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Book review: 'Incarceron' by Catherine Fisher

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

INCARCERON

By Catherine Fisher

This Story

Dial. $17.99, ages 12 and up

Finn lives Inside, in an enormous, labyrinthine prison. Claudia, the prison warden's daughter, dwells Outside, in a stifling realm of stiff gowns, horse-drawn coaches and plans for her arranged marriage to a petulant prince. Each finds a crystal key through which they learn of the other's existence and a shared hope for escape. Cue the happy ending, right? Except that nothing, including the final scene, is as it seems in this eerie, elegant fantasy. What of the warden's digital timepiece, so at odds with the 17th-century setting? What of Finn's flashbacks to a royal birthday party Outside? Claudia's link to a secret political group? And then there's the prison, Incarceron -- a former utopia, now strangely alive and malevolent. It allows no one to enter or leave.

Further texturing these mysteries are the short letters, legends and decrees that open each chapter and hint at a distant, tech-savvy past. Suspense builds as the narrative cuts between Finn and Claudia, the former desperately searching with three companions for a way out, the latter just as desperately trying to outwit her father, duck the wedding and help them. The minor characters, with their veiled, complicated motives, prove as intriguing as the teenage protagonists. Intricately plotted and richly imagined, this novel holds the attention as inexorably as Incarceron holds its prisoners. The surprise ending will leave readers clamoring for the sequel coming in December.

-- Mary Quattlebaum


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