As readers learned in Catherine Fisher’s first book of her mind-bending, two-volume prison epic, Incarceron, the living, breathing prison that gives the book its title, was allegedly created as an utopian experiment. Those on the Outside believe that life on the Inside is superior. However, from the first chapter of Incarceron, readers learn that this is false. The second volume, Sapphique, takes its name from the legendary prisoner believed to be the only person to have Escaped.

“Most of the characters Inside want to get out,” says Fisher. “The Outside believes the Inside is perfect, but it isn’t.” That duality is crucial from the beginning. Fisher also creates one significant character—who shall remain nameless—who was born Inside and lives Outside, as well as Finn, who believes he was born Outside and has wound up Inside. “A lot of the things that are in the story at the end were not conceived of at the beginning,” says the author.

Claudia, daughter of Incarceron’s Warden, also believes Finn was born Outside. She thinks he is Giles, the heir to the Outside kingdom who was betrothed to her in childhood. If she can help Finn escape, she can avoid marriage to the horrid Caspar. “Claudia’s looking for a substitute, so she latches on to Finn,” says Fisher. “Finn is an interesting character to write about. He’s not straightforward. I wanted to leave it ambiguous as to whether Finn is Giles or not. That’s resolved in Sapphique.”

The Outside has its own issues. Its rulers are obsessed with Protocol—its mechanism of shielding society from the dangers of technology. They constantly conceal the truth behind the reality they’ve fixed in place, creating a static world with its own limitations. “Both societies are a prison,” says Fisher. “Both are meant to be like paradise and are a hell. The other contrast is that in the prison everything is changing, and Outside nothing changes.”

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In Sapphique, Fisher probes the possibilities of “whether Sapphique ever existed, or if he is a legendary figure that people in the prison created out of a need,” she says. “He’s not known on the Outside. I see him more as an angel-like figure or a fallen angel, a culture hero, as we used to call them.” This is the sense of need or hunger that one character mentions in Incarceron (quoting the Escaped hero): “[Its] will is a hunger that can never be satisfied. An emptiness that can never be filled.” It expands even further in the second book. “They’re all questing for something,” says Fisher. “As we learn in Sapphique—even the prison itself is questing for something.”

 

For a complete list of fantasy and science fiction for teens featured in Kirkus’ Best of 2010, click here.

 

Pub info:

Incarceron; Sapphique

Catherine Fisher

Dial/Penguin / January; December / 9780803733961; 9780803733978 / $17.99 each