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Monday, June 13, 2011

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Let's just say that I'm sick of fantasy novels.

Paranormal fantasy is the worst, in my opinion. Back in 2005, a book entitled Twilight was published. I enjoyed it thoroughly, it's always good to experience a little bit of everything (especially book genres!). But then it was proven that too much of something is never a good thing. Along came a slew of other novels all about werewolves, vampires, ghosts, faeries, demon-hunters, and MORE vampires. The fantasy revelation/take-over had begun. I'm not too keen on mythical creatures, so let's just say my patience has been tested these past few years. There are a few diamonds among the rough, (Harry Potter anyone?) but the paranormal fantasy trend has gotten out of hand with it's copy-cat ways and endless fandom.

I'm being quite harsh aren't I? My point is, I think the quality of fantasy novels has gone down in the past few years. But my view had been shaded by vampire fiction, and remember how I mentioned diamonds in the rough? Well, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has the potential to be one.

It is like a Chronicles of Narnia adventure with both parts fairy tale and grit, except Fisher's novel kept me wanting to read. (My apologies to the great C.S. Lewis!)

It takes place in the future, where the rulers of the world have decided to stop progress. There are no new inventions or technology known to the public, and the world has gone back in time as if they were living in 19th century England (perhaps?) But among this world, is Incarceron, a gigantic, mysterious, confusing labyrinth of a prison like no other. It's millions of inhabitants live in realms of metal forests, dark holes and caves, worn down cities, and other eerie places. The prisoners have no conscience and do what ever it takes to survive, while dreaming of escape, even though they aren't sure if there is an Outside or not.

We meet Finn, a young prisoner who can't remember anything about his past. He has faint memories of the Outside, but the others say that it's impossible for anyone to get in...or out. He has visions and is known as a starseer.

Claudia is a girl who lives on the Outside, and she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She has grown up in luxury, but is doomed to an arranged marriage to an awful prince, who will one day rule the Realm.

When Finn comes across a mysterious crystal object that could possibly be the key out of Incarceron, he, his devilishly handsome-yet-wicked oathbrother Kiero, a wise old Sapient named Gildas, and cunning slave-girl Attia all set out on an epic journey in hopes of finding escape. Claudia finds an identical object, and is able to communicate with Finn inside the Incarceron. They must help each other escape. (Finn the prison, Claudia her arranged marriage.)

But this will be no small task. Because Incarceron is alive. It breathes and speaks and watches it's inhabitants every move. And it will do whatever it takes to keep it's prisoners locked inside.

The story itself is spilling over with mystery, suspense, and danger. Fisher knows how to spin a tale, no doubt. The first few chapters are rather confusing, I felt lost after reading the first, but felt that the quality of the writing was so good, it would be a shame not to give it more of a chance. I'm glad I did. Readers who possess imagination will love the idea of the ultimate labyrinth full of realms and beasts and fascinating characters. Secrets are unraveled, and at one point they actually caused me to gasp out loud.

The downside to the constantly moving and mysterious plot though, was that I was always a little confused, mostly in the end. Not enough was explained, so now getting a hold of the sequel is on my To Do list. But I also had trouble understanding the multiple identities of the characters, picturing action scenes, and occasionally some of the places in Incarceron, though at other times it so perfectly described I felt that I was there inside the gritty metal world.

I wish Finn's character was built upon more. I liked him, the fact that he was a good guy in the hell that was the prison made me. The other characters I felt I knew well, but Finn is such a vital character, he should have had more depth.

Despite the flaws, this book is worth your time. It's beautifully written and sensual, and the plot was well done. Switching constantly from Finn's and Claudia's points of view was a way that the author added loads of suspense and plenty of cliff-hangars. Anyone with imagination will be intrigued. This book made my view of fantasy a more positive one.

Expertly planned out, Incarceron will keep you guessing as you turn page after page.
3.5/5 stars

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