Nov 11, 2010

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.

"Incarceron is a prison unlike any other: Its inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal forests, dilapidated cities, and unbounded wilderness. The prison has been sealed for centuries, and only one man, legend says, has ever escaped." (excerpt from front-cover flap).

I have been branching out in my reading--browsing the "teen" section in addition to the "young readers" shelves at Barnes and Noble. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher, is a book I found on the "recommended" table in the teen section. I'll admit, I chose it mainly because of the cover--it's shiny, and there's a key on the front. Everyone finds old keys interesting. Probably because a key provides access to something secret. In the case of Incarceron, it's the key to survival.

The story begins with Finn--a 17-year-old inmate of the never-ending prison, Incarceron. But he hasn't been there for seventeen years. He believes he came from Outside--the fabled Outside. Most people believe there's no escape from Incarceron, but Finn has visions. Visions of what he believes are memories from his life Outside.
Urged by his oathbrother, the ancient beliefs of an old Sapient, and the desire for freedom, Finn takes the key he found by chance and attempts to lead the group out.

Enter second main character, Claudia:

A Queen-to-be through an arranged marriage, Claudia lives Outside. Her father is the Warden of Incarceron. When she finds the key to Incarceron and, through it, a boy named Finn (imagine that?), she takes her future into her own hands. She wants Finn's help and Finn needs hers. Through their communication, can they escape their own prisons?

This book is pretty. I like it on my shelf. But that's one of the only things I like about it. It has a creative name, a promising plot-line, and I like the character Claudia (a lot). But I got a little lost (perhaps Incarceron trapped me inside and I didn't know it). I will expound in a moment, but first, let's take a look at the positives (other than the shiny cover):

As is required of all fantasy/speculative fiction authors, Fisher has a deep imagination. Forests of metal, a prison that speaks to its inmates, and crystal keys. I was fascinated through the first half of it. Claudia is a very well-rounded character and, though the book switched between her point-of-view and Finn's every other chapter, I craved the Claudia-chapters like cheese on toast. Her relationship with her father (the Warden) is thrilling, chilling, and baffling--in a good way.

Finn's character is a little weaker--he seems flimsy and I sped through the Finn-chapters only to reach Claudia-chapters sooner. But they soon leveled out and both points-of-view held my interest.

I lost interest around chapter 27, when the writing fell into a whirlwind of confusion. Sometimes a reader picks up a book, push through pages of bewilderment, and then the story levels out and everything falls into place. I'm afraid Incarceron peaked in its mayhem, but it never leveled out again. I never reached a place of complete understanding. Instead of picturing the scenes like paintings on my inner eye-lids, I was left with an imagination of swirling grey mist.

Closing the book came as relief, not disappointment--which is not the feeling a reader wants after pushing through 442 pages.

On a Christian level, there are a few issues:

1) There are the little things such as swearing, killing, suicide, brutality, and alcohol (I hope you caught my sarcasm). The swearing seemed a little out of place--like it didn't fit right with the dialogue or the scene. There's nothing worse than when swearing sticks out like a sore thumb that's been hit with the hammer twice instead of once. The killing and brutality, strangely, remained at an "age-appropriate level", I suppose. Personally, I've never liked much gore and grime, and have little tolerance for it. Other readers are born with steel stomachs, so it really depends on the reader.

Nowadays, descriptions of pain and death have turned into entertainment in books and movies. We left the habit of attending Roman arenas and just replaced it with artificial pain and death...which only numbs us to the real thing. So, on a mini soap-box, I will say that gruesome descriptions, excessive death and torture, and heartless killings don't agree much with the taste buds of my imagination. And I'm not thrilled when they crop up excessively in teen literature.

All that to say, Incarceron is not excessive in these areas of violence, but the violence is still present. I don't think it's edifying, but it's not on the point of 100% damage to the young one's mind. Aka. it's a risk.

2) Incarceron speaks to its cellmates. It speaks in their minds, it knows everything about them, and it's evil. Scary. Controlling. It made me think of God, but God portrayed in an evil, scary, and controlling manner. For the younger reader, this may paint the picture that anything that speaks to your mind is trying to control you. Which is not true. We interact with God through every aspect of our bodies and souls--our words, our minds, our feelings. And He is not trying to control us.

My main concern is confusion for the young-reader. If the prison, Incarceron, is acting similar to how we believe God acts (knowing everything about us, seeking us out, speaking to us), but in a negative way, what is to stop the reader from forming a negative view of God? So readers and parents, please use caution.

As all books do, this one comes down to readers' personal preference. I can only encourage discretion and strong spiritual backbone. :) My recommendation? Not really.
It's not edifying, it's not fulfilling, and though it may be interesting to an extent, I don't think it's worth it much. The cover may be beautiful, but if you look closer you will see that its main colors are dark. The inside is not much different.

Violence Level: ***
Romance Level: *
Christian Focus: *
Readability Level: **** (too confusing, got a little lost in descriptions)
Story Depth Level: ***
Recommendation: ** (low)

For a more detailed explanation of the above ratings, visit the 6-Point Nutshell post.

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, releases 2014 from Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at

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