Incarceron: not quite

Incarceron book cover Flipping randomly through Ferretbrain archives I came across an extremely enthusiastic review of Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron, so I decided to give it a go.

In terms of characters and concerns, it’s standard issue – if suspenseful – dystopian YA. But it has some unusually evocative settings, especially given the novel’s relative brevity. (I finished it in about 24 hours.) Fisher skilfully teases the reader with richly suggestive glimpses of texture and scale, situating the characters between knowingness and confusion to create a believable mix of the nightmarish and the pedestrian, in a way that reminded me of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron. This is not a comparison I make lightly. Let’s just say I have spent an implausible and probably unhealthy amount of emotional energy pining after the long-overdue Grey sequel.

Unfortunately, Incarceron‘s sequel – Sapphique – accentuates its worse features, while diluting the wonder and adventure that sustains the first book. It’s easier, as the mystery of the universe initially unfolds, to overlook the thinness of the characters and their relationships, as well as the way the political scheming teeters about cliche. This is harder to forgive in a story extended over a second volume. It doesn’t help that Sapphique telegraphs its own weaknesses in this department with a jarring early description of some unsympathetic characters as “effete” (really, Fisher?), and by inexplicably overplaying the hostility of one female protagonist toward another by having her use the word “bitch”. Reading it, I felt invited to share in a kind of archetypal gendered jealous rivalry which the substance of the characters’ relationships never quite bore out. These false notes don’t sink the books on their own, but they leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, especially when Sapphique fails to distinguish itself as well in the realm of ideas and atmosphere.

Taken together, the two book are engaging enough reads, but sadly not at all what the high praise at Ferretbrain seemed to promise.

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