Friday, January 7, 2011

Book(s) Review: Incarceron and Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

I didn't have much time over the holidays for leisure reading, but two books that I did get to read were Incarceron and Sapphique by the Welsh YA fantasy writer, Catherine Fisher.  But I'm glad I had a chance to read these two, at least, because they were marvelous books.

Incarceron has a little bit of something for everyone; it is part steampunk, part fantasy, part fairy tale, part romance, and even part historical allegory (did you ever wonder why the industrial revolution, which was begun by the British, led to its fall from being the largest empire on Earth?  Read this book for one suggestion....).  The book deals with a world that has survived some terrible conflict and decided to prevent such problems again in two way:  (1) abandon its modern technology and return to its perceived "golden age" (similar to our notion of the Regency era) where nothing is every allowed to change and families are forever separated into aristocracy and peasantry; and (2) ship off all its criminals and nefarious characters to not just a jail, but a living prison world where the residents are engaged in a constant struggle to survive, battling not just each other, but the very prison itself.  In the book, we follow the travails of two major characters.  In the timeless world, Claudia, the daughter of the man in charge of Incarceron (John Alexis, better known as "The Warden"), is thrown into court intrigue when her forced marriage to an odious royal groom is pushed up to occur in just a few days' time.  Meanwhile, in Incarceron, the starseer Finn has to deal not only with the usual fight to survive, but with his loss of memory of who he is and with seizures that leave him with strange visions and physical incapacitation.

It sounds like a lot going on--and there is.  But the writing is clear, the plot moves along sharply and intelligently, and the characters are memorable but not overly complicated.  Fisher has created a very imaginative world (or worlds), and has taken some familiar themes in young adult fantasy literature and twisted them into some very unexpected directions.  Incarceron reaches a satisfying conclusion in itself, while leaving some major threads unresolved;  Sapphique is an equally interesting read, and wraps up the story but doesn't answer all the questions (and thus allowing readers to decide some matters for themselves).  All together, it was one of the finer books/series I read last year, and would be a contender for my Newbery list were it not ineligible since Fisher is not American by birth or residence.

In terms of its suitability for middle schoolers..... At the beginning, it was quite grim, and reminded me a bit of Reckless (see my previous post about that book).  However, the interplay between the two worlds lightens things up a bit, and the entire story is a little more hopeful, at least in my eyes.  So I think these books are OK for even younger middle schoolers, although I think older middle schoolers and teens (not to mention adults) would probably appreciate it more.

One warning:  even the simple descriptions about Sapphique contain a spoiler about Incarceron.  So if you want to read the series, I suggest skipping reading anything regarding Sapphique until you've finished the first book.  Also, I love the American graphics for these books (much more stylish and intriguing than the original English look--again, IMHO).  Here is  the trailer about Incarceron (don't you agree that it is gorgeous and really captures your attention?):

PS--There are plans underway to turn Incarceron into a movie. Hugh Jackson apparently has some involvement in the production, and Taylor Lautner is supposed to be playing the male lead. So be cool and read the books before the movie is made and everyone is on the Incarceron bandwagon (or not...)

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