Sunday, December 26, 2010

Incarceron [Review]

Title: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
Series: Incarceron, #1
Genre: Fantasy
What They Say:
Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born ...

What I Say:
So I got to that odd point between book releases when I feel as if I have read everything. I was searching high and low for something new when I came across this. I thought, Eh, it's the holidays; what the hell! Currently awaiting its big-screen adaptation (starring Taylor Lautner? Why?), this book does a good job of boring, impressing, and freaking out the reader all at once. That said:

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Plot: ooh
Two stories. Story one: Welcome to Incarceron. An experimental paradise, created to be some kind of rehab for all the world's criminals and crazies about 150 years ago. Well, that was the plan. Today it is a barren wasteland filled with psychotic gangs and disfigured creatures and half-men. The prison is a sinister omniscient force which delights in torturing its inmates. The prison is alive. What happened here? Meet Finn. He is a prisoner just like the others, only he only remembers the last three years of his life and he sees the outside world in his dreams, a world which may not even exist. No one ever enters or leaves Incarceron, but Finn believes he was born on the outside. Needless to say, he and his "friend" Keiro are determined to get there ASAP. Story two: Welcome to the Realm. The year is 1700. Well, the year has been 1700 for the last 150 years. For some reason or other, a king decided that the world had too many problems. After having Incarceron built, he decreed that the world revert to 1700s society. Forever. Modern devices are forbidden, everyone must follow Protocol. Claudia is a princess. Well, not yet, but she will be. The daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, she is about to be forced into marriage with the Queen's arrogant son. She was once betrothed to the prince of the realm, but he was mysteriously killed in a horse accident three years ago. Or was he? (Here's where the stories come together). When Claudia and Finn both find magical keys which allow them to communicate, Claudia learns a great deal about the truth of Incarceron and its warden, and Finn learns a great deal about who he might really be.

To start, I'm always a bit wary of reading any book set before maybe 1900, just because authors can tend to crank up the pretension and obnoxious period-stuff and quite efficiently put me to sleep. After reading a few other-era novels, I have come up with the following Rule of Thumb. 1800s: interesting. 1700s: boring as hell. The book itself actually lampshades this fact. The king's like, Let's all live in a time without technological advancement, general progress, or change of any kind; that'll be interesting. Not! What's odd is that it's never clearly stated whether the "year" in Incarceron is different from the year in the outside world. Because Incarceron was created before they stopped time? Not that there are any notable differences, but still. I think I was mostly bent out shape by the lack of a climax. Sure, a few interesting events unfold near the end, but by that point I didn't really care anymore. Fisher uses an interesting plot device in this book: wait until the reader's ready to give up reading, then totally freak them out with some creepy twist, after which the reader is forced to continued until bored to tears again, at which time another crazy plot twist is employed. What can I say? It serves it's purpose. Though I was thoroughly weirded out by the end, haha. I wonder if she meant the prison to be just like HAL, but it was.

Characters: meh
Two words. Redeeming Qualities. Why does no character in this book have any redeeming qualities? I thought that was a golden rule, at least in YA: Write unto your characters qualities which make them likeable to at least some of thy readers. Here's the express version of my character analyses. Finn: confused and miserable at the beginning, confused and miserable at the end. Keiro: wretched jerkass at the beginning, wretched jerkass at the end (this one really showcases his lack of redeeming qualities throughout). Claudia: flat and pouty at the beginning, flat and pouty at the end (though living in 1700-world is probably a contributing factor). All the other characters in this book made me wonder, Why are they here?

Relationships: meh
Claudia and Finn - If I had to pick out two characters and say they were in a relationship, I would choose these two. But they really aren't. At no point is there any mention of current Like or any relationship-y banter or anything that would cause the reader to think they were in a relationship. Because they're not. But I felt like I had to put something here, haha. They only actually meet in the last twenty pages of the book, and even then you're not sure if they like each other. Really, it looks like Claudia's a nurse, crooning over this filthy, mentally-damaged boy for three hundred pages. Maybe I'll have to read the sequel to see what happens with these two, but I don't want to do that.

Special Features: ooh
So, like I said earlier. Incarceron is alive. It's technically a prison, but it's described more like a world of its own. There are "wards", but they're more like cities or countries. I guess they just took all of world's criminal and mental patients and sent them there (which sounds extremely complicated, but is never explained in the book). So there are a billion prisoners. Can you imagine a billion people dropping off the face of the earth? It's a mind-bender, because would you really notice if they're all criminals and mental patients? And then I bet the guys who made the prison were just kicking themselves when the realized, Oh wait, in a few years there'll be a whole new generation of criminals, so what was the point of trying to contain them all? At least other dystopias had better ways of controlling the undesirables. Ways that didn't involve making all the girls wear petticoats. (I can't get over what a terrible idea that is. And people signed off on that? Were there no checks and balances in that monarchy? I just don't gettt it). On another note, you know what I just noticed. This book is completely devoid of snark. Aside from a few sort-of clever retorts here and there, these kids have been entirely deprived of wit. Oh, the humanity!

Parting Quote:
Finn had leaned out over mile on mile of stinking hovels, the people running from haphazard dwellings of tin and wood, lame and diseased, their children listless. He had been glad when the wind had lifted the ship away. Incarceron was a hell. And yet he possessed its Key.
This book is strong in the mind-bending department.

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