I wanted to have FEELINGS about this book but I am mostly feeling fly-in-the-room irritated, where it’s not that big a deal and it’s not that big a deal and STOP FUCKING BUZZING I WILL END YOU. (Edited to add: nope. Upon further consideration, it would appear that I have FEELINGS after all.)
All you need to know about the plot is that Once Upon A Time those in power sealed every criminal and degenerate and political undesirable and probably also a couple of village idiots into Incarceron, which is a prison but also alive and no one has been in or out since, and everyone on the Outside is convinced that the Inside (full of criminals and the descendants of criminals, you may recall) is now a Paradise because LOGIC.
(Also, you can tell that this is not one of those futures that Might Actually Happen because Incarceron is ‘the noble sacrifice of the world’s last reserves of energy to save the unredeemable, the poor, the despised’ and if you look at where we’re expending our energies now, you KNOW we’re not offering the last of it to Those People.)
So. It is the prison and everyone is sort of dirty and bad except Finn, about whom I have no real strong feelings except that he is a Special Special Snowflake amidst a heap of that day-old snow by the side of the road, where it’s all brown and there’s dog shits in it. Basically I am bored of him.
Claudia, on the other hand, is sort of my main beef, because she sucks. I mean, she’s a spirited, beautiful, wealthy (and probably coltish) young lass who flees her suitor by clambering up a tree like a common urchin. SUCH TOMBOYISH CHARM. Such disregard for How Things Are Done! And strong heroines are de rigeur right now and they SHOULD be, but you have to actually make them resourceful and clever and shit, not just ciphers.
Like, everyone keeps telling her how brave she is, but then she’s looking for Jared’s (her token wizard-person) room and it’s KIND OF urgent and there are servants everywhere getting ready for the wedding but she’s scampering around, ‘not daring to ask one of them where Jared’s room was.’ Because they are so busy, the servants. And they aren’t SERVANTS whose JOB it is to SERVE you. Including tell you where shit is. And then they find her dad’s office and it’s Mysterious and Jared is like, Something is not right in here and we should probably figure it out and she’s all, NO THANKS IT’S DENNNNNGERIZZZ I’M OUT OF HERE. Brave little wench.
(Claudia’s relationship with her dad is a whole other ball of what. Because he’s Traditionally Stand-Offish, Fairy-Tale Style and then at one point she’s like, How can he do this [make her marry Prince Caspar] if he loves me? And I’m like, YOU MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW YOU SPENT THE ENTIRE BOOK UNTIL NOW ARTICULATING HIS COLD RUTHLESSNESS DID YOU FORGET ABOUT THAT. And then it gets dumb and goopy near the end in ways I am too tired to dissect but which are not properly set up and which left-field you, but not in the fun way.)
Ok and then there’s Caspar, son of the new queen (who is beautiful and powerful and therefore A Bad Person) and whom Claudia is to marry. And she’s all like, UGH HE IS THE WORST. And I get that having your marriage arranged for you when you don’t really like your fiance kind of blows. But Caspar isn’t the villain here, even though Claudia is like, He is the worst person ever. In fact, I present to you that she is the worst person ever. Because Caspar comes to find her in the garden upon arrival at her house (which is kind of nice) and she hides from him (which is mean) and he is like, Claudia, I am lost in your stupid hedge maze! And then has his manservant hack his way through and is like, Oh there you are. Say, isn’t marriage going to be a bore? And I am like, HA HA YES, this fellow.
And then they feast and Claudia is like, Caspar continues to suck by eating and drinking a lot and talking about tournaments and his horse and boar-hunting, which are not things I enjoy and are therefore rubbish.
So she ‘had listened with a fixed smile and had teased him with odd, barbed questions that he had barely understood’ and I am like, WHO IS THE MASSIVE JERK HERE? That’s right, Claudia, it’s you. Caspar may be kind of a pompous ass but you are an ass ON PURPOSE.
Ok and then a bunch of adventury stuff happens and Claudia finds Finn in the prison and wants to bring him back because he is SPOILER the rightful heir (son of the good queen who died, not the bitchy queen who wants to rule and have power and things) and Attia (a girl Finn rescued because he is So, So Heroic) is all like, ‘You don’t really care if it’s him, if he’s Giles. All you want is to not marry this Caspar!’ And Claudia is like THAT IS NOT TRUE *RIGHTEOUS THUNDERING INDIGNATION* but because I am the kind of person who reads books with my eyes and remembers them with my brain, I recalled this scene when (29 pages later) Claudia is like, ‘Look, all I want is not to marry Caspar.’ And characters can have contradictory motives, but that has to be what is happening, not just that you forgot what you were doing.
And then there’s this tasty bit of writing:
“‘You cannot be blamed.’
By no one but herself, she thought bitterly.” UGH Claudia, even your THOUGHTS are grammatically terrible. By ANYone but yourself, you mean.
And at one point they end up at a guy’s house and he has these glass globes with birds and things trapped inside them and she’s like, ‘It’s as if he’s made cages for them all’ and I am like, No, those are LITERAL CAGES.
And Claudia aside, the book is too much like an old-timey RPG, where you acquire objects and knowledge about two screens before they will be useful to you. Jared discovers that this Key Finn & Co have can hide you from Incarceron and communicates that to Kiero just before they have to hide to rescue Finn, and then Attia, who has not been pre-tasting Finn’s food up to this point, grabs an apple from him and is all, I’m your food-taster, remember? And he’s like, Yes, and I’m like, NO I DO NOT REMEMBER THIS and lo, the apple art poisoned. You have to sow your seeds earlier than that, is what I’m saying.
So on all available hands, blech. On the other, sneakily hidden hand, it did give me this line: ‘The Warden sat opposite him, his black satin breeches creasing elegantly.’ Hee hee, black satin breeches! OH LOOK HOW ELEGANTLY THEY CREASE. What does that even mean?
I am so bothered. Four caterpillars.