Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Released February, 2010.

I first heard of Incarceron during the 2007 Cybils where the two panelists who had read it made such a strong case for the book that it became one of the finalists.  (It is a British import and the two panelists had read the British version.)  It had a lot to live up to after that strong an endorsement and then after I waited two years to read it!   I am very happy to say that it lived up to it and then some.

Incarceron is a prison for the worst criminals, but it is more than that.  It is a second chance, a sealed community that was planned as the perfect society.  A prison that is alive, that looks after its charges, that nourishes them.  But after being sealed for 150 years, the prison is far from idyllic.  Finn was born in the prison, from the prison.  He awoke in a cell as a teen ager and he has visions of the outside, of the stars.  That makes him one man’s way out.  Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron.  She lives on on the outside as a member of the highest society.  Her wedding day is nearing to a prince she does not love, giving her a monarchy she does not desire in a court bound by entrenched protocols that keep them from using any technology.  Everything changes when both Finn and Claudia manage to gain access to a Key that lets them communicate together.  Now Finn must escape Incarceron and all of its traps while Claudia navigates the complicated and treacherous world of the court.

This fantasy is deep, dark and complex, just like Incarceron itself.  The two protagonists are very different from one another and yet drawn to each other.  Due to the prison, Finn has had to become someone he would never be while Claudia has to play her own role and not give away anything to her father or those around her.  As readers learn about the characters and the roles they play and who they really are, they are also learning the complexities of the world, of a prison that thinks and acts and of a society so bound by tradition it is spinning out of control. 

Fisher has built a world and characters of contrasts and similarities.  We have the wealthy juxtaposed with the most penniless, but their societies are so similar.  We have two types of prisons, side by side.  We have heroes in both, villains in both, and in both is Incarceron as a pivotal, physical being. 

This book is a puzzle, an enigma that is a delight to figure out, to wander through and to wonder about.  It is unflinchingly brutal, beautiful, hopeless and hopeful.  The pacing too is varied and adds to the tension and excitement as it rushes then lingers as time likes to do.

Highly recommended, this book is filled with great world building, fascinating characters and the wonder that is Incarceron.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from publisher.