Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Published: March 3rd, 2007 (Dial)
Series: Incarceron #1
Buy the book: Bookdepository
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, and escape will take their greatest courage and cost more than they know. Because Incarceron is alive.
This review is a hard one for me to write. I started reading this book in October of 2011, but put it down after reading 200 pages because I couldn't really be bothered with what happened. I hoped it was the fact that I wasn't in the mood for a book like this, so I put it down and picked it back up in 2012. It definitely got better at that point - it seems like I put it down at the end of the not so eventful part -, but it still didn't blow me away.
Incarceron is told from two perspectives: Finn, who is inside the prison, and does not know about an outside, although there have been rumors. When he gets his hands on a mysterious key, he is able to get in contact with Claudia, who provides us with the second perspective. She lives outside the prison, in the 'real world', where people live 'in era', which means they live in a 17/18th century kind of style without technology, although it does exists and people use it in secret.
While the book is labeled as a dystopian, I don't think it's that easy to put this book in that box. Because of the lack of technology in most of the novel, when it is used, it feels a bit like a steampunkish kind of genre. However, when that's not the case, you would also be able to label it as a form of fantasy, which is the case with the outside scenes. It's such a mesh of genres that it wouldn't be fitting to label this book solely a dystopian, even though technically, I guess that's what seems to come closest.
The characters fell rather flat for me. I liked Finn, I guess, and in some parts I liked Claudia, too. But it was hard for me to connect with their stories, because it felt like it was so far away. I didn't feel like I was experiencing their stories, I felt like I was watching it from afar and that was part of why it was hard to get into the story. The only person I felt held promise, was Jared, a Sapient who was Claudia's mentor. At some points there was great chemistry between him and Claudia and I feel like he could have been involved more in the story. Concerning the antagonists, both the Evil Queen Who Made Her Son Disappear, and the Warden of Incarceron (Claudia's father), I had no idea what their intentions were and why they were bad/evil/a pain. It was never explained why the Queen was the way she was, and I felt like I needed the explanation for it to work for the story.
Having said that, Incarceron was probably one of the most imaginitive books I've read in a while. The combination of all different aspects made for a possibly great book, but unfortunately, it wasn't that great for me personally. The pacing was great, I liked the combination of all the different elements and some of the characters showed a lot of potential at times, even though I felt like that wasn't fully explored during the story. My favorite parts were inside Incarceron, because I felt more disconnected from Claudia's outside world. All in all, I think people who love both dystopian and fantasy, not necessarily together, will enjoy this book a whole lot.