The trouble with books that have truly unique concepts is that often the online summaries of these books don't give a very good picture of what they're really all about. For me this was the problem with Catherine Fisher's Incarceron. I kept hearing the title, and I knew it was about a prison, but I didn't really have a clear idea of what the book would be like.
Fortunately I picked it up anyway, and I enjoyed the whole story. It was a very interesting book.
Incarceron is indeed a prison, but it's not like any prison that any of us have ever seen. It's like a whole world, so large no one could visit all of it in a single lifetime, with cities and societies, wind and rain, tunnels and secret doors. All it's lacking are the stars. No one can get out; no one even knows where the boundaries are. And everywhere Incarceron watches its inmates through tiny red eyes. Sometimes it even talks to them.
Claudia is the daughter of Incarceron's warden. She's heard the stories of Incarceron, how it was formed as an experiment, a perfect place where society's criminals could learn to live in peace. She envies the inmates, because her own life is nowhere close to peaceful. In her world, everyone is forced to live “in the past,” in a Victorian society where Protocol governs everything and technologies that could save lives are illegal. She was bred to marry the son of the Queen, a lazy, disingenuous boy whom she hates, and now her wedding is imminent.
Finn has been an inmate of Incarceron for three years, and the prison is far from paradise. It's dirty, the people are anything but trustworthy, and Incarceron is running out of organic materials to create new life, resulting in halfmen and animals with wires running through their flesh. Finn has had to join a gang of marauders in order to survive. He can't remember anything before he woke up in a prison cell three years ago, though sometimes he has flashes of what might be memory before seizures take over. He wants to escape, but only one person in all of Incarceron's long history ever managed to figure out how, and he never came back.
The very first chapter of the book grabbed me right away, and then the rest of the book had enough unexpected twists to keep me guessing right up to the end. The plot was so unlike anything else I'd ever read, and I truly enjoyed following it through every turn. The complexity of the plot is the real highlight of this book.
The writing and characters aren't bad either. I enjoyed both points of view equally and was never disappointed to be switching from one to the other. Each had plenty of tension and carried its weight.
But the true gold is in the “Whoa! Hold on. What just happened?” moments. I applaud anyone who manages to figure out the twists before they happen, because I certainly didn't. (Well, except for the really obvious one, but I don't think that was meant to be much of a surprise.) I was really glad I had the sequel ready to read immediately, because I would NOT have wanted to have to wait months or even weeks to find out what happened next. (And just so you know, Sapphique was a terrific book too.)
So go! Read! And tell me what you think when you're done.