“’We are dying, Claudia. We must break open this cell we have bricked ourselves into, escape from this endless wheel we tread like rats. I have dedicated myself to freeing us. If it means my death, I don’t care, because even death will be a sort of freedom.’”
Praised as one of the best, if not the best, YA Steampunk book around today, I would have to argue with that title.
Setting is a major factor in this novel, which is why I don’t understand the publishers labeling this under YA. There is no whiny romance triangle that is underdeveloped. What you think might be one is actually nonsense. The characters aren’t actually motivated to do dumb mistakes and get by with the skin of their teeth like Stark in Sandman Slim. No, the only category that would make them fall into YA is that the protagonists are predominately young adults, teenagers.
Other than that, this should be a Steampunk novel. It fits the criteria, more as a Sci-Fi than the crazy Fantasy genre Amazon and Goodreads tack it under.
Back to setting; Incarceron, the book’s namesake, is the major setting of the story. It’s a prison, futuristic and alive, like Frankenstein at the time. See the Sci-Fi influence yet? But this place is a gritty, dark world boxed in from polite society. Ever had that feeling something’s watching you? Well, it could just be the red Eyes and you’re Inside….maybe inside your head.
Aside from Incarceron, where the POV of Finn takes place, there is the Realm, which is best described by Protocol as 18th century Britain. You have the frockcoats and carriages, the knee high boots and grand dresses. Wigs and such dot the perfect place, or so it seems.
Best said, Incarceron and the Realm are both sides of the Romantic period of writing, Dark Romanticism like Poe and regular Romanticism that nobody cares about, cause we all want something evil. I loved Incarceron, just the beautiful imagery Fisher evokes from her deft writing style.
Truth be told, this is one of the most well written YA books I’ve ever read. People harp on how bad YA is, and to some extent I agree. The writing is dumbed down many times for the young reader. But Fisher doesn’t fall into that trap, save for the many, many adverbs. That was my one critique on her word choice.
Another fault I found with the book was I never connected with the MC, Finn. He was made out as a lying man on the edge trying to survive in the dark depths of the prison. Only once did he ever lie, ever do something that would fall under GrimDark. Plus, he had no depth, no defining characteristic, though I did like the beginning where he wakes up finding no memory of his past and proceeds to cry like a blubbering baby. Realistic. I loved it.
Kiero, on the other hand, was a great rogue, very likeable. He was arrogant at times, antagonistic with his best friend, Finn. But that’s what made me enjoy Finn’s parts; it meant I could read about Kiero. Gildas, though, was intolerable. He’s a man on a mission, an elderly gent who is so single-minded on this one task it pushes into annoyance. Characters saw it like this and I was actually glad when he left at the end. Good riddance, especially when he had to Escape specifically like his hero, Sapphique.
Before I mention the second POV, Claudia, I must touch base with this marvelous character shrouded in myth and mystery, Sapphique.
At the beginning of each chapter, the reader finds a little world-building at the first page. Usually, it has something to do with this man, this demigod without god parentage. And as we near the end, he becomes a tragic hero; we glimpse at what he is, the broken man who found paradise. But the mythology of him adds even more to Fisher’s grand world-building, making Sapphique one of my favorite “mythological” men in genre.
Back to Claudia. At the beginning, she came across as a devious girl too curious for her own good, and not in the good way. I didn’t like her. But as the Warden and Caspar entered the picture, she started to grow on me. I looked forward to her parts, even if I had to break away from Kiero.
Plot wise, I guessed a few twists, but some came at me from left field. They were great.
If you’re looking for a new world to delve right into, some place dark with a twinge of YA, just enough to add some aftertaste flavor, then I whole hardly recommend Incarceron. It may not be the best YA Steampunk book out there, but it’s still a beautiful place in its own way.