"Incarceron" is a mixture of fantasy, science-fiction, ya romance, dystopia, steampunk and mystery.
I know it seems like a lot of genres blend in into one single book and that's exactly what it is. The author just couldn't decide which genre will take the lead so every once in a while we find ourselves in a completely new category.
At the beginning we are following two separate stories that will slowly blend in into the main storyline. Incarceron is the name of the prison. Not your everyday prison. This prison is unique. It is a living, conscious and intelligent creation. It was made to hold all the criminals and offenders along with the sapienti (wise men, men of knowledge and discipline). They would be locked in, never to get out. They would form a perfect society where there is no shortage of any kind and where there is only freedom and happiness. Of course things turn sour pretty soon. Even though no one knows why. So, this prison turns out as hell on earth where there is only misery, fear, starvation, survival etc. You get the drift.
The first story is about Finn. He is a prisoner but he doesn't feel like that. He feels like he came from the outside. He has no memories before he was fifteen and woke up in a cell. Everyone tells him that he must be the child of the prison because nothing goes to waste here. So every organic material is re-used just like food or metal. There is no garbage or waste. Despite knowing all of this, he doesn't yield to those accusations. He has seizures and during those horrible moments he regains some of his memories back. Only a small fracture but enough to make him believe that he had a different life before coming here. He goes on a voyage of getting-the-hell-out-of-here with his friends, Keiro, Attilia and Gildas. Well... even though I say friends, I really mean companions because they all have different motives and feelings. Anyway, Finn is in a possession of a crystal key that will decide his fate.
Claudia is the the main character of a parallel story that we are following. She is the daughter of Jon Arlex, the Warden of Inacerceron and she is soon to be married to Casper, a little pompous idiot that doesn't do much other than being stupid and chase after women. His mother is the evil queen (no one knows who she is, where she came from and what exactly she is) called Sia and she is the ruler of this land. Claudia has been raised for this role but she was suppose to marry Giles, a kind prince that unfortunately died at the age of fifteen while riding his horse. Now, she doesn't want to become the wife of an evil, selfish Casper so she is trying to wiggle her way out of this predicament. At one point she brakes in into her fathers study and steals a crystal key. Soon, she realizes that she can hear voices on the other side.
Crystal key will be the link between Finn and Claudia. It will help them overcome some obstacles and learn more about each others world.
So... where to begin. Let's start with the Incarceron. The prison was supposed to be dark, gloomy, fearful, vengeful, cruel, difficult... And it was all that, but only in saying. We learn that not by descriptions or tales or events or legends but by prisoners using those terms. I know this is a young adult book but teenagers are not so fragile as they may seem so please use more descriptions on cruelty, torture and evil side of this evil, ever-watchful mastermind. Or don't use it at all. It could have been a normal prison. It would serve the same purpose.
Then the history of the world and backgrounds of characters. Points 0. Why? Because we have nothing but an empty shell of a hero of the story and a young woman who can't decide which side of her is her true side. Is it the one absolutely everyone see (including her master sapienti Jared while making her hologram, and the poor man that saw her on Giles' 7th birthday and all of her staff... they all see her as a spoiled, egocentric person) or is the one she imagines she has. Her father and the queen are evil. Evil. That's it. Why are they evil and what have they done and what lead them to this, nothing. Well if the author said evil we must trust her. The rest of the characters are either dull or bland. Two characters that I liked were Keiro, a good-looking man that follows his head and has a realistic view of the world and Jared, a sapienti who helps Claudia and stands up to the most powerful people in the kingdom.
About the romance. There was none!
Steampunk? Not really, perhaps wanna be. The author did use metal trees and bronze leaves and a flying ship. But none was really well described and there wasn't much of it.
The kingdom. Everyone must live in a kinda medieval age where there must be no progress. People will live in this frozen era. Because the king said so. No description available on how exactly people make their interiors match this era. And why is everyone going along with it. And how the hell does this gorgeous palace really look like. The descriptions are really rare on the subject matter.
Finn and his past and memories. Is he really the lost prince? We have no idea, nothing is resolved. Atillia acting like a puppy for the majority of the book is kinda funny but it gets kinda boring. Who exactly is keeping those archives so neat and tidy in Incarceron? We don't know. How exactly does this key work so it can bring people through dimensions? We don't know. There is light and here you are. Why are the sapienti so worshiped? What have they done to earn it? We don't know, but they go to Academy. How the hell can Casper with his bad appearance and awful behavior get so many women? We don't know.
All in all, the idea was great. And that's where it all ended.