Book Review: “Incarcercon” by Catherine Fisher

Title: Incarceron

Author: Catherine Fisher

Warnings: PG 13 for violence and swearing.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STRONG, HONEST OPINIONS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I have long held the opinion that when you are reading/reviewing a book, the question that you should be asking is not “Is this book good/bad/decent/awesome?”

Rather, the question should be “What makes this book good/bad/decent/awesome?”

In the case of Incarceron, there are many different factors that make it awesome. The best thing about this book? All of these factors come together to form a cohesive whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The story is a dual narrative, alternating between  two worlds that Fisher balances  wonderfully. Finn is the amnesiac “seer” of a gang within the living prison of Incarceron. Claudia is the entitled daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, attempting to escape an arranged marriage within the equally restrictive society of Outside. At first, there is very little that connects them, but as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that they are, in fact, rather intimately linked. Joined by allies such as Jared, Keiro, and Attia, Finn attempts to find a method of escape from Incarceron, while Claudia investigates its mysteries and discovers that she is far more entangled in Incarceron’s web than she initially believed.

Overall, the plot was a little bit predictable, the dual narrative a bit fiddly, but it was, for the most part, a lovely read. The brilliance of this book is that its strengths far outweigh its flaws, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the sequel, Sapphique.

Pros

  • The worldbuilding alone is gorgeous. Obviously, Fisher is an adept in this department; she has a deft touch that permeates both the restrictive Era-focused society of the Outside and the chaotic and cutthroat environment of Incarceron. Her through knowledge of mythology and history also shines through, and her ability to weave these small references into her narrative is astounding.
  • The concept of Incarceron as a being in its own right is neatly executed. I love that it kind of has its own personality, rather than being a faceless rumbling beast ala The Devil in season 2 of Doctor Who.
  • Jared. The dude is a Badass Bookworm despite the fact that he’s got a death sentence hanging over his head. Sickly academics don’t have a whole lot of survival potential in vaguely dystopian/steampunk worlds such as this one, so I’m already steeling myself for the moment that I have to watch him die.
  • Keiro. Keiro’s one of those rough-and-tumble types who give tough love a whole new meaning, but he really does seem to care deeply about the people around him, particularly Finn/Giles. I would like to see him get some POV time in Sapphique, as I feel there is really some untapped potential in his character. (Also, I could totally see Keiro/Attia being a thing, oddly enough.)
  • Claudia. Claudia is the type of girl I like to read about– strong-willed and smart, if occasionally a bit rash. The twist to her storyline was wonderfully executed, and I’d love to see what Fisher does with it from here on out. I’d also like to see Claudia get more chances to be a badass in book 2, just because.
  • Fisher’s fast-paced prose and neatly executed — if slightly predictable– plot are, along with her worldbuilding, the best technical aspects of the book.  And the last line is pitch-perfect!

Cons

  • The dual narrative is jarring at first, and since I was far more into Claudia than Finn, there were places where I’d see that the next chapter was Finn’s and just roll my eyes. Starting around page 105, the POV’s started to become more cohesive, and from page 137 onward, it works.
  • The Queen. As a villain, she was frankly unimpressive, more SnowWhite!Evil Queen than the level of character that I’d come to expect by the time she appeared.
  • Finn can sometimes come off as a bit whiny and unlikeable, and the Finn-is-Giles plot was definitely one of the weakest and most predictable. I’m hoping that he grows more of a spine in book 2, and that he becomes involved in some slightly more complicated subplots.
  • The POV occasionally changes from what appears to be third person focused to third person omniscient without much warning, especially toward the end.

Star Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars out of 5.

Final Grade: A.  Would reread. Will definitely read the sequel(s).

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah Brand
    Jan 11, 2012 @ 21:28:52

    Great review, Emma! I was in a fairly terrible mood when I read Incarceron last summer, so maybe I’m being unfair, but while I liked the book overall, I wasn’t convinced by the worldbuilding. Mainly I just found it incredibly hard to believe that people would voluntarily go back to a pre-industrial lifestyle and give up all the benefits of modern technology. Maybe it was explained and I just skimmed over it, though.

    Reply

    • emmajmcwill
      Jan 11, 2012 @ 22:45:18

      Thanks! I did question the Era-readiness of the people, but dismissed it as some sort of quasi-religous phenomenon, as if the whole world had just become Mennonites or something. It’s iffy, but I love the almost!Regency/Victorian setting so I’m not complaining.

      Reply

  2. Briana
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 04:11:50

    Awesome review! I was also super in love with the world-building. I think my favorite part was that it was a fantasy that felt completely and totally different from anything I’d read before. Also, sentient prison. I mean, seriously? Why yes, you did just reach a new level of awesome.

    I’ve read Sapphique as well, and I quite liked it as a continuation to Incarceron. Lovely.

    Reply

  3. Miss Anderson
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 14:43:53

    Admittedly I didn’t read most of this review because I have not read the book and you gave me a spoiler warning (which I appreciated!). I did read the top part and I did skip to the end to see that you gave it an A. This book has been on my radar for some time, so this review is making me consider reading it sooner rather than later. It sounds like an interesting concept!

    Reply

    • emmajmcwill
      Jan 15, 2012 @ 14:51:39

      It is an interesting concept– I actually can’t go into discussion of that in-depth, because the spoilers are kind of inherent to the plot. I’m glad to know that you’re considering reading it, though. It’s definitely a cool read and I have high hopes for the sequel.

      Reply

  4. Trackback: March Required Reading « The Librarian Who Doesn't Say "Shhh"

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