66 pages 2 hours read

Catherine Fisher


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2007

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Incarceron (2007) is a young adult dystopian science fiction novel by Catherine Fisher. One protagonist, Finn, is incarcerated in a high-tech, sentient prison, and the other, Claudia, is the Warden’s daughter. While Finn tries to escape Incarceron, Claudia rebels against the Realm’s restrictive laws, which outlaw modern technologies and knowledge. She also endeavors to free herself from an arranged marriage to a boy she hates. The novel explores the true meaning of freedom, the dangers of idealizing the past, and the ways in which technology can be both helpful and harmful.

This guide refers to the paperback edition published by Firebird in 2010.

Content Warning: Both the source text and this guide contain descriptions of incarceration, enslavement, violence, death, and suicide.

Plot Summary

Finn is an 18-year-old prisoner in an extensive, high-tech, sentient prison called Incarceron. He cannot remember anything prior to three years ago, and he bears a mysterious eagle tattoo but has no idea what it means. As the novel opens, he is helping his gang, the Comitatus, rob another gang called the Civicry. When a woman named Maestra recognizes his eagle tattoo, Finn takes her hostage. Allegedly, nobody enters or leaves Incarceron anymore, but Finn suspects that he was born outside the prison. Others tell him that he is a “cell-born” child of the prison who was born as a teenager rather than a baby. Incarceron was created to be a utopia, but after 160 years, it has become a dystopia. Beyond its borders, everyone except the Warden is unaware of this fact. Nobody knows Incarceron’s location except the Warden, and nobody has ever escaped—except, supposedly, a man named Sapphique. Now, the Comitatus gang demands that Civicry pay Maestra’s weight in treasure for her release. Finn also demands a key that Maestra has described as featuring the same image as his tattoo.

Meanwhile, outside Incarceron, the Warden’s daughter, Claudia, dreads her upcoming arranged marriage to Queen Sia’s son, Caspar, whom she hates. She wishes that she could have married Giles, Sia’s stepson, but he died three years ago in a fall from a horse. Outside Incarceron, modern technologies and knowledge have been outlawed. Claudia is close with her tutor, Jared, and fears her stern and distant father. Jared finds a letter from Sia to the Warden suggesting that Giles’s death was a planned murder, not an accident, and speculates that he may be imprisoned in Incarceron. Claudia breaks into her father’s secret study and finds a key to unlock Incarceron. She takes it, setting off an alarm. She replaces the key with a hologram, then goes to Jared’s tower and pretends as though they have been studying. Meanwhile, the Civicry pays the ransom for the hostage and gives Finn the key (which is identical to Claudia’s), but to Finn’s dismay, the Comitatus kills the hostage anyway.

Lord Evian, who works for Queen Sia, wants to assassinate Sia and Caspar so that the laws forbidding modern technology and knowledge can be undone. He wants Claudia’s help, but she refrains from agreeing because she is not a murderer. Meanwhile, Finn, his oathbrother Keiro, and a Sapient (wise man) named Gildas set out with the key, hoping to escape Incarceron. The Comitatus members and their leader, Jormanric, try to prevent them from leaving Comitatus territory, but Keiro kills Jormanric. Finn, Keiro, and Gildas take a formerly enslaved person named Attia with them, then pass through a door into a metal forest, which is still part of Incarceron. The key is discovered to be a communication device as well. Claudia speaks to Finn through the key and discovers that Incarceron is not a utopia; Finn wants Claudia to help him escape. In the metal forest, Keiro kills a sheep, which worries everyone because the gang that owns it will probably want revenge.

Claudia and Jared visit Bartlett, the man who helped raise Giles, but he is dead. They also find and read a testimony that he wrote during their four-day journey to Caspar and Sia’s palace, where they are both expected to live. Bartlett’s testimony states that he was lured away from Giles on false pretense and returned to find Giles dead; however, he could tell that the dead body was not that of Giles; the body’s appearance had been altered via technology. Bartlett concluded that Giles was probably sent to Incarceron, which would allow Sia’s biological son Caspar to inherit the throne. Now, Claudia believes that Finn is really Giles; he is the right age and has an eagle tattoo, which is a symbol of Giles’s family.

Finn and Gildas get trapped in giant nets; Keiro and Attia run but promise to rescue them later. Some men from a nearby city find sheep meat in Finn and Gildas’s possession and accuse them of stealing. They bring Finn and Gildas to the city’s justices. The justices decide to sacrifice Finn to a monster that is the embodiment of Incarceron; the beast must be fed monthly. Gildas plans to accompany Finn to the monster’s cave because Sapphique faced the same monster and survived on his legendary journey to freedom. Jared tells Keiro how to use the key to make people invisible to Incarceron. As Claudia and Jared arrive at Sia’s palace, Keiro and Attia enter the monster’s cave and render everyone invisible to the monster. A Sapient named Blaize (who is later revealed to be the Warden in disguise) arrives on a flying ship and rescues them, taking them to his tower. At the same time, Claudia sees her father go through a special door in Sia’s cellar and assumes it is the entrance to Incarceron. Blaize tells Finn that there is nothing beyond Incarceron, so escape is impossible.

Lord Evian still wants to kill Sia and Caspar as well as the Warden. Claudia makes him promise not to kill her father and threatens to reveal his plan to Sia immediately if he does. In Blaize’s tower, Finn’s group finds records of the prisoners’ names and surveillance photographs. To verify that Claudia is really outside of Incarceron, Attia checks for her name among the prisoners and claims that Claudia is not listed; therefore, it follows that there is an outside world beyond Incarceron. Meanwhile, Claudia and Jared attempt to enter Incarceron while Sia and the Warden are in a meeting, but the gate takes them to the Warden’s secret study, not into the prison. Blaize returns and gives Finn’s group a meal, then leaves. Attia tastes the food first. It is poisoned, but Finn saves her using a magic ring that Keiro took from Jormanric earlier. The group escapes Blaize’s tower in his flying ship.

The Warden discovers that Claudia has his key and demands that she return it, but she refuses. He knows that she has been talking to Finn and tries to convince her that Finn is not really Giles. Meanwhile, Finn and others sail in the flying ship until they reach a wall at the end of Incarceron and crash into it. Gildas dies from his injuries.

Jared examines a piece of metal from the Warden’s study under a microscope and discovers tiny animals, suggesting that Incarceron is shrunken and could fit in the Warden’s hand. They don’t know if it is possible to undo the shrinking process, but they believe that there may be a portal to Incarceron somewhere in the study. Attia tells Claudia that her name actually was in the records; Claudia was born in Incarceron, then the Warden removed her as a baby, replacing his wife’s baby who died shortly after birth.

On the day of the wedding, Claudia returns to her father’s study, locates the portal to Incarceron, and enters the prison with the key. Jared stalls for time by claiming that Claudia returned home to escape the wedding. Evian tries to kill Sia but fails, then dies by suicide. Incarceron pretends to guide Claudia towards Finn, but it is misleading her; eventually, she discovers this deception and makes herself invisible with the key until she finds Finn and company.

The narrative reveals that Sia had been blackmailing the Warden because she was the only one who knew that Claudia wasn’t his biological daughter. Now that Claudia knows the truth, the Warden teams up with Jared; they go to the Warden’s study and watch Claudia on the monitors. The Warden makes himself appear as Blaize, then explains to the group that each key will only allow one person to teleport out of Incarceron at a time. Keiro tries to use the key, but it doesn’t work because he is a “halfman” (or cyborg) and is partially made of metal. Finn and Claudia promise to return to save the others somehow, then they both teleport out. The Warden tells everyone at court that Giles was never dead, but that Sia imprisoned him to protect his life against people who wanted to kill him. Now, the danger is gone, so Giles can be free and can assume the throne. The Warden teleports into Incarceron to avoid Sia’s revenge. Jared now has the Warden’s watch, and Incarceron is just a tiny charm hanging from it.