I really need to read this more often because my God, I forgot how awesome this book can be. With the current influx of dystopias and romances and steam-cyber-punk in YA right now, it’s refreshing to find a book that has all of these elements and manages to be refreshing and interesting and damn enjoyable. A lot of people are quick to label this a steampunk book, and while there are steampunk elements (specifically in the Incarceron scenes), it’s really…not. There’s elements of dystopia with the Protocol in Claudia’s world wherein the surviving population is forced to live in a Renaissance-inspired culture while keeping certain elements of technology to the side. (Although while I was reading it, I kept imaging the Protocol-culture to be more along the lines of pre-Revolutionary War France, especially given some of Queen Sia’s outfit descriptions and the general unrest with the rest of the population.) There’s cyberpunk, whenever Claudia and her mentor Jared have to figure out where the location of Incarceron is in their world and use holograms, as well as Incarceron itself being an shining example of ‘A.I. is a Crapshoot.’ The world-building is a little loose at times, mostly with the set-up of how this world came to be and how everything works with the Protocol and the original intent of Incarceron. Every chapter heading does fall under this, as it alternates between writings of the original Protocol outlines, the songs and legend of Sapphique, and how the prison changed over the years, but there’s very little info that we can glean from this. I would have really liked more information on Sapphique—we get a lot of his stories through the stories that GIldas relates, but I wanted to know more about how widespread these stories are. That said, the setting of Incarceron is very well done—one of the features of the prison is that it’s continually changing, and it comes across very well. Both settings are elaborately detailed, and Fisher really brings across the nature of both worlds in her writing. I like how Incarceron starts off as the dark, dank prison of eviiiiiiil, but as Finn and his group travel throughout the prison, there’s such a different atmosphere as they get closer to the supposed exit. Finn’s not the most engaging character, as he’s kind of passive. He does have goals to figure out who he really is, but a lot of his actions are determined by “Well, this happened, so I’d better go and do this.” He is a very loyal character, but he’s not perfect. He can be manipulative to his own ends—not to the extent of Keiro, but the scenes with the Maestra does show that Finn has to think on his feet a little bit. I do wish there could have been more to him, especially with his relationship to Keiro and why he’s a Starseer. Keiro’s pretty much Finn’s polar opposite—he’s narcissist prick, but is still loyal to Finn and keeps an out for him. Attia was also a really good character, but of the four prisoners, she’s the second-least developed character. There’s definitely more to her character that doesn’t get explored (and I have a theory that she’s the Maestra’s daughter; I need to reread Sapphique in the near future). I freaking love Claudia. She’s very much set up to be the spoiled brat (to the point where Keiro and Attia refer to her as ‘Princess’), especially with her motivations for finding Giles/Finn and releasing him from Incarceron. But I like that she does also think of what having the real heir on the throne means for the rest of the kingdom. She’s intelligent without being a know-it-all; like Finn, she’s manipulative, but uses it to her own ends; she has moments of badassery, and she’s knows whenever she could be wrong. One of the big plot threads is the idea that maybe Finn really isn’t Giles, and Claudia acknowledges this fact that, yeah, she could be wrong, but she doesn’t know and it’s worth taking a chance. Toward the end of the book, her obsession gets a little too much, but I really do like her character. Also, she has fantastic chemistry with her mentor Jared; not a romantic one (which is brought up in text by Caspar), but they have a great surrogate parent-child relationship. The other secondary characters aren’t as well-developed characteristically as the main cast, but they’re still surprising and rounded. Claudia’s fiancé, Caspar, is the spoiled prince who drinks and gambles and sleeps with anything, but he realizes this and lives it, just because he can. The Court feels restrictive and backstabbing. Also, no one is stupid, and if they are, most of the time, they’re just acting stupid for the later reveal of “Yeah, I know what’s going on.” (Claudia has a great ‘oh crap’ moment when her father reveals that he knows she’s been in his Observation Room.) Aside from a fairly rushed ending and a cliff-hanger ending, I love this book. It’s so much fun to read, and keep guessing with the different turns of the plot. Some of it’s a little predictable at times, but there’s enough doubt and herrings thrown in to keep you guessing. It is a fantastic read that needs more love.