Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
borrowed from library
Summary from Goodreads:
Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons.
A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists.
But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born ...
The world-building in this exciting dystopian novel is pretty amazing. The reader follows the story of Finn, a prisoner in Incarceron who doesn't seem to be like the other prisoners and Claudia, the wealthy, pampered, educated daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. The world is pieced together for the reader through the alternating narratives.
The world that Claudia inhabits is beautiful and wealthy - happy and serene on the surface -- but underneath there is constant resentment and playing what Claudia refers to as The Game -- acting the part required of her. The Protocol must be enforced at all times -- this seems to have been in response to the state of the world after excess technology, war, pollution, over population, etc. A decision was made to send the criminals and other undesirables to the new prison Incarceron which was supposed to be a perfect world where there would be no need for crime, etc. The need to stifle creativity and innovation and rebellion resulted in an artificially created and enforced historical period to become the norm for the rest of the population. It appears to be 17th or 18th century style - with all the requisite corsets, bindings, restrictions on technology in order to keep people controlled. This despite the fact that technology has obviously advanced far beyond the period.
Finn and the other prisoners of Incarceron live inside a prison that is alive and watches and controls them and their environment at its whim. There are various gangs within the vast dimensions of Incarceron and Finn and Keiro his oath brother belong to one of the lowest and most violent of groups. Through Finn's experiences the reader gets to see just how wrong the experiment has gone. Those on the outside believe that the prisoners are living a wonderful life in a perfect world. They couldn't be more wrong. The inside of Incarceron is vast - bigger even than the inhabitants know. The prison has devolved into various areas of conflicting and competing gangs. Life is brutal and short.
I really liked the way the two different worlds shared a type of mythology or legend even though there were big differences in what was remembered. For example, Sapphique is a legend inside Incarceron but is little known on the outside except for a group of rebels. This was a very tense, fast-paced book. I really enjoyed it and I am really looking forward to the next book, Sapphique.