Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

44451247Lynn: Incarceron (Penguin/Dial 2010) has already gathered five starred reviews and is one of the most talked about books of the new season. As a devoted skeptic, I started this book with a prove-it-to-me attitude but this is a bandwagon I am happily joining.

Set in a future earth, the story follows two teens, each imprisoned, one physically and one by the culture. Finn is a prisoner in Incarceron, a prison envisioned and created by social engineers who hoped to develop a utopian model. Over time the prison has become sentient and is sadistically cruel to the vast population within it. No one has EVER escaped. Claudia, privileged daughter of the Warden of Incarceron is betrothed to the appalling young heir to the throne. Her father has long schemed to control the realm through his daughter. Possessing highly sophisticated technology, society has chosen to impose a seventeenth century mode of life, called the Protocol and Claudia chafes against its choking restrictions. When Finn and Claudia each discover a crystal key, they begin to communicate, and their stories and lives intertwine.

Fisher’s highly original concept is wonderfully intriguing and is matched by the labyrinthine plot which kept me guessing all the way through. The characters are terrific, humanly flawed and full of depth. I cared about them all and especially fascinated by the villains. Who could resist that sentient prison – what a cool concept! While there is a complete story arc, the ending left me gasping and I was SO happy to hear there is already a sequel, Sapphique, published in England. Bring it on!

Cindy: Can we start with the cover? It’s attractive. It has the currently popular gears that hint at steam punk, which fits the story in some respects. But the key? It’s gorgeous and iridescent but it’s completely the WRONG SHAPE. I know, I know, skeleton keys are all the rage (we covered that in a fall blog post) but the crystal key that is central to this book’s plot is described as hexagonal in shape, a faceted crystal with hidden buttons around the edges. I know this doesn’t diminish the story and that marketing folks don’t give a rip if the cover matches the text if the book will sell, but still, cover inaccuracies irritate me. How about you?

But oh, the villains in this book. Here’s just one:

Jormanric grinned. Ket-juice glistened on his teeth. “You want my word! I haven’t kept my word since I was ten and knifed my own brother. You’re welcome to it.”

Jormanric is pure evil, but just as in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, I’m not always sure just who the good and bad guys are here. There are lots of questions to be answered in the coming installments, and this is a series that I think I might like more later in the series once some of those questions are answered. It’s certainly one that will keep me thinking about it until I can get my hands on the next installment.

Utopias are so unpredictable. When Claudia and her sapient (tutor) Jared first hear voices from Incarceron prisoners coming from the crystal key, Claudia is confused. “They sounded scared,” she says, but…”there’s nothing to fear in a perfect world, is there?”



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

4 Comments on "Incarceron by Catherine Fisher"

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  1.' Angela says:

    Loved this one so much 🙂 And that quote of Claudia’s you picked out Cindy, about nothing to fear in a perfect world, was so awesome. I really want to know why it was assumed the prison would turn into a utopia though. They put all of the criminals in one place, even with the addition of teachers and resources why did the prison builders think the criminals would magically reform their ways? So many questions I want to have answered!

  2. I just finished this one and I was blown away by it! Definitely not a disappointment.

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