Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The premise of Catherine Fisher’s sci-fi, dystopian, mildly steam-punkish novel is a good one. In the world outside, time has been frozen so that everyone has to follow Protocol which means living in a vaguely medieval time where most people are delegated to serfdom and a select few make up the rich gentry. The world inside, enclosed in a self-aware prison called Incarceron, is a bleak one where no one gets in, no one gets out, and men band together into thieving, murdering groups against each other.
I was incredibly fascinated by the idea of Incarceron. It was developed as a way to handle criminals, murders, and all of the scum of society. Wise men devised a self-aware world that should have been a paradise, where health care was free, food plenty, and everything self-sustaining. By some unexplained twist of fate, Incarceron changed from that idealized world into the scary, nightmarish world of the book’s prison.
Unfortunately, that’s not what the book is about. The book is about a privileged, spoiled girl who learns of the prison and a certain boy trapped inside of it. It’s about her mission to free him from somewhere that supposedly no one escapes from. On paper, this sounds like a grand adventure, but it was hard for me to care for the main characters. Of course, I wanted the boy to escape Incarceron, but as the book went along, I began to wonder if the outside world was any better than the world inside the prison.
The novel’s a strange mix of fantasy and science fiction that it’s worth reading just for that. Fisher builds such strange worlds that it makes me sad to think of how good the book could have been if only her characters were just as fleshed out. Incarceron has a few “whoaaa…” moments, but towards the end, even though it was supposed to be a cliffhanger, I just didn’t care enough to even read the jacket copy of the next book in the series.