Becky's Reviews > Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
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's review
Mar 04, 10

bookshelves: ya-scifi, dystopian
Read from February 28 to March 03, 2010

Oh man, you guys. During the four days I was reading this book, I kept running into articles about how it’s going to be the Next Big Thing in YA, and had to flee spoilers. But I hope it is the Next Big Thing, because it’s pretty much awesome.

I’m crazy for worldbuilding, and Incarceron’s world is awesome. The world itself is one of the most interesting dystopias I’ve run across: several hundred years in the future, after some sort of horrific war (the “Years of Rage” — the book does have a minor tendency towards Significant Caps, but thankfully doesn’t take it too far), technology has been banned, but the wealthy still have it in semi-secret. The world itself is subject to Protocol (like I said about those caps…), which forces everyone into a sort of pre-industrial revolution existence, complete with corsets and capes and carriages (…alliteration is all mine, though). But the Protocol is oppressive, and the only people who find it entertaining or romantic are the people wealthy enough to use contraband technology — everyone else, for example, is illiterate, and likely to die from lack of vaccines. The combination of the Protocol and the sci-fi tech gave the whole thing a steampunky feel, which I really liked. (Hence it gets both the dystopian and steampunk labels up top.)

And then there’s the inside of Incarceron. Creepy, creepy, creepy. And again, a strange blend of sci-fi and steampunk — people born with mechanical limbs, metal forests, and the technology of Icarceron itself, contrasted with people living in semi-nomadic tribes, fighting with swords for survival, believing in magic and superstition. (Or is it only superstition …?)

The characters were great: Finn calls on a lot of standard fantasy/scifi tropes, but does so very well. I love that he isn’t just instantly a nice guy in a bad situation — he does bad things, and spends a lot of the book coming to terms with them and growing a conscience. I had a harder time getting a bead on Claudia, since she’s less archetypal, but she’s an active heroine (yay!), interesting and complex in her own right. And the supporting cast is equally complex: for example, the morally ambiguous guy is actually ambiguous. In many novels, that’s the guy you can tell either going to defect to the badguys, or get an obvious redemption in the end. Instead, I actually wasn’t able to tell which side he’d end up on in the end.

And then there were the twists at the end. I thought I called the book’s big twist — turned out it wasn’t the biggest, or even close. The last section is just reveal after reveal, and wow. I haven’t wanted a sequel this badly since I finished Catching Fire.

The one real quibble I had is minor at best. The first section has a lot of people expositioning awkwardly at one another — “Well, Claudia, let me explain this thing to you that you and I are both already aware of, but it bears repeating for no real reason except it’s a good way to explain to the reader.” It’s less than graceful, needless to say. But since I couldn’t put the book down, and every time I started to write this conclusion I realized I had another glowing thing to say, this book is a solid five cupcakes. (Or stars, if you're reading the Goodreads version of this review.)

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