Review: Incarceron

Review: IncarceronIncarceron by Catherine Fisher
Series: Incarceron #1
Published by Dial BFYR on January 26, 2010
Genres: Dystopian, Steampunk
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

A thrilling, high-concept fantasy for fans of Garth Nix and Nancy Farmer. 

Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells, but also metal forests, dilapidated cities, and vast wilderness. Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, has no memory of his childhood and is sure that he came from Outside Incarceron. Very few prisoners believe that there is an Outside, however, which makes escape seems impossible.

And then Finn finds a crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl named Claudia. She claims to live Outside- she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, and doomed to an arranged marriage. Finn is determined to escape the prison, and Claudia believes she can help him. But they don't realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost more than they know.

For the last several months, I have been on a dystopia reading kick. Of the ones on my list to read, this one ranked highly on the expectations scale. In fact, the book was even highly recommended to me. Unfortunately, expectation does not by any means guarantee that the expected outcome will be the one to occur. Incarceron failed to grab me at any and all points. Not to say that it was awful, because it wasn’t. It just failed to entice me; I read it out of some sense of duty, rather than a drive to find out what would happen or to enjoy the language.

I think, and I do use the speculative verb intentionally, that my problem here resulted from an inability to suspend disbelief for this book. Before anyone gets too accusatory, let me assure you that this is often not a problem for me. See previous reviews for support of this fact. Incarceron lacked some of the back story that would have helped me buy into this absurd society. Without some explanation of the crazy wars that lead to this situation or an example legal document setting the systems in place (as was done in Unwind), I had trouble figuring out how this system could possibly have been the chosen solution. There are documents at the beginning of the chapters but they say little more than “There was a crazy war, so we will do this” (paraphrased). This just didn’t convince me entirely. A lot of the physical descriptions of the workings of Incarceron are also baffling and perhaps entirely inconceivable. I would give a specific example, but to do so would contain spoilers, so I won’t.

What it all comes down to though is that I just did not care. One of the mysteries of the book is whether Sapphique escaped or not, assuming he existed at all. I suppose I should have been speculating about whether he did as I read and new information was revealed. This I did not do. I just read patiently and waited for information to be revealed. I could care only slightly less about whether the evil forces lost and whether anyone escaped from the prison, and even whether Claudia had to marry the obnoxious prince (especially since any descriptions of her given by other people were entirely unflattering personality-wise).

For my part, I would recommend reading The Maze Runner instead of this book, even though I had mixed feelings about that book as well. A lot of the themes within them reminded me of one another and I thought that one had a slightly better premise. Still, lots of people have loved this one, so if you’re up for it, go right on ahead.

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