading it until months later. That’s what happened with me and Incarceron. I usually put my purchased books on the backburner in favor of my borrowed ones, but I finally told my library books: “Look here, I don’t care if you have to go back to your home in less than a week, I’ve been wanting to read Incarceron for what seems like forever, so just sit there and wait your turn.” I’m glad I finally stood up to that dang pile of library books, because Incarceron delivered, just like I was hoping it would.

The book takes place in the future after a war, the Years of Rage, devastated the world. As a result, the regime in charge ordered two huge developments be put in place in order to create peace and paradise on Earth. First, society was forced to go back in time to a simple, less technologically-advanced Era, free from the “anxiety of change.” According to King Endor’s Decree, “We forbid growth and therefore decay. Ambition, and therefore despair. Because each is only the warped reflection of the other. Above all, Time is forbidden. From now on nothing will change.” Second, Incarceron was created, in which all the people that society didn’t want — criminals, political extremists, the mentally unwell — were sent to live with a few of the world’s intellectual leaders, the Sapienti.

People Outside must observe Protocol and are not allowed to use any type of technology that was not available in the times of the Era they have recreated, which includes such useful household devices like clothes washers, as well as technology that is far more advanced, like holograms and age wands. Of course, the rich rule and frequently use the technology they want, regardless of whether it is Protocol-approved or not. As for Incarceron, the people Outside were told that it would be a perfect place and would take care of its inhabitants’ every need, including education, sustenance, work, and healthcare. The prisoners and their guides, the Sapienti, were locked inside and the Experiment commenced, with only the Warden of Incarceron knowing the exact location of the prison and how well the Experiment was faring. It wasn’t long before the Experiment began to fail and Incarceron became a corrupt, vicious, dog-eat-dog world, but no one on the outside (save the Warden), was the wiser.

The story is told in the third person, with most of the events told through Claudia on the Outside and Finn within Incarceron. There is a connection made between the two early on, and they must work together with the help of a few friends to battle and outwit both Claudia’s father, the Warden, and the prison itself, which is alive and watches everything that happens through its many red Eyes. Those who care about gender equality in stories will be glad to know that Claudia and Finn are very well-matched in terms of smarts, willpower, and capabilities, as well as how confused they are about how to finally meet in the flesh and get Finn and his friends out of Incarceron. Finn must survive all the terrors of the prison, such as disease, poverty, and extreme violence, but Claudia has her own considerable set of obstacles, including her father, the power-hungry Queen, and the mind games and politics of court. They are joined by some very memorable and distinguishable supporting characters, including Claudia’s Sapienti tutor, Jared, who is sick with an as-yet unexplained illness, and Finn’s oath brother, Keiro, whose loyalty to Finn you are never quite sure of.

Two characters that remain mostly a mystery thus far are Sapphique and Incarceron. At the beginning of each chapter an excerpt of some sort — a letter, decree, book, etc. — is included to shed some light on what will happen in that chapter and also to make a little more sense of how the world came to be as it is. Many of those excerpts pertain to Sapphique, but are almost like riddles, as much of the time they were obscure and only confused me further. The way they are written make Sapphique seem like Jesus or some other holy, revered person. Not much is known for certain about him but so much is speculated by the Prisoners, and he is said to have done some amazing things, including being the only person to have ever escaped from Incarceron. One of his biggest supporters is Gildas, an old Sapienti and one of Finn’s companions. It is Gildas’ unwavering faith in Sapphique that often keeps Finn’s group from giving up and continuing on their journey to escape the prison. Incarceron itself is a huge mystery, as it has a conscious and, come to find out, wants to escape itself.

There is so much to the world in this book, and much has yet to be understood. But one thing I really appreciated is that Catherine didn’t include an overwhelming amount of exposition. She throws out pieces of the history, culture, and characters of both Incarceron and Outside, and the reader must put the fragments together to get the whole picture. It made reading this book so much more engaging and it flowed really well.

Incarceron was an amazing read for me, with interesting but mysterious characters, complicated plotting, detailed world-building, and commentary on surveillance, faith, and most of all, human nature. Can we breed out the parts of humanity we don’t like by getting rid of those people that are most representative of those traits? Can we create a society in which violence and war do not exist? Incarceron and Era life on the Outside are really just masking the issues that were never dealt with or eradicated after the Years of Rage. Society is still overrun with politics, power plays, and a great divide between the rich and poor, while Incarceron’s inhabitants were never “cured” of the things that put them in the prison in the first place. In fact, they are even worse off, as Incarceron has become part of the problem, doling out hard justice as it sees fit, the corruption of its inmates having corrupted the prison, too. I found myself immediately immersed in this story and emotionally invested in the characters; the pages flew by and I was kept spellbound by Catherine’s storytelling throughout. Needless to say, I cannot wait to read Sapphique to see how Catherine ties everything together!

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