That was the first time he had heard the Prison laugh.
He shivered, remembering it now, a cold, amused chuckle that had echoed down the corridors. It had silenced Jormanric in mid-fury, had made the hairs on his own skin prickle with terror. The Prison was alive. It was cruel and careless, and he was Inside it (p 30).
Each chapter of Incarceron opens with a note: a private letter from the Queen, a project report from the inventor of Incarceron, a quote from a book within the story of Incarceron. They tease you, giving you glimpses into the world of Incarceron.
The layers of reality in this book can be confusing. There is Incarceron, the prison, fashioned from a world that has just passed through the enigmatic ‘Years of Rage’. Incarceron is made to rehabilitate criminals, political dissenters, and other societal parasites. Created by the intellectual elite, the Sapient, Incarceron is meant to be a paradise, a beautiful mix of organic and mechanical material in an enclosed world.
Meanwhile, on the Outside, people have decided to discard the advances in medicine and technology that led to the Years of Rage in an attempt to create their own paradise.
We will choose an Era from the past and re-create it. We will make a world free from the anxiety of change! It will be Paradise!
— King Endor’s Decree
(p 15, heading)
Now they live in a fabricated world of strict Protocol that forbids the use of washing machines and more advanced, futuristic items like a skin wand. It all adds up to a thinly veiled harsh reality and pretense that Sapients on the Outside ignore, creating new technologies in secret.
Incarceron is completely cut off from the Outside world that created it – save for the Warden. But where is it? Below ground? In space? No one knows, save the Warden, and he does not share its secrets.
Told in alternating chapters, readers follow Finn as he desperately tries to escape the hell that is Incarceron and the Warden’s daughter, Claudia, the king’s betrothed. A fascinating read that touches on issues of reality, prisoner rehabilitation, the inherent wickedness (of goodness) of man, the philosophy of self, and much more.
This one is also on Early Word’s Mock Printz list. I think it has a good shot. It’s a unique, layered book with excellent writing.