Sapphique (Incarceron #2)

Incarceron, the living prison, has lost one of its inmates to the outside world: Finn's escaped, only to find that Outside is not at all what he expected. Used to the technologically advanced, if violently harsh, conditions of the prison, Finn is now forced to obey the rules of Protocol, which require all people to live without technology. To Finn, Outside is just a prison of another kind, especially when Claudia, the daughter of the prison's warden, declares Finn the lost heir to the throne. When another claimant emerges, both Finn's and Claudia's very lives hang on Finn convincing the Court of something that even he doesn't fully believe.
Meanwhile, Finn's oathbrother Keiro and his friend Attia are still trapped inside Incarceron. They are searching for a magical glove, which legend says Sapphique used to escape. To find it, they must battle the prison itself, because Incarceron wants the glove too.
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I must say this book was better than the last one. I enjoyed it more -- it had more depth, and the plot was more interesting, the characters more believable, and all that jazz. That said, it still had a definite flavor of the first book that kept me from being eager to see what happened next. The Prison itself is a marvelous setting, where practically anything could happen -- it's a giant, sentient computer, with a whole life-system inside; and not only that, but it's deeply flawed and in every way a very dangerous place to be. No matter where you go or what you do, the Prison is always watching you, and it's always in control. Inside Incarceron, you're utterly at its mercy.
Outside, however, the world was much less interesting. The plot was rather two-dimensional -- the story of a prince who came back from the dead and is suffering from bouts of insanity and general moodiness, the daughter of a disgraced father trying desperately to help him regain his place, and the imposter whom everyone believes is the real thing. There's the whole idea that the world is slowly crumbling while everyone is caught up in their games of politics, but even that was only mildly exciting as far as things went. All the tensions, all the twists and dangers seemed dropped there without any real thought put into them. Outside was far duller than Inside.
When the grand climax comes and everything is resolved, I hardly felt satisfied. The storytelling gave sort of a dreamlike quality to the book's events, and it was one of those wandering dreams where you just seem to be stumbling from one idea to the next with no real clue what's happening or why.  I assume everything turned out as well as it could for the people involved, yet I find I couldn't care less what actually happened to them in the end. The prince becomes king, the enemies are defeated, the Prisoners are no longer trapped forever inside. Huzzah huzzah, sound the trumpets and scatter confetti. The world is a ruin but we're ready to work together and fix it now, right?
So yes, this book was better than the first, but in no way lived up to what it might have been. I read both once and that was enough for me. The series was not a shining example of great or even good storytelling. I would just as soon not have read either Incarceron or Sapphique.
And yet the one thing that truly stands out in both books is the Prison itself. It's a fantastic invention of the author, and the one biggest reason I say I liked the series. And the cover artwork is beautiful -- I could look at it forever.