Author: Matt Whyman

Publication: 2007, Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Pages: 320

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Carl Hobbes is arrested for hacking into Fort Knox.  He didn’t do it to steal anything.  He just wanted to prove it could be done.  But somehow a whole bunch of gold bullion has gone missing, and it’s been ending up in the hands of terrorists all over the world.  The American government is anything but pleased with Carl.  They offer him a deal.  Fly out to meet with us, explain how you managed to break through our security, and we’ll let you go.  Carl has no choice but to take the deal – it’s that or prison.  But he soon learns that the Americans weren’t telling him the whole truth. He’s shut up in a frozen prison – no trial, no jury, and no telling when they’ll ever let him go.  If he wants to survive, he’s going to have to draw on every hacker skill he’s ever learned in order to fight back.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Whyman just keeps the surprises coming.  Every time I thought I had this book figured out, every time I thought I knew where it was going, he dropped in a little bombshell to blow it off course and keep me guessing.  And the best thing was, all the little surprises made sense in retrospect.  It all worked, and yet I never saw any of it coming.

I also thought Whyman did an amazing job of explaining exactly how Carl managed to break into Fort Knox.  It’s hard to imagine a more difficult task, and yet Whyman and Carl approach it in such an ingenious way.  I know nothing about hacking, and was expecting Whyman to either gloss over the explanation or fill it in with a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo designed to impress without really saying too much about what Carl did.  That wasn’t the case at all.  The explanation never got too technical, was relatively easy to follow, intriguing, and definitely kept me reading.

Whyman also does a deft job at handling Carl’s character.  After all, we know from the start that Carl’s a hacker.  We know that he broke into Fort Knox.  He’s a prisoner.  It would be easy to view him in an unsavory light.  But Whyman manages to make him into an utterly sympathetic character – someone who never meant for anyone to get hurt and is in totally over their head.

He does an equally deft job with his other characters too.  Instead of giving in to stereotypes and depicting every prisoner in the place as a hardcore Muslim fanatic, Whyman makes this is a prison for mercenaries charged with assisting terrorists.  It’s a mixed bunch, but most appear to be American, Eastern European, and Western European.  That’s a small point, but I think it probably helped steer the book in an even more original direction.

Finally, Whyman does a great job with the setting.  The prison is located somewhere in the Arctic Circle.  It’s freezing cold, with plenty of ice and wind.  And the prison itself is a derelict fish cannery.  They way Whyman writes, it’s easy to feel the cold seeping into Carl’s bones, the bite of the wind and the numb sensation creeping up his feet.  The location really is a major character in this book, and Whyman excels at making it come alive.

What I Liked the Least: Towards the end of the book, Carl and some of the other prisoners spend a lot of time maneuvering through the prison compound.  Unfortunately, while Whyman provides some wonderful descriptions of the setting, I had a very hard time getting a sense of the prison’s layout and was often confused about where they were and where they were going.  That distracted from the action and ultimately made the final quarter of the book less satisfying than it might otherwise have been.  I think a lot of this could have been solved by the simple inclusion of a map.   But, as there was no map, I just had to suffer through in confusion.

***Spoiler Alert***  At one point, one of the prisoners organizes an escape attempt – though it quickly becomes apparent that what he has planned is far more than a simple escape.  I won’t say any more, as I don’t want to give away too much, but I did find the ease with which he was able to subdue and disarm all the guards a bit hard to believe.

How Good was the Action?  Whyman definitely knows how to write an action scene.  Whether Carl is battling the elements, being abused by a guard, or – well, I won’t mention any of the other things he does, as that would give away too much – it’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment.  If it hadn’t been for my ongoing confusion about the prison’s layout, the action would have been near perfect.  This is not a story full of chases and fight scenes.  After all, Carl is a hacker, not a soldier.  He relies on brains to get him out of trouble.  But there’s still plenty of room for action, and Whyman handles it with ease.

How Engaging was the Story?  I was reeled in from very early on.  The notion of seeing inside one of the US military’s hidden prisons – “the Guantanamo Bay of the North” as one detainee call is – was enough to keep me reading.  And Whyman does an excellent job giving us a sense of what life in a hidden prison might be like.  But more than that, Whyman really gets us inside Carl’s head.  I cared about him, and the more it became clear that he wasn’t just going to breeze in, give up his information, and leave, the more I wanted to find out what was going to happen.  Then Whyman started dropping his little plot bombshells, and each new surprise kept me turning the pages faster than ever.

Overall Assessment: Whyman offers a fascinating peek into the world of hacking and the US military’s network of hidden terrorist prisons.  This is an action-packed read, with plenty of surprises to keep you turning the pages.  And unlike some thrillers, Whyman doesn’t sacrifice emotion.  He gets us inside Carl’s head from the first page, and keeps us there all the way to the end.  If you’re looking for a thriller that combines action, emotion, and a lead character who prefers using his brain to his fists, than this is the book for you.

Profanity: A tiny bit, but nothing very serious.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes.  The prison guards definitely inflict violence on Carl and the other prisoners.  And later in the book – again I don’t want to say too much – there is some blood.  A few people get shot and killed, and one of the prisoners does use gasoline and a gun in a very nasty way.  Some of it is a bit graphic.

Speak Your Mind