Since the first Harry Potter book burst onto the literary scene more than a decade ago, there’s been an explosion of fantasy literature for young people. Many of today’s teens grew up with Harry Potter and, along the way, have become avid fans of the genre. These discriminating fantasy readers have a lot to choose from these days, and this season brings some wonderful new titles from around the world.
Unlocking a mystery
First published in England, Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron is a thought-provoking, original tale about a secret prison unlike any other: Not only is the gate sealed, but the prison itself is alive. The world inside the prison is dark, violent and terrifying, especially for Finn, who cannot remember how he came to be there. From time to time Finn has shadowy memories of a time before he was inside Incarceron, yet he can never quite piece his past together. All he knows is that he has to try to escape, even though legend has it that only one man has ever reached the outside world.
And in that outside world lives Claudia, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. While she lives Outside, Claudia is trapped in other ways: by an arranged marriage to a prince she despises, by her tense relationship with her harsh father and by her entire society, which has been virtually frozen in a past era. When Claudia and Finn both find a crystal key, they discover the ability to communicate. Claudia suspects that she has uncovered something else as well: the secret of Finn’s true identity. With Incarceron, Fisher creates a world of danger and suspense that will keep readers ensnared.
Faeries, vampires and lunatics
Holly Black, the talented and best-selling author of Tithe and Valiant, is releasing her first collection of short stories, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Some of the stories have been anthologized in other collections or echo the author’s other works. There is an amazing range here, in both the stories and the settings, which take readers from castles to cities to a boarding school. “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” is a chilling tale about vampires, while “In Vodka Veritas” tells the story of a boy at a boarding school coming to terms with his sexuality.
Black has a gift for creating the kind of edgy, original stories teens love. She describes this collection as “rather like a lunatic cocktail party: a poisonous girl, who spends most of her undeath arguing with her ghostly sisters, a costume designer still mourning a childhood lover stolen by faeries, a wolf who might also be a prince, and a teenager who needs to drink herself into oblivion to keep from craving human blood.”
A classic quest story
Australian author Melina Marchetta, winner of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award for Jellicoe Road, now tackles fantasy in Finnikin of the Rock, which won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel in Australia. Finnikin was just a boy when the kingdom of Lumatere was overthrown and its royal family murdered. Some citizens of Lumatere, including Finnikin, were sentenced to exile, while others have been confined in horrible conditions in refugee camps where fever reigns. Without a true heir to the throne, it seems impossible to break through the curse that binds all those who remain inside the walls of Lumatere and overturn the imposter king.
But then, 10 years after these terrible events, Finnikin and his mentor Sir Topher are summoned to escort a young novice named Evanjalin, who claims she can walk in her sleep through the dreams of the people of Lumatere. Has she seen the lost prince, who may yet live? Can the curse be broken and justice restored? Finnikin is not sure, and moreover, he finds Evanjalin’s often unpredictable behavior challenging—and sometimes just plain annoying. Yet together with Sir Topher, they set out on a quest through the Land of Skuldenore with the hope of restoring justice and healing the suffering of the people of Lumatere.
This is a wonderful, engrossing reading experience with strong characterizations and a rich, fully realized setting. Marchetta is a marvelous storyteller, and the many fans of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy will find this to be not only a book with echoes in our contemporary world, but an engrossing page-turner that begs to be read in one sitting—and then read again. Finnikin of the Rock has all the makings of a classic.
Deborah Hopkinson’s newest book for young readers is The Humblebee Hunter.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
Finn is a Prisoner, trapped in the sentient prison Incarceron. Claudia, daughter of the Warden, has been raised to privilege in a technologically sophisticated society that has chosen to artificially re-create a simpler, seventeenth-century-esque "Era." Fisher's dystopic future, in which technology and decay coexist in a dazzling kaleidoscope of images and time periods, is brilliantly realized in this elegant, gritty, often surprising novel. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2010 #1
Finn is a Prisoner, trapped in the sentient prison Incarceron, where he survives by being the craziest, most fearless fighter in the gang-like Comitatus. Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, has been raised to privilege in a technologically sophisticated society that has nonetheless chosen to "retreat into the past" and artificially re-create a simpler, seventeenth-century-esque "Era." When Finn gets hold of a crystal key, he, his oath -- brother Keiro, and a fanatical wise man make plans to escape from the hellish Incarceron; meanwhile, Claudia's arranged marriage to the brutal Prince of the Realm approaches, and, in order to find a way out, she and her beloved tutor Jared must uncover her ruthless father's secrets. Claudia finds a second crystal key that allows her to communicate with Finn, and the novel's two worlds begin to intersect as its twin mysteries slowly unravel. Fisher's dystopic future, in which technology and decay coexist in a dazzling kaleidoscope of images and time periods, is brilliantly realized; the intriguing sentient prison adds an element of mech/steampunk to the narrative texture. Although the pacing is deliberate, reader attention never flags through this elegant, gritty, often surprising novel. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2010 January #2
A far-future thriller combines riveting adventure and masterful world-building with profound undertones. Finn cannot remember anything before awakening in the vast sentient prison called Incarceron, but he is sure that he comes from outside its hellish confines. Claudia has known nothing but luxury as the daughter of Incarceron's Warden; but she dreads her imminent marriage to the caddish prince of the Realms, which are trapped in a static reenactment of a pre-technological past. In parallel narratives, each discovers a chance of escape in matching crystal keys. Their separate quests gradually intertwine with increasing suspense, cresting in a series of shocking reversals and revelations. Claudia and Finn and their assorted companions are complex and comprehensible, engaging reader sympathies even as they mislead and betray each other. Elegant prose and precisely chosen details deftly construct two very different worlds, hinting at layers beneath the glimpses the tale permits; attentive readers will hear echoes of classic tales, resonant with implications about the meaning of stories, of faith and of freedom. Like the finest chocolate, a rich confection of darkness, subtlety and depth, bittersweet and absolutely satisfying. (Science fiction. YA) Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2010 January/February
An alternate universe, a prison, and more; the adventures, magic, danger, and relationships draw one in, rooting for Finn to survive and escape from Incarceron, while also desiring Claudia to leave her prison where she is being forced to marry against her will. Unbeknownst to Finn, he was betrothed to Claudia at a young age, a promise that Claudia remembers well. Escape, courage, love, and coming to terms with one?s own sense of right all occur in this fantasy novel. While the protagonist is 17 years old, younger readers will be drawn in as age is rarely an issue. Finn, along with his blood- brother and an aged Sapien, manage to escape despite many obstacles. Friendships are formed in an alliance to achieve the ultimate goal dreamed of for centuries?escape from Incarceron. Claudia is striving to leave the enforced, restricted life of the past her town lives in. A bit confusing and dry of a read, this volume can be enjoyed by those who desire more Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, or Percy Jackson. Recommended. Sara Rofofsky Marcus, Electronic Resource/Web Librarian, Queensborough Community College, Bayside, New York ¬ 2010 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 December #1
Fisher (the Oracle Prophesies series) scores a resounding success in this beautifully imagined science fantasy set in a far future where, many years earlier, civilization was artificially frozen at late-medieval levels in order to save the world from dangerous technologies. Simultaneously, all of the world's malcontents and madmen were sealed into an unimaginably vast, sentient prison named Incarceron, where a dedicated group of social engineers intended to create utopia. Claudia, the brilliant daughter of the cold-blooded warden of Incarceron, has been raised from birth to marry and eventually control Caspar, the simpleminded heir to the throne. Finn, a young man without a past, is a prisoner in Incarceron, which has become a hideous dystopia, an "abyss that swallows dreams." When Claudia and Finn each gain possession of a high-tech "key" to the prison, they exchange messages, and Finn asks Claudia to help him attempt an escape. While he negotiates the hideous maze of the prison, Claudia makes her way through the equally deadly labyrinth of political intrigue. Complex and inventive, with numerous and rewarding mysteries, this tale is certain to please. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)[Page 49]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Gr 7 Up--Finn is a denizen of Incarceron, a sentient prison in which generations of inmates struggle and fight for survival. Finn, however, is certain he comes from somewhere else. A strange tattoo and vague memories have convinced him that he comes from Outside. Claudia is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. Technology has been outlawed and society returned to a feudal time replete with rules, including arranged marriages. When the Queen and Claudia's father conspire to have her impending marriage to the heir moved forward, Claudia vows to do whatever it takes to avoid her fate. Finn and Claudia both acquire mysterious crystal keys that allow them to communicate, and it begins to be clear that each may be the other's way out. On the surface, Incarceron is a fast-paced if dense adventure that pits Finn against the prison and his fellow prisoners and Claudia against her father, her fianc, and her society. If that were all, it would be a truly excellent fantasy novel. By delving into the philosophy of imprisonment and the development of society; discussing how history informs the present; and exploring self-awareness and sentience in nonhuman characters, Incarceron becomes something of a tour de force. The history of both Incarceron and Era are explored through excerpts from imagined legends and archival documents at the start of each chapter. The novel's length and complex plot may be daunting to some, but fans of steampunk and epic fantasy alike will be anxiously flipping pages and awaiting the sequel, already released in the U.K.--Karen E. Brooks-Reese, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA[Page 110]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.