Incarceron

[openbook booknumber=”9780803733961″][rating:5/5]

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.

Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, can’t remember his childhood and believes he came from Outside Incarceron. He’s going to escape, even though most inmates don’t believe that Outside even exists. And then Finn finds a crystal key and through it, a girl named Claudia.

Claudia claims to live Outside – her father is the Warden of Incarceron and she’s doomed to an arranged marriage. If she helps Finn escape, she will need his help in return.

But they don’t realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost far more than they know.

Because Incarceron is alive.

This book absolutely blew me away. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into yet another YA dystopian novel, especially one about prisons, but this wasn’t it. I was impressed by the depth and drive of the book and am glad this one joined the ranks.

Incarceron contains the story of a boy named Finn trapped in a prison where an entire colony of people have been kept for generations. Unlike the others though he has no memories of his youth there, instead he has flashes of a world completely unlike the prison, a world Outside that some in the prison don’t even believe exists. Meanwhile the warden of Incarceron lives in the outside world where people have deliberately chosen to live in a medieval time era, in the dark ages. His daughter Claudia feels trapped, by her skirts and her time, by her arranged marriage to the prince, by her father most of all who she both fears and loves. When Finn and Claudia both find a key that allows them to communicate they both immediately want to be free of their respective prisons, but doing so unearths more truths in their worlds of lies than either could have anticipated.


I remember a story of a girl in Paradise who ate an apple once. Some wise Sapient gave it to her. Because of it she saw things differently. What had seemed gold coins were dead leaves. Rich clothes were rags of cobweb. And she saw there was a wall around the world, with a locked gate.

This book reminds me a lot of the Otherland series by Tad Williams. This is like Otherland for teens, complete with very grown up and complex themes that are still not finished developing at the close of Incarceron, the first in a trilogy. The concepts of freedom and retribution, of punishment and justice are all very well done. This is definitely a thinking book in a lot of ways but also keeps that adventure spirit as you run around wandering what is going on.

I love that all of my preconceived notions of what a prison should be were blown out of the water by this book. I think it also addresses some issues with our own prison system. In this novel the prison is so large that there are vast forests and cities within it. Travel is dangerous and the prison itself has whims that can lead to the death of prisoners caught unawares in dark corners or wrong corridors. The social atmosphere was also very dark and frightening as people banded together to form gangs, cities, and in all cases ruled by fear and greed and not reason.

The outside world was also fascinating as they were trapped in their own way, though I thought it was a bit obvious that they would chose the dark ages to trap the people in. These people are bound by Protocol and are forced into old class systems and old sexist standards of dress and partially belief. The only women of power were those of the upper class. I loved the concept of a world where people clandestinely use technology while on the surface appearing to follow Protocol to the letter. It very much matches with the true politics of the time they emulate I think, if people in the dark ages had access to such. Curtsy and smile in the light while doing deals in corners in the dark.

My favorite parts would have to be the constant allusion to the concept of Eden. With the Sapienti as the serpents of truth and the people trying to will themselves into ignorance both Inside and Outside of Incarceron. There is also much discussion of whether or not mankind can even live in such a place anymore, or if we are too corrupt and now require our knowledge in order to survive.

In the end fans of Tad Williams that want to read a book that is not 1000 pages long will enjoy, as long as they realize this is YA. Teens who love dystopian and steampunk will probably dig this book as well. Anyone that does like this and wants to graduate to a much larger series I really recommend the Otherland tetralogy, starting with Otherland: City of Golden Shadow.

One Response to Incarceron

  1. Tif
    8:41 pm on January 12th, 2011

    I loved this one too! Totally unexpected and cannot wait to read Sapphique!

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