by Catherine Fisher
Dial, 2010. 442 pgs. Young Adult
Incarceron is a prison built centuries ago to contain troublesome people, but nevertheless to hold them in a perfectly nurturing environment where their society could grow to perfection into a sort of circumscribed paradise. But from the beginning pages of this rich and complex narrative, it is clear that things have gone horribly wrong. The Civicry and the Scum do endless, violent battle, as do various other tribes and societies. Deceit, greed, and betrayal are the common coin of the realm and only one man has ever been known to escape, though he never returned to tell how. Finn, 17 years old, has no memory of life before Incarceron and is thought to be cell-born, a native. When he and his fellow Scum ambush a party of Civicry, he comes into possession of a key that allows him to communicate with someone from the Outside, Claudia, the Warden's daughter, and gives him hope for escape. The problem is that Incarceron is not just a structure, but an organism, alive with malice towards and control over its indwellers. And Claudia herself is imprisoned in her father's cold calculations for an arranged marriage that take from her everything that she truly loves. Rich in character, setting, language, and action, Fisher's book is several cuts above much recent fantasy writing (winner of the London Times' Children's Book of the Year) and well-suited for older children, teens, and grownups.