**Shay will be on holidays for the month of July. Guest posts brought to you by Amelia. **
“In ancient statues Justice was always blind. But what if it sees, sees everything, and its Eye is cold and without Mercy? Who would be safe from such a gaze? Year by year Incarceron tightened its grip. It made a hell of what should have been Heaven.The Gate is locked; those Outside cannot hear our cries. So, in secret, I began to fashion a key.”
The world of Incarceron is divided into two groups of people: There are those Inside a living, intelligent prison, descendants of criminals locked centuries ago and constantly watched by its unblinking red eyes. Then there are those Outside, bound by the order of a dead King to live in a Period purposefully regressed in technological advancements, in the hopes that the distraction of life in a Renaissance-esque Era will prevent the creation of even more criminals to pollute their world. Claudia is the daughter of Incarceron’s Warden, obsessed with trying to work her way out of an arranged marriage with the prince. Stealing his key to the prison, she finds herself in contact with a boy named Finn, who was born Inside but somehow, impossibly, still has dreams of the stars.
The premise of Incarceron was what immediately caught me: an idea that blended my love for the identity politics of artificial intelligence and the commentary of dystopian worlds. While the world itself was interesting, with its illegal use of advanced technology to successfully sham the simplicity of medieval courts, the actual story fell disappointingly short. The two main characters, Finn and Claudia, are so set on escaping their respective confinements that they spend no time whatsoever actually engaging with these worlds, leaving the passing references to history, culture, politics, and even reasons for Incarceron’s existence vague and unsatisfying. My biggest disappointment was, in fact, Incarceron itself, as the sentient prison was repeatedly presented as clever enough to anticipate the movements and desires of its dwellers, and consciously shift its internal world structure to best attack their anxieties and fears – yet still only capable of holding simplistic and obsessive conversation when it was actually talked to. Fisher is, perhaps, simply laying out the groundwork for Incarceron‘s sequel, Sapphique, titled after a famous hero constantly alluded to in the first book. If that is the case, perhaps the two books would be better read in tandem, as this one can very easily leave readers wanting more, but not necessarily in the satisfying way.
What Incarceron lacks in world structure, however, is made up for in characterization. Claudia is a charming lead entirely because she is clearly not as charming as her appearance hints at all – and not in a loveable, roguish way, either. Trained by her father to have the intelligence and ruthlessness necessary to marry a prince and rule in a royal court, her lack of coyness in her selfishness and acts of manipulation are surprisingly refreshing rather than off-putting. Finn as well, though attempting to remove himself from it, is clearly a product of years surviving in Incarceron, and willingly allows himself to be influenced by his much more ambitious Bondbrother, Kiero. It is their personalities, rather than the physical and social setting, that most effectively capture the grittiness of a dystopian world. I’m hopeful for what Fisher can develop in Sapphique, but for readers looking for a more rewarding dystopian read, I would recommend something like The 5th Wave or Unwind (which I will be reviewing for this upcoming Tuesday).