I bought Incarceron by Catherine Fisher right when they released it into US bookstores (it was already released in England 2 years ago), but I had some other stuff I wanted to read first and I kind of forgot about it. Big mistake. I’m going to do my best to talk about this without spoiling things, because one of the best things about this book is that, for the most part, it slowly gives the reader clues and lets them piece together all the mysteries themselves.
Incarceron tells the story of two characters whose lives couldn’t be more different. Trapped in a prison with no way of escape is Finn. He can’t remember his childhood outside of tiny pictures that come to him in flashes, and he has terrifying dreams that one of the wise-men in his clan thinks are visions. He is convinced he comes from Outside, but the Scum band he is a part of try to convince him that Outside is just a myth. Only it isn’t, because living in the Outside is Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron.
Claudia lives a life of luxury, or as luxurious as the era that the queen has determined that all subjects live in can afford. She wants desperately to avoid an arranged marriage, but even more desperately to find the way into Incarceron. Her desire to get in and Finn’s need to get out bring them together with grave consequences for both.
If I had to compare this book to others, I would say it is one part Ella Enchanted, one part Maze Runner, one part Hunger Games, and one part Kristen Cashore. I already said that I loved the plot of this book, but what makes it such a good read is the characters. The contrast of Finn’s story inside the prison and Claudia’s story Outside is compelling and gives the novel a depth that a lot of YA books can sometimes lack. Finn is not perfect, but he does his best to be honest and fair and loyal, and watching him struggle in the prison broke my heart a little. Claudia is a strong female lead. She is smart, strong, daring, but also fiercely loyal and has enough compassion and insecurity that she stays likable and relatable.
More important than just Finn and Claudia, though, are the way the villains of the story have been crafted. The prison itself seems real, with eyes watching all the time and a strange way of seeming to be in all of its inhabitants’ heads. The Queen and her insipid son are both well drawn for their brief appearances. And then, of course, Claudia’s father. He is especially interesting because of Claudia and how she sees him. She hates her father for the man he is and the things he wants her to do, but she loves him just the same. He reminded me of a strange combination of Fire’s father from Fire, Valentine from The Mortal Instruments, and Ella’s father from Ella Enchanted.
My biggest complaint about the novel was the increase in point of view changes. In the first half or so of the novel, the points of view were limited to Finn and Claudia, which worked well to show the sad state of the world both in and out of the prison. In the second half of the novel, Finn’s companions began getting their say, as did Claudia’s tutor and even Claudia’s father. I found the additional points of view a little distracting and they took away some of the tension that had been built up by giving too much information.
The ending also felt a little bit rushed, but knowing that there is a sequel explains that for me. The last page was a good stopping point, but was also a big cliffhanger and I was left with a lot more questions than answers in some respects. This, however, wouldn’t have bothered me if the sequel were already out. Unfortunately, Sapphique won’t be released until January 4, 2011 in the US. If, like me, you get to that last page and are bereft that you don’t get to know how it ends, fear not. As I said, Incarceron and Sapphique have both been out in the UK for two years, so you can get your hands on it if you just can’t wait. And trust me, I don’t think you’ll be able to.