Working with youth librarians has inspired me to pick up some children’s books and young adult novels that are quite appropriate for adults as well — Neil Gaiman‘s The Graveyard Book and Suzanne Collins‘s miraculous Hunger Games Trilogy, for example. Although marketed to younger readers, they sacrifice nothing when it comes to imagination, artful writing, and expert plotting. Like all good fiction, they have plot points open to interpretation, they beg for analysis, and, more than anything, they’re fun to talk about!
A book jacket quote from the The Times in London says it’s “one of the best fantasy novels written for a long time.” I agree with “one of the best,” but I would say this is more a work of science fiction.
Incarceron takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has picked itself back up with some unique solutions. Because of the devastation wrought by war and technology, people in the former UK live under a peculiar protocol of behavior and lifestyle (think Victorian England) in order to prevent change, technological progress and the possibility of future devastation. The idea is to create a paradise “free from the anxiety of change.” Another paradise is also envisioned: Incarceron, a prison that “could be no kinder or more compassionate (a) guardian for its inmates.”
The two worlds live apart and ignorant of each other, with each side believing the other is a paradise. This is far from the truth. Outside is stagnant, depressive and filled with dangerous political intrigue. Inside has become a downright nightmare that would be at home in a Harlan Ellison story.
Only the Warden of Incarceron knows where the prison exists, and the story revolves around the warden’s daughter Claudia and a young Incarceron inmate named Finn. The two find themselves with keys to the prison, technological wonders that allow them to communicate with each other. Scattered bits of memory convince Finn he has lived outside the prison, and he wants to escape. Claudia is convinced Finn is, in actuality, the “dead” prince Giles who was cheated out of his rightful title by her father and Giles’s conniving step mother, the Queen.
What follows is a trip of wonder, danger and surprise as Finn and his band navigate within the vast prison to find a way out, and Claudia navigates the deadly political games in the outside world. Surprise is the key word here, and readers can’t help but experience a jaw dropping moment when they discover where and what Incarceron is.
There be spoilers here: Three Oklahoma youth librarians discuss Incarceron in this podcast, and it’s a delight. Careful, though, if you’re planning to read the book. If that’s the case, better to devour this great novel, then come back and listen in on the discussion.