Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Catherine Fisher

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke. Incarceron takes this principle to create a futuristic vision of a prison world that looks a great deal like a historical fantasy.

Incarceron is a prison world which nobody can get in or out of. Conditions are grim inside, where gangs of people prey on others for survival and brutality is unchecked by civilisation. The prison has all-seeing eyes installed everywhere, and it is run by an artificial intelligence which can impose lockdown when things get out of hand.

We meet Finn, a young man willing to take risks to get what he wants. He suffers visions and memory loss, so that he's not sure whether he had a childhood or if he was born fully-formed as a child of the prison itself, a so-called "cell born". He's tight with Keiro, his cynical and ruthless oath brother. When the pair of them came into possession of a key they hope it will open the doors of Incarceron and allow them to escape, if only they trust each other enough.

On the Outside, Claudia is the rich daughter of the prison's Warden. The world she lives in is stuck in a curious mock-17th century era, where visible future tech is taboo. It's a world divided starkly by class, where the ruling class might secretly break the "no tech" rules, but everyone else must endure the old-fashioned world. Claudia is confronted with an arranged marriage she doesn't want, and with it the prospect of living at the Queen's palace with all of the political wrangling that would involve.

Instead, Claudia is determined to discover more about the hidden world of Incarceron, in spite of her fear of her father, who told her not to go looking, and in spite of her distrust of the Queen.

This is an involving story with a good degree of adventure and excitement as the main characters navigate very different worlds that are both adversarial. Incarceron is a decaying place where both the occupants and the AI that runs it are hostile, and life is a constant struggle for survival. Legend has it a man named Sapphique was the only person to ever escape the prison. Claudia's struggles may be more gentle on the surface, but the stakes for her are high as she tries to cope with political skulduggery and remain free. The story holds some well-planned surprises, as well as a great deal of tension as the characters try to figure out who they can trust and who will betray them. This is a great story and an impressive feat of imagination.

23rd February 2018

Book Details

Year: 2007

Categories: Books

  YA     Science fiction

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Review ©

Source: own copy