Saturday, January 03, 2009


By Catherine Fisher.

I've had this book sitting around since June at least, and I only just read it. It's a weird hybrid of a spy thriller, adventure story, political intrigue, etc.: Finn lives inside Incarceron, an entire world built to be a perfect prison and lift its prisoners to moral perfection and happiness. The Warden of Incarceron lives outside in an enforced Era of technological poverty, while his daughter Claudia searches for the location of Incarceron and tries to plumb his other secrets.

What I liked:
  • Strong adventure
  • Cool gadgets
  • Characters aren't stupid
  • Possibly Christian themes: Incarceron failed as a utopia because men cannot escape the evil within themselves; forgiveness; loyalty.
What I disliked:
  • This story starts off looking like (soft) science fiction but at a certain point became completely incredible to me as anything other than a fantasy.
  • By the end almost nothing was resolved.
What I wasn't sure about:

I guessed almost every plot twist far ahead of time, if things so apparent can even be called twists. On the one hand, it makes me feel smart; on the other hand, maybe they were supposed to be so apparent. Or maybe I've read too many books of this sort.

In the end: A pretty good adventure story (complete with sailing ship sequence), but you'll probably want to have the second one (Sapphique) on hand when you finish. (You might want to keep in mind that these books are imports, not actually published in the U.S., but you can get them through Amazon.)


R.J. Anderson said...

Apparently I haven't read enough books of this sort, because I guessed hardly any of the twists and I didn't have a problem fitting the more fantastic elements into an SF framework -- Incarceron is a largely virtual reality after all, as is the world outside it, so I figured it was just a case of Clarke's Law in operation.

I'm just mad that it looks like there won't be a book three due to slackening sales in the UK. SAPPHIQUE was not a resolution, dangit. And I want my Jared/Claudia NOW.

Joshua said...

Well, if by virtual reality you mean an environment simulated by a computer, I didn't take either world in the book to be a virtual reality. Incarceron seemed to be more of a giant machine; the people trapped inside were physically there. (Unless something in the second book says otherwise, but I haven't read the second yet.) And the outside world seems to be mostly archaic, albeit with non-Era nanotech providing some magic (like when the dining room cleans itself up).

What really got me was the, err, physical location of the prison. When I reached the point where Claudia saw the animals I had more of an "Oh, that's stupid" reaction than "Oh, that's cool"; I hadn't seen any foreshadowing for such an excessive breach of physics.

I'm sad that there might not be a third book. Should I even bother getting the second one?

Something I forgot to mention in the review was the allusions to Clothos &c., Alice in Wonderland, and Tam Lin. (Were there others?) I wondered how significant they were supposed to be: the Fates seemed to be more for show than anything, and TamLin might have matched the color of Tam Lin's horse (I don't remember but it seems possible), but Alice in Wonderland seems like a clue to the nature of the prison.

And now, some SPOILERS about the twists I guessed: I guessed who Finn was (or at least who Claudia assumes he is) by the end of the second chapter, I think. And I guessed Blaize's identity as soon as he appeared with the airship, I think, although I wasn't sure for a little while. I didn't guess the location of Incarceron until the above mentioned scene with the animals, when it became obvious. I also didn't guess about Claudia even though it was obvious Attie was hiding something; I sort of forgot about it after that scene, actually.

So, two out of four: not great, but not too bad either.

R.J. Anderson said...

Oh, well, Finn's (possible) identity wasn't meant to be a great mystery, I didn't think. It was more a case of finding out how it happened and how he'd get back to where he was supposed to be. Mind you, I did think she did a decent job of muddying the waters in both this book and the sequel as to whether Finn really was who Claudia believed him to be, or just a facsimile manufactured by Incarceron. As for Blaize, I can't remember whether I was surprised by that part or not. I was too busy being surprised and intrigued by other things going on.

I would definitely recommend SAPPHIQUE, though. Maybe just because I'm a total sucker for this world and these characters, but it does have enough of a climax that you could sort of call it a resolution, though I'd much rather have a proper one in a third book because there are still a lot of plot threads that could be picked up.

And I've seen authors be pessimistic about the chances of a third book before, and still go on to write that third book anyway. You never know. I can only hope.