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Incarceron
Catherine Fisher
Dial, 448 pages

Incarceron
Catherine Fisher
Catherine Fisher was born in Newport, Wales. She graduated from the University of Wales with a degree in English and a fascination for myth and history. She has worked in education and archaeology and as a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Glamorgan. She is a Fellow of the Welsh Academy and she lives in Newport, Gwent.

Catherine Fisher Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dan Shade

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In John Carpenter's movie, Escape from New York, every inch of Manhattan Island is a maximum-security prison. All the bridges have been blocked and, once you're incarcerated, you never get out. Incarceron is of the same concept but more. You may never get out of Incarceron but you may not even know you are in prison. Generations have lived and died within the walls of Incarceron and may have forgotten they are in prison as it is the only life they've known. Incarceron is intelligent and can produce anything it needs. There are even those who believe that some prisoners are the children of the prison. Mainly these would be the prisoners with a metal limb or some other artificial part of their body. Needless to say, Incarceron is a place to stay away from.

Our story begins with Claudia, the Warden's daughter who is soon to be married to Prince Casper, son of the ruling Queen. Claudia appears to be 15- or 16-years-old. Our other character of main interest is Finn, a 17-year-old prisoner.

Perhaps I should start further back. You see, the King had two sons but when the eldest was five or so, he fell sick and died. Or so the rumor goes. There is plenty of doubt about what actually happened to the King's eldest son. Most think he was killed but Claudia thinks otherwise and the plot of the book mostly concerns Claudia's efforts to save the eldest son, Giles, and avoid marriage to the younger one, Casper. Casper is a silly, spoiled, selfish boy. Claudia and Giles were betrothed just prior to Giles's death. He was a smart, kind and handsome child.

Everyone in this book lives an a chosen period or era of the past. After the years of rage, of which we are told nothing but one can assume it was a war of some type, the government decided to return to a simpler period in history. They chose to take their society back to the days of knights, ladies, castles, and moats. I suppose they believed this to be a good period because people lived in their caste and there was no aspiration for a peasant to be King. It was impossible to climb the social ladder so one was thought to be satisfied with one's lot in life. Servants were happy to be servants and stable boys were happy to be stable boys. Not Claudia. She is not happy to be queen if it means marriage to Casper.

Finn, on the other hand, is a prisoner of Incarceron. He and his companions believe they have discovered a way to escape from the prison and throughout the book they keep moving towards that goal. Finn's friends are powerful and therefore able to protect him. This is important because he blacks out at times and has visions. The visions seldom make sense because they are really memories of life before he was incarcerated. No one fully accepts that Finn once had a life outside of the prison but they believe him enough to help him try to escape.

This society has technology far in advance of our own. They keep it hidden but powerful people, like the warden of Incarceron, use it frequently. It was their technology that was able to spawn a "living, thinking" prison. Sometimes the technology is used to do simple things like provide the backdrops of rooms. There is no evidence in the book that the common citizen has access to any technology at all. Apples are picked by hand and fields plowed with horses. Even medical science seems to adhere to the period. In all, it seems a foolish idea to me.

Returning to Claudia, she believes that Giles is alive and is certain she knows he is being held in Incarceron. Claudia, with the help of her personal tutor, Jared, hatch a plot to break into her father's office and find Giles. She is indeed successful in gaining access to the warden's office and what she discovers there is truly surprising. Shocking, even. Were I to tell you more the book would not be worth reading as I would be giving away the biggest surprise.

Character development is great as one comes to hate the Warden as quickly as one comes to love Claudia. Plot-wise, the story moves a bit slowly. It seems to take forever to accomplish the smallest of things. This could be because the society is so regulated and Claudia is watched over so carefully. This is not a complex book either. It primarily concerns itself with Claudia's plans to find Finn and Finn's efforts to escape. There are no real subplots. However, it is very clear at the end that a sequel will be forthcoming (besides I checked Amazon.com).

Copyright © 2010 by Dan Shade

Dan Shade is a retired college professor who loves to read young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But he doesn't draw the line there. He also enjoys writing science fiction and hopes to publish someday. In the meantime, you can find him at lostbooks.org (under construction).


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