Saturday, July 23, 2011

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher

I found the audiobook version of this one because I a) didn't want to wait for the 2 or 3 people ahead of me on the holdlist to read the paper copy and b) had just had my wisdom teeth out and wanted something fun to do. As for the notion of the book itself, I found that it was on the Mythopoeic Award finalist list, which made me interested enough to start reading it one day at Barnes & Noble. After the first chapter and some of the second, I was quite intrigued.

The book in a nutshell (really, this is a terribly unfortunate thing to say if you've read the book!):
Two worlds, or two sides of the same world. A boy named Finn, living mysteriously in a gigantic, sentient prison called Incarceron. A girl named Claudia, caged in a land that disguises its technology with facades of nearly-Victorian era life.

Oh, neeps, I really don't know how to describe this book. It's like trying to summarize The Hunger Games. I'm going to use the synopsis from Goodreads.

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 ...

There; that's better than I could have done at the moment. And it's a book that deserves the best. It's not perfect but it's good, quite good.

I suppose, essentially, Incarceron is a sci-fi dystopia disguised as a fantasy. It feels like a fantasy, and it always does. (I wonder if anyone is ever put off by this? Has anyone spent the whole book waiting for technical details to be discussed, or, worse yet, thought it was the epic fantasy it's dressed up as?)

Thank heavens there's not much romance, I say, thank heavens there's nothing too icky and uncomfortable, and thank heavens there's more than one female character. It's really a large relief to me, this book. I was tired of romance and tired of inappropriate hints or actions. True, a nasty character tries to cast slurs on a protagonist's behaviors with someone else, but the protagonist is as shocked and offended as anyone should be under the circumstances.

Characterization isn't really the strongest, but I didn't care. It's a well-done book, very interesting and fine reading (or listening, as the case may be). Frankly it's action-driven, if not settings-driven. Yes, settings-driven would be the word for it... a book that was the setting in action. I like to write that sort of thing, and I love to read it. The world lives in this book, from the Warden's study to the galleries of Incarceron, from the glass globes in Gildas's tower to the snail-crossed door in the basement. I felt as if the square plastic thing of the audiobook case were my own crystal key, allowing me a glimpse through to a place beyond my ordinary sight.

Talk on the author's website (warning, beware spoilers) says that there is a movie more or less being worked on. I think this book would make a terrific movie, and I for one would watch it - as long as no one put in extra romance.

This book has some subtle and not-so-subtle threads about loyalty and friendship. Is Finn doing right to trust and stand by Keiro so much? Claudia is on Jared's side for a while, but is she risking him too much by the end?
Claudia's two father-figures, Jared and the Warden - how do they each relate to her? How does this correlate with their actual feelings toward her?
What about "protocol"? Is it really solving anyone's problems? Why was it set up, and why does it continue, and is it a good idea? A lot of us like to think about "the good old days" of history, when things were "simpler."How would that really play out?

Quotes are regrettably unobtainable, as it was an audiobook...

Age rec: Honestly, I want to call it MG as well as YA. It's a fairly clean, fast-paced, exciting and mind-bending tale. It won't rock anyone's world, but it's good as books go. My main issues were that, in emotional situations, the characters do air some fairly strong language - and there's some talk of questionable behavior, but it's only approved of by a vile and obviously unsavory character, and Claudia is entirely incensed by the notion.
With a warning for the above, though, I would give it to a ten-year-old.

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