Friday, 31 January 2014

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

I gave the first book in this series a bit of a light ride, because I was intrigued by the ideas, and thank goodness, it was something different in a mass of fantasy books that were decidedly running together. So although there were things left unexplained, relationships that seemed strained, I hoped those would be delved into in greater depth in later volumes, and let it pass. Unfortunately, the second book doesn't resolve any of the problems, and seems to be the end of the series, so, where am I left?

Slightly disappointed, that's where. This isn't a terrible book, it's just not as good as it could be, and that's frustrating. Her ideas are good, but Fisher too often goes for obfuscation instead of explanation, and while a little of that is fine, particularly if it's leading to a big and worthwhile reveal, vagueness because you don't have the concrete answers to give? Not so much.

So, in this book, we continue the strange story of the actively ahistorical Realm and the prison Incarceron, and...wait. No, wait a second. It's the prison, right? The whole story is about the prison and its relationship to the Realm, and how there's supposed to be no way out of Incarceron. And yet, we never see anyone sentenced to the prison. Are we really supposed to believe that once they exported all the criminals to Incarceron, crime magically ceased? Entirely? For the duration of two books? When it's shown how awful the Realm is to live in if you're not one of the aristocracy?

Prisons are not generally completed artifacts. For this story to make more sense, there would have to be an examination of crime and what it means, and what it means for the Realm to have Incarceron as an easy solution to their criminal problems. And I've just realized there is none of that. Huh.

So, yeah, a book about a prison that ignores crime as a social and practical problem is not going to be so good. (Yes, there is violence in Incarceron, but it's not crimes, you see. They're already in prison, and, oh dear. Yes, this is definitely something that needed to be addressed.

At any rate, for all the talk about "no way out of the prison," Finn, who grew up there, may be the prince regent. The Warden's daughter, the Warden now trapped in the prison is trying to help him secure his throne. Meanwhile, the prison has become consumed with the idea of escaping itself, and that's a problem for those within. And without, as the prison seems to be able to manipulate their world as well, in inexplicable ways. And with that, I was waiting for a revelation, even guessed at one, only to have it never resolved. The prison can just do those things, I guess. And this is another place where no answer is not the way to go.

So, yes. In the second book, the promise of the first largely fizzles out. And it's too bad, because this isn't terrible, it's just unsatisfying. I wanted to know why, I wanted consideration of consequences. And the characters themselves weren't strong enough not to buckle under the weight of the ideas that went unrealized.

Near the end, Jared says that now he understands everything. I only wish I did.

(Plus, I was expecting it would turn out that the Realm was the prison, or part of the prison, or a similarly shrunken universe in someone else's pocket. I was very disappointed that no more information was ever given.)

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