Writing - 3 out of 5
Felt like it needed a bit of work. Although the vocabulary and sentence structure was fine, sometimes the abstractness of what was being described made it a little hard to follow along with what was happening. In addition to that, content-wise, I feel like some of the details were a little fishy. Some things came off as obvious far too much in advance for my liking (this happened at least two times on major plot points) and then you have to sit there and wait for things to happen. I feel like some things could have been cut out because they weren't really necessary, and other things seem like they're oddly thrown in. Characters don't quite fit, scenarios make little sense. Honestly if it wasn't for those excerpts of letters or poetry at the beginning of each chapter, I feel like there'd be no method at all to this madness. And truthfully, the writing makes me question if there is any that's worthwhile at all.
Setting/World - 3 out of 5
Conceptually, I love both of the worlds immensely. From the small fragments of what we get about Incarceron and the normal everyday world, it sounds ridiculously delicious and fascinating. -- But the problem lies in the execution. -- See, we get mentions of the "Years of Rage" and talk about "The Era" and "The Protocol" and stuff like that. But what were the Years of Rage? What happened then? What's this "Era" that we're all living in now? Or is it not now? And then from the excerpts of poems and whatnot at the beginning of each chapter, I get the info that apparently Time, as in, TIME ITSELF, has stopped? Is this literal? Does it apply for reality? There were mentions of people TWO HUNDRED YEARS OLD. But then we don't get an explanation of that either! Listen, I'm all for this super technologically advanced thing, and you have these weird abilities that apparently let you fabricate youth and also change the appearances of... your... houses? ...yeah I'm completely lost. I can't bash you to hell on this, Catherine Fisher, because I really, really, really like these ideas you have! But you don't take the time to explain any of it enough so your readers know what the heck you're going on about! Which really stinks, because it looks like you might have something epic here! I'm disappointed. And I'm really sorry that I am.
Plot - 1 out of 5
Once again, I feel like the problem isn't the idea, it's the way that it was written out. I truly adore the idea of Incarceron and this Time-stopped world, but it... it just falls through! So BADLY. We spend so much time on details that I don't think even need to be in there. And then the story ricochets from one random thing to another, and there's no logic to anything at all! I want a story that isn't crazy whirlwind CHAOS. I want a story that's crazy whirlwind masterful PLANNING. Laid out on a course that at least is VAGUELY followed! Here, in this book, we don't even know what we're doing half the time! Okay, I get it. The people inside want to get out, and the girl outside wants to get out of a wedding. ....THE HELL DO THESE TWO THINGS HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?! And I know, I know that you tie it all up together in the end. But it feels forced and it feels wrong. Like a puzzle whose pieces don't mesh but are being jammed against one another and made to fit. It was really not a fun read if you were reading it solely for the plot. If the concepts were taken away and this was the plot? I would not touch this book. Sorry.
Main Character(s) - 2 out of 5
They felt crumbly. Like cookies that look nice on the outside but when you pick them up you feel the grease instantly rubbing off onto your fingertips and you see how the crumbs and dust are flaking onto the plate and all over your hands--and it's just a mess and not the high quality you thought it might be when you first laid eyes on them. That's what Claudia and... wow. Forgot the male main's name after just reading 442 pages about him. ...that is not a good sign. *Looks it up in the book* Ah, right. Finn. Aaaanyway. Both these characters have their own objectives, but through all the chaos that goes on around them... I'm more interested in what's happening to them than them. I don't care about their reactions, or if they die. I care about the people surrounding them in Claudia's case, and the environment and exploration in Finn's case. I honestly couldn't give a rip about these characters. They're not bad characters in terms of weakness. But they're just... flat. There's really nothing special about them. And truthfully there are too many interesting things going on when it comes to Incarceron for me to care about them at all. So, moving onwards!
Side Characters - 4 out of 5
I'm rating them this high out of pure generosity, and because I'm madly invested in the stories of some of them. Once again, I'm unfortunately going to write off all of the side characters on Finn's end of things. However. On Claudia's side, I can't begin to tell you how fascinated I am with her father John Arlex, the Warden of Incarceron; her tutor, Jared Sapienti; and best of all, Incarceron itself (although it can be argued Incarceron is a main character).
When it comes to the Warden, I'm the most disappointed, unfortunately. The author doesn't give him a lot of time to shine, and builds him up to be a very strict character. Whenever he appears though, his presence is so masterful and influential that it always sends chills of delight through me. Unfortunately at the end the author tried to jam in some "character development" for him in a "confessional" sort of way. It came off very fake and forced because it felt rushed. Which is a shame since I felt it personally detracted from his character. However, even then, he's a fascinating enough character that I truly hope I get to see and hear more of him (since I'm pretty certain there's a sequel to this book already out).
Next on the list is Jared, who is a wise, physically sickly, youthful sweetheart. He's got this strange gentleness about him that I love. The fact that he's your main source of information and the encourager of all the bad things Claudia does instantly lifts my opinions of him. But besides being the instigator and path to a lot of the fun stuff that gets discovered in the book, he's not much other use. Still, he's a cute guy in personality, and I found him easy to be fond of.
Lastly is my absolute love of this book, its namesake, Incarceron. It's vicious and twisted, cruel and deceiving. It is a world in and of itself, and yet it is still a living creature. It speaks, it thinks, and it feels.
I love it.
There's something so animal and so human about it at the same time. It's a living, breathing, monstrously powerful and insanely mortifying being. But my God, I want it. I feel almost a physical ache for it. This Prison! This Creature! It's so infinitely beautiful and fantastic a concept that I want to eat it up or throw myself into its constantly shifting embrace and show it how much I love it! And I'm fully aware these sound like the ravings of a madman, and I'm perfectly okay with that. Because there's something incredibly beautiful about Incarceron. Out of everyone and everything in this book, it's the one worthwhile piece of beauty. Its words are like hearing the most eerily longing, frightening music ever to lilt upon the air, ghost your ears, to make you shudder--in that instant, realizing the power and rareness of its beauty. If for nothing else, I love this book for Incarceron. It alone is worth my love. Because it's... amazing.
My final score for this book is 2.6, and out of respect to the author for her delicious concepts and ideas, my score was rounded up to 3 out of 5 stars.
Advice on Reading: I really think that for all the things this book doesn't do fantastically well, that it's still a good book and one worth reading. Personally, I would still consider having this book in my library. To me, sometimes amazing ideas are worth the not quite up-to-par story they're wrapped around in. But for everyone else, if the ideas aren't going to be enough for you, and just in case you find the story to be less entertaining for you than it was for me (because it's not a dull read; at least it keeps you going), then my advice is take it out of the library first. If you choose to add it to your collection afterwards, then that's fine. If not, well I hope you enjoyed the read for what it was worth. Remember! Sometimes the best things come in surprising and small packages. ;3
P.S. Sapphique and Incarceron = Best love story ever told. <3