Incarceron is a prison unlike any other: Its inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal forests, dilapidated cities, and unbounded wilderness. The prison has been sealed for centuries, and only one man, legend says, has ever escaped.
Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, can't remember his childhood and believes he came from Outside Incarceron. He's going to escape, even though most inmates don't believe that Outside even exists. And then Finn finds a crystal key and through it, a girl named Claudia.
Claudia claims to live Outside -- her father is the Warden of Incarceron, and she's doomed to an arranged marriage. If she helps Finn escape she will need his help in return.
But they don't realize there is more to Incarceron then meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage, and cost far more than they know.
Because Incarceron...is alive.

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 This book was an interesting read for me from the very beginning. It starts off on a gripping note, and although you don't really get what's happening at first, pretty soon the action all resolves itself and you find yourself in the middle of a fantastic world of thieves, beggars, leaders, and gangs, all wrapped up in a giant living prison-machine.
On the other side of this is Claudia, who, although she isn't inside Incarceron, is stuck in a prison of her own, like everyone else in her world. They live under a mandate which forbids scientific or technological advancement -- everyone is frozen in the past, and Claudia herself is being forced into a marriage with the detestable prince of the realm, due to the machinations of her scheming father, to whom she thinks she is nothing but a tool.
The sheer scope of this book drew me in right away. Incarceron is unbelievably huge, and it is a perfectly sealed, self-sufficient system -- nothing gets in, nothing gets out. Although Finn and Claudia find a means of communication with each other through their keys, no one else -- either Inside or Outside -- has any way of knowing what happens on the other side.
I devoured this book straight through to the end, but after I finished I realized something: I didn't actually care for any of the characters. The grand revelation about all of them at the end wasn't interesting for me, none of their development held any interest. A rather drastic way of putting it is this: if they had all blown up or died from evil food poisoning, I wouldn't have mourned -- or applauded -- their deaths.
The book drew me in because of its world-building; its vast prison that had surprising revelations of its own; its legends and its histories. Because of that I can say I enjoyed reading it, but I'm certainly in no hurry to reread it, or even to read the next book in the series: Sapphique. Though I just might out of curiosity :D


The Goose Girl

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue. She spent the early years of her life listening to her aunt's stories and learning the language of the swans. Then, a colt was born with as word on his tongue -- his name, Falada -- and when Ani spoke it, she found the key to his language, too. But as Ani's gift grew, so did others' mistrust of it, and soon her mother felt she had no choice but to send her away to be queen of a foreign land....

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This is one of my all-time favorite stories. Based off of an old German folktale by the Brothers Grimm, The Goose Girl tells the story of a young princess who, gifted with the ability to speak to birds, is eventually promised in marriage to the crown prince of the foreign land of Bayern when her mother decides that her people would never accept the rule of someone with such an uncanny ability. Ani is sent away on a three-month journey through the forest over the mountains, with only her guards, her lady-in-waiting Selia, and her horse Falada, with whom she shares a special bond, to accompany her. She is unaware of her lady-in-waiting's bitterness towards her, however, as well as Selia's true intentions. In the middle of the forest, most of Ani's guard suddenly turns against her,  murdering the other guards and trying to kill her as well. Ani flees alone into the forest, where she is saved from starvation by a forest-dwelling mother and son, while Selia and the remaining guards finish the journey to Bayern, with Selia posing as Princess Anidori-Kiladra herself.

I like this story because of the very fairytale-ish style of writing the author uses. The beginning of the book, while not vague, gives the idea of a sort of a dream state,  while the journey to Bayern and Ani's experiences afterward are more solid and concrete by comparison, as if Ani's story really starts when things start to go wrong for her. The descriptions in the book are very well-written, being detailed without overdoing it, and the backstory and the legends of the setting are very well thought-out and give an extra level of depth to the world the characters live in.
I also liked the  character development in this book. This is a huge point for me, since a novel is about the action and interaction of the characters, so making them seem like real people and not two-dimensional cutouts is absolutely vital. One of the biggest let-downs in literature is reading about characters you don't actually care for. Shannon Hale did a wonderful job of making her characters seem real to me, and I was always eager to keep reading to see what happened to them next. I was scared for Ani when she was terrified for her life in the forest, and I was overjoyed when the prince actually fell for her. Her friends were exactly the kind of friends I'd like to have, just like her enemies were a real and evil presence throughout the story.
I liked that the author didn't fixate on the romance  between Ani and Geric. The way she writes it makes it a pleasure to read, focusing on their friendship rather than their physical reactions, and the whole novel does not revolve around their relationship. It adds to the story and makes the ending ultimately more satisfying, rather than weighing the story down with information we didn't need.
The  plot and story were solid and believable, and scattered throughout were little details that made the world of Bayern and Kildenree seem more real to me. The author kept describing the differences between the residents of each kingdom's accents, as well as how all Kildenreans had fair hair while the Bayern were all dark, and how Ani was forced to disguise both her exotic hair and accent while in Bayern. The author also has Ani tell stories; legends and fairy tales of their world that help illustrate the magic they lived with without realizing it. These details help the reader understand the fantasy better, and make for a better reading experience and a more lasting impression after the story is finished.

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This is honestly one of my favorite stories ever. The author has done a fantastic job of retelling a fascinating fairy tale in a way so that the reader is satisfied with what he has read and wants to go back and read it again. I've read my copy several times already, and somehow I doubt that I'll get tired of it any time soon.