by Catherine Fisher
First sentence: “Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.”
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For some books, the plot summary comes easy. But as I was reading this book this past weekend, when people asked me what it was about, I was really at a loss. Mostly, I just said, “It’s complicated.”
It’s one part dystopian novel: Incarceron is a prison that the “Outside” designed for the refuse of society as an experiment. They meant it to be a Paradise, but over the years, it has degenerated into the worst of Hells. Finn has recently appeared; he was “cell born” — he has no memory of a childhood: he just appeared in Incarceron’s cells one day. He struggled to survive, and joined a group of thieves, becoming oathbrothers with a man named Keiro. Circumstances happen to push Finn, Keiro and a couple of others to attempt to escape, and the book is mostly their attempt to get out of Incarceron.
But, it’s also one part political intrigue: Claudia is on the Outside, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. She’s been playing her father’s game of power her whole life, matching him move for move in his quest to make her Queen. She’s not exactly happy about this; the current Queen is ruthless, and her son is a complete idiot; Claudia would have rather married the original heir, who died in an accident. The only person she can truly trust is her mentor and tutor, Jared. In her end of the game, she desires to know what her father actually does, and in the process finds a crystal Key and ends up communicating with Finn in Incarceron.
And yet, Fisher pulls it off beautifully. It’s difficult to explain, but while reading it, the plot makes complete sense. It’s a page-turner of a book; you have to see what happens next. The characters range from the sympathetic to the mistrustful, and yet you find yourself interested in their fates, invested in the outcome. Fisher has a talent for writing action; from the opening scene in the book, she has you completely invested in the book. In addition, the world she’s created is a fascinating one, something that is the product of a very creative imagination. And yet, there’s a balance between the world and the rest, so that neither dominates the book.
And all this means the only thing wrong with the book is that it’s the first in a series, and we have to wait for the rest.