I just finished Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. There was a review on io9 about a month ago, although it’s been out for a couple years now. It looks like it’s recently been released (or re-released?) in the U.S., so maybe that’s the explanation for all the latest excitement.
There are two main characters in the novel: Claudia and Finn. They inhabit two different worlds. Incarceron is the prison that is believed to contain a perfect utopia but is actually a vast, seedy underworld of cells, corridors, forests, and seas. The outside world contains a technologically advanced civilization that has reverted to seventeenth century traditions to maintain certain social constructs. Finn is a teenage boy who cannot remember more than the past few years of his life in Incarceron, and begins having dreams and visions of another life. Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, a prisoner herself of an arranged marriage, and determined to uncover her father’s secrets.
The story itself is exciting, the characters are well-developed, and there are several twists and turns on the way, but for me, Incarceron itself was the most interesting thing coming out of this book.
First of all, I wasn’t expecting to start reading a YA fantasy/SF novel and find myself being confronted with the image of the Panopticon. Taken right from that Wikipedia article, “the concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched.” Incarceron is a Panopticon. Since prisoners of the Panopticon don’t know if or when they’re being watched, they live in a constant state of paranoia.
The imagined physical and social structures of both Incarceron and the outside world are actually really interesting to read about. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the novel.
Off on a hunt for more YA dystopian novels… I’ve just put a hold on The Hunger Games at my local library.