Friday, March 26, 2010

For Hunger Games fans

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)

By Catherine Fisher
Dial, 442 pages
$17.99, ages 12 and up

Teens, kids and adults are biding their time and biting their fingernails waiting until the end of August for Mockingjay, the third and final Hunger Games book, a gripping series that's inspired nationwide buzz, a movie in the making and the creation of fan Web sites à la Harry Potter

Here's something to read during the wait: Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher, which has just been published this year in the U.S. but has been a sensation in Britain since 2007 where it was named the children's book of the year by the London Times.

Fisher's book is every bit as good, with all the excitement, intensity, adventure and complexity that makes a top-notch science fiction-fantasy novel. And the story is remarkable in its originality.

Incarceron is the name given to a vast self-contained prison of the future. It is so huge that it contains forests, seas and cities populated by warring factions. Half of the citizenry of this future time lives within this prison.

The other half of the population lives outside in a bucolic revisioning of the 18th century. By decree, every detail must be accurate to the era, down to the last sweetmeat and thatched roof, even if some of those details are created by computer backdrops and the genetic aging of oak trees.

The story weaves back and forth between two protagonists. Young Finn is a prisoner of Incarceron, who has no memories except for a couple of fleeting pictures. He is sure that he came from outside, even though the prison was sealed long before any of its current inhabitants were born.

Claudia, a young woman of privilege, is the daughter of the warden of Incarceron. She has been promised in marriage to the Queen's son, Caspar, a foolish oaf who she doesn't love – or even like. She did like his half-brother, Giles, whom she met as a child. He would have been her betrothed if he hadn't been killed in a riding accident. Or was it really an accident?

Claudia and Finn's stories continue on parallel paths with connections that gradually become apparent. The most powerful one is a crystal key. They each come into possession of identical copies of the keys, which contain complicated circuitry and have powers they can only begin to imagine.

Finn is convinced will help him escape from Incarceron. He leaves the Civicry, the thieving, murderous people he lives with in his wing of the prison, accompanied by ragtag group of fellow prisoners. Their plan is escape. Their hopes rest on the key, Finn, who claims to have seen the stars, and the legendary tales of Sapphique, the only other prisoner believed to have escaped Incarceron.

As the tale winds on, Claudia and Finn's fates move closer, and excitement and intrigue build.
Fisher has created wonderful, complex characters and a fascinating futuristic fantasy world with much to discuss and think about. As in Lois Lowry's The Giver, we must consider the dark side of utopia. Finn is in the literal prison, but isn't Claudia – engaged to a boy she despises and living in a facade – in one, too?

As in the Hunger Games books, this ends with a stunning twist and a cliffhanger. But good news for those crafty enough to use The sequel, Sappique, is available in England.

-Rebecca Young

1 comment:

Nikki Barnard said...

It is so huge that it contains forests, seas and cities populated by warring factions. Half of the citizenry of this future time lives within this prison.