Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

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Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Beautifully imagined and realised, this novel of future regression is rich with strong characters, big issues and a compelling plot. It is a barnstorming piece of serious fantasy that doesn't put a foot wrong.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: May 2007
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0340893609

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Incarceron is a prison - the prison - of the future. Sealed away, it is believed by those on the Outside to be a paradise, the ultimate in rehabilitation theory. A century and a half previously, all criminals and dissenters were sent to Incarceron along with seventy of the Sapienti, a caste of mystics, scientists and healers, in order to create a paradise from a hell. But it didn't work. Incarceron is a sealed world of savagery where dreams of escape are the only crumbs of comfort. And in a place where the prison has taken on a life of its own, what hope is there? One young prisoner, Finn, has visions that give him hope. He is determined to escape.

Outside is also a prison. Technology has been rejected in favour of an authoritarian and feudal regime which insists on everything in Era - a peculiar regression to the age of lords and ladies, courtly manners and transport by carriage. The court is a place of intrigue and plot and politics and the only one who knows the truth about Incarceron's failed experiment is its Warden. Claudia, the Warden's daughter, is caught up in an arranged marriage and an assassination plot.

When both Finn and Claudia find identical crystal keys, they are able to communicate with one another. And they set upon a path that will make Incarceron and Outside collide...

Interestingly, Incarceron isn't set in a particular future - it could be Earth, it could be some fictional world - but its themes are both universal and specific. Liberty, free speech, propaganda and the search for both personal truths and the truths hidden by those in authority are very contemporary issues but also represent age old debates. You can see Alan Garner in these themes, but you can also see adult writers such as Margaret Atwood. In fact, a lot of the time, Incarceron reminded me of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in its world's rejection of technology and insistence on archaic and feudal relationships.

The narrative is tense and fast-moving with a real atmosphere of menace and the twin worlds juxtapose wonderfully to create equally failing environments. The Prison is a Mad Max world of feral and failed industrialism while the Outside is stifling, corrupt and unequal. Escaping from one to the other is really little more than leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Yet there is hope, and it lies in Claudia and Finn. Their journeys of personal discovery may well be filled with pain, but they are the path to a better future. And it is this bildungsroman aspect of Incarceron which is its real hook. By the end, readers are desperately rooting for Claudia and Finn in a barnstorming rollercoaster ride. I loved it.

At over four hundred pages, Incarceron is perhaps too long for some of the youngest fans of fantasy, but its smart pace and strong characters will captivate almost any keen young reader of ten and up. Older children will take a great deal from the underlying themes of authoritarianism, propaganda, corruption and future regression.

My thanks to the nice people at Hodder for sending the book. We also have a review of The Box of Red Brocade (Chronoptika) by Catherine Fisher.

Lene Kaaberbol's Silverhorse is also set in an indeterminate world of future regression and has equally beguiling characters.

Booklists.jpg Incarceron by Catherine Fisher is in the Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children.

Booklists.jpg Incarceron by Catherine Fisher is in the Top Ten Books for Young Readers That Feature a Passage Between Worlds.

Booklists.jpg Incarceron by Catherine Fisher is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Teens.

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