Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stone walls do not a prison make

I was so enamored of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron when I read it last year that I spent some time poking around some Scottish bookstores last June looking for its sequel, Sapphique. It wasn't in stock, since it was two years old, so I settled for Philip Reeve's sequel to Fever Crumb, A Web of Air (which I haven't found time to read yet ... the perennial problem of books you own v. books you borrow). Anyway, back to Sapphique ...

Incarceron is a sentient prison, created by a group of intellectuals to humanely house their society's wrong-doers. Their idea was that prisoners would be free to live, educate themselves, toil at satisfying work ... except for the fact that they can't leave, it's a paradise. "Outside" -- the non-criminal world -- the society has decided that it will live without technology (even though it has the capability) in an idealized 17th century called the Protocol. But Incarceron is not humane, it's survival of the fittest. And Protocol is a stultified surface, beneath which is corruption and struggles for power.

In Incarceron, Claudia -- daughter of the warden of the prison -- tries to avoid an arranged marriage. Through a crystal key, she finds that she is able to communicate with an inmate named Finn, and she slowly comes to believe that he is the rightful heir to the Protocol's throne. He successfully escapes Incarceron, but leaves his best friends Keiro and Attia behind. At the end of the first novel, Claudia's father disappears into Incarceron as Finn escapes it.

In Sapphique, Finn attempts to establish his claim to the throne, while trying to solve the puzzle of helping his friends escape the prison. The inmates believe in the myth of someone named Sapphique, the only person who -- prior to Finn -- managed to escape Incarceron. As Finn toils to adjust to life Outside with the help of Claudia and her faithful mentor Jared, Keiro and Attia search for Sapphique's glove -- reportedly the item that helped him escape. But Incarceron knows what they are up to, which makes their quest very dangerous.

I wanted to like this more than I did. I like reading connected novels, but I do find myself frustrated by authors who assume I can remember all the salient plot details of the early volume(s). With Sapphique, I felt like I was flailing through much of the beginning. The novel's action really doesn't get going for quite some time -- there's a lot of Keiro and Attia working their way past various Incarceronic pitfalls, and a lot more of Claudia and Finn trying to outmaneuver their enemies at court. And then there's a seriously trippy ending. I also listened to it in a very leisurely fashion (taking two weeks), which is really not a good idea. The author says that her idea was too big for one book, so she made it into two. I'm thinking that it was more like a book and a half. There's a lot of filler in here.

Considering how many children's and teen audiobooks I listen to, I'm surprised I've never heard Kim Mai Guest read before. She has a youthful sounding voice, but reads skillfully. She can create individual characters who sound natural, and she does a good job with this novel. The characterizations seem pretty spot on: Claudia is described as haughty and Guest's interpretation is perfect, Keiro is a loud braggart, Jared is collected and intelligent and his physical pain is clear in his voice. Her narration isn't flashy, she competently guides us through this complicated story.

This is my tenth audiobook this year, which means I'm halfway to Obsessed at Teresa's Reading Corner's Audiobook Challenge. It also puts me two books ahead of last year's listening at this point (with almost 14 hours more time ... not that I'm keeping track or anything). I'm like those kids who grab their Summer Reading gameboard on the opening day and fill in all the spots right away.

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Narrated by Kim Mai Guest
Listening Library, 2010. 11:58.

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