This fantasy novel was recommended to my son (just turned 13) and since I’d never read it, we decided to do a Mother/Son review.
The synopsis: Trapped without any memories of how he got there, Finn is stuck inside a vast, living prison called Incarceron. Plagued by fragmented visions of his old life, Finn struggles to survive in the harsh, lawless environment Incarceron fosters. Claudia is the only daughter of the warden. He’s a ruthless and ambitious man. In a bid to increase his own power, the warden arranges for Claudia to marry the next heir to the throne, a boy she detests. Finn and Claudia find their paths converging in unexpected ways when they stumble upon a pair of magical keys. Soon it’s clear they will need each others’ help to escape the horrible fate life dealt them.
Son: The story featured lots of twists and turns that kept me guessing. Additionally, the characters felt real. Their desires and regrets are incredibly realistic, and as a reader, I could actually care about them as if they were alive.
Mother: I was less enraptured by the main characters. However I found several of the supporting characters engaging and I wanted to know more about them. Finn’s blood brother, Keiro, struck me as someone with a secret from the earliest part of the story, and I wasn’t wrong. Claudia’s determination to save herself, Finn, and the Kingdom she loves is admirable, but I never connected with her. She always seemed a bit cold and impersonal to me.
Son: There was one thing I did not like about this book: the violence. I know that the author wanted to make it clear that Incarceron was a dangerous and vicious place, but in the beginning, there was just too much of it, and it seemed mostly like unnecessary violence, such as kidnappings, betrayals, and one killing.
Mother: There are about half a dozen killings before the one my son noticed. I’m not sure what that says about the book. Did the author downplay the early killings too much? Did they mean less because they happened to characters we didn’t know that well? Also, the killing that bothered my son the most, while the most gruesome in terms of description, was a bad guy. The earlier killings were all innocents, just people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Son: Mom said when she started reading the book, she was unsure whether Finn and his friends were good guys or bad guys, a feeling I had too. I’m still not sure as many of the characters have both good and bad traits.
Mother: Absolutely true. These are not black and white characters. We see the seeds of good and evil in each one. This is something I tend to love in books. I don’t like my characters too squeaky clean. I’m also a fan of books with lots of characters, and on that score, the book didn’t disappoint.
Son: Besides that, everything else was very good, and I am now reading the sequel, Sapphique. I love it.
Mother: My son flew through this book and the sequel in a few days, whereas I struggled to stay interested and to finish the book. While I usually enjoy books told in dual viewpoints, this one didn’t mesh well. It often picked up a bit too far along in the story, and I spent the first few pages of the new chapter thinking I’d missed something and I should go back and reread. Although my son didn’t catch it, I guessed the big dramatic mid-book development of the plot just a few chapters in. So I felt let down rather than excited when my theory proved correct.
Mother & Son: We understand this book has been slated for a movie adaptation, and we both can understand why. The world building of the different prison wings is truly noteworthy. The book would make for some amazing cinema, and the fact that the characters read a bit distant (in Mom’s option) would be mitigated by casting some charismatic actors.
Mother: I think the book is best suited to hardcore middle grade or younger YA readers that don’t mind some violence in their stories. It’s also best for those who, like my son, are pretty easygoing about their fantasy books and don’t look too closely at the little plot holes.