Friday, 21 August 2009
Review: Incarceron - Catherine Fisher
From book cover: Imagine a prison so vast that it contains cells and corridors, forests, cities and seas. Imagine a prisoner with no memory, sure he came from Outside - though the prison has been sealed for centuries and only one man has ever escaped. Imagine a girl in a manor house, in a society where time is forbidden, held in a 17th-century-world run by computers, doomed to an arranged marriage, tangled in an assassination plot she dreads and desires. One inside, one outside. But both imprisoned. Imagine Incarceron.
I hadn’t heard of Catherine Fisher until nine days ago, when I happened to check out a Waiting on Wednesday post about Incarceron at Carrie’s YA Bookshelf. The summary immediately piqued my interest and I ordered a copy on a whim, figuring that if this novel was even half as good as it sounded, it would still be worth a look.
It has been one hundred and fifty years since the ruling society sealed all ‘undesirables’ away in Incarceron, along with seventy Sapienti to ‘guide’ the inmates. The descendents of the original prisoners are still contained within, trapped in a brutal existence and uncertain whether there is any ‘outside’. Among the prisoners is Finn, who believes that there is an outside and that he came from it. In contrast, those on the outside - like Claudia Arlexa, daughter of the prison’s warden - live in a world that is a near-perfect recreation of the 17th century, bound by the era’s protocol and mistakenly believing Incarceron to be a paradise.
First things first: Catherine Fisher is a master world-builder. In Incarceron she has created not one but two worlds, with distinct societies and technologies, each richly-imagined and fascinating in premise. Those who enjoy intricate details about fictional worlds will find plenty here to marvel at - be it scheduled rain showers in Claudia’s, or half-organic, half-machine sheep in Finn’s.
If this book is lacking in any area, it would be characterisation. Incarceron is very tightly plotted - the story is filled with twists and turns, and nothing is ever quite as it first appears. Although this meant I couldn’t put the book down, many of the characters never quite became as ‘real’ to me as the worlds they inhabit. Overall, this wasn’t a problem because the story and world-building were so extraordinary. I didn’t want the book to dwell on the love triangle that seemed to be brewing - I was too busy reading as fast as I could, trying to find out what happens next.
Naturally, the book ended on a cliffhanger - lucky for me, the sequel, Sapphique - is already available in the UK. I would recommend Incarceron to readers who enjoy fantasy or speculative fiction, or anyone who is just looking for something a little out of the ordinary. This book is one of a kind.