Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Ages 15 and up

Seventeen-year-old Finn has been a prisoner of Incarceron for as long as he can remember. Which isn’t very long. He has adapted to life in the self-sustaining prison, but is still haunted by the vague memories of a past he can’t fully grasp. When the leader of a rival group is captured, news of a crystal key that is strangely linked to Finn surfaces. Through the key, he meets Claudia, a young woman trying to escape marriage to a man that she cannot stand. More interested in the truth than in the power that would come with being queen, Claudia–whose father is the warden of Incaceron–agrees to help Finn if he will help her. Guided by what small help Claudia can give him, Finn sets off with his oath-brother Keiro, the slave Attia and Gildas, whose ancestors helped to create Incarceron. What he discovers as he tries to find the way out is that Incarceron is alive…and it doesn’t want to let its prisoners go.

This book was one of those “Oh. My. Gosh. I’m going to cry because I have to put this down” books. I had Finn all figured out by Chapter Four, who he was is quite obvious (in my opinion) and I think perhaps Fischer meant for it to be that way. Knowing what I knew (sorry for the vagueness, but spoilers) added one more layer to the suspense. Because knowing that did not guarantee that Finn and his friends would make it out of Incarceron, it just made twice as important that he did. It was beautiful.

The premise of this book intrigued me at first. I thought that most of the book would be spent in the dungeons of Incarceron, but it was not. It was split about half and half between Incarceron and what the inmates dub “the Outside”. Claudia is from the Outside, which means that we get a picture of post-World War whatever human society. And it has been trapped in time. I thought it was a bit odd at first, the strange mix of the technological and historical that that Fischer worked in. But she made it work. This kind of book has been done, time and time again. If you look at the YA shelves there are two prevalent trends that you might notice, the vampire  stories and the dystopian novels. This book falls into the later category. And yet, Fischer creates something unique with this society by taking it back a few centuries. The technology is there, but protocol prevents them from using it–even if it is a matter of life and death.

The cast of characters in this book is vast, but the main characters are fleshed out nicely. There are no filler characters here. She capitalizes on her characters, developing their personalities along with the plot. Every revelation–especially in Finn and Claudia’s cases–drives the plot forward. And forward and forward. I was very glad to discover that there was a second book, for while the ending sated me for a little while there was still quite a bit left unanswered.

Another high point as an author, was the way she handled the various points of view. Each character had a voice and way of looking at the world. She handled the changing viewpoints very well, especially in a book where it must have been tempting to jump around a little. Expect to find more of her works reviewed here in the future.

A bit dark for younger readers, I would save this for mid-teens at the least. But still, if you like books in the realm of Hunger Games or Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series, this book should be on your list. Also, if you are in any way inclined to mixtures of sci-fi and historical fiction…again you might want to take some for this book.

This book is a good example of:

  • Creating audience suspense
  • Shifting viewpoint
  • Character-driven plot
  • Plot twists
  • World building

This book is on my recommended reading list.