I went on an awesome road trip adventure a few weeks ago and needed an audiobook to pass the time, but all of the audiobooks I had saved up were meant for both me and Scott to listen to, so I was at a loss. I wandered the shelves of my various libraries as well as their OverDrive sites and found several candidates, of which this one ended up being the winner for its intriguing premise and YA-ness, which I presumed would make it an easier listen.
I was wrong.
I’m not sure what happened with this audiobook that I found myself completely lost at parts trying to figure out what had happened to cause what was currently happening, but I am really hoping it was a result of me paying more attention to the road than the story. But even the parts where I felt like I knew what was going on were a little weird, so… who knows?
The interesting premise is that there is a boy who lives in a prison called Incarceron, which no one enters and no one leaves — everyone is born there and dies there. But this boy, Finn, is convinced that he came from Outside and would very much like to go back there, because Incarceron is a hellhole. On the outside is a girl called Claudia who is the daughter of Incarceron’s warden and for whatever reason is obsessed with Incarceron. She manages to make contact with Finn and realized that he might be able to make her life better, if only she can get him out of there.
But it’s really really weird and complicated. Claudia’s world is de jure Victorian for no good reason, and the people in it believe that Incarceron is a utopian place despite the fact that it is called Incarceron. Finn may or may not be the rightful heir to the Victorian throne and former fiancé of Claudia, but he currently lives in a world of good and bad and has fallen in with the bad crowd. There are politics and intrigue all over the place, and considering how poorly I kept all the players and plots straight while driving, I’m not sure I could have done it sitting still and reading!
And then, just for good measure, there are all these weird twists and reversals that don’t make a lot of sense or are just kind of stupid. Spoilers ahead! Throughout the book we are told that no one can enter or leave Incarceron, but the warden does it all the time so… And then it turns out that the warden did put Claudia’s fiancé into Incarceron, but apparently by spreading his being all over the world? So Finn might have parts of the rightful heir in his DNA or whatever, but he’s not actually the same person? But then Claudia goes into Incarceron and stays just herself, so I’m unclear on why the original Finn had to be destroyed? And then we find out that Claudia was actually born in Incarceron and adopted by her father, so clearly people can leave, but only if they’re tiny? Oh, and Incarceron turns out to be this miniature place that the warden carries around in his pocket or whatever, and also it is alive and sentient but can only see what’s inside of it and is very depressed about this fact. As prisons are.
Unspoilers: There’s just too much. I feel like there are a lot of interesting pieces to this story (many that I haven’t mentioned here) that could have made really good stories on their own, or could have been saved for the sequels that I will never read, but there are just too many pieces for this one short book.
On the other hand, this book has won many awards and received many accolades from people who know books, so maybe I missed more than I thought I did?
Recommendation: For eyes-reading only, and probably better for actual young adults with the brainpower to keep everything straight.