Lockdown: Escape From Furnace

Escape from Furnace

Author: Alexander Gordon Smith

Publication: 2009, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Pages: 308

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

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

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Lockdown is set in the near future, a few years after Britain’s “summer of slaughter”, when youth gangs roamed the streets, killing indiscriminately and washing the country in blood.  In response, the British government worked with a private company to build Furnace – a prison built underground, inside a deep crevice surrounded by miles of rock.  The kids who get sent there are all on a life sentence, and life in Furnace is quite literally hell.  Alex Sawyer is a 14 year old thief, but one night he and his partner are set up.  They break into a house that’s supposed to be empty only to find a group of inhuman men waiting for them.  They shoot Alex’s friend in cold blood and pin the murder on him.  In no time at all, he’s been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.  And when the elevator doors shut, carrying him deep into the bowels of the earth, he finds himself in world where pain and terror lie around every corner, a world that will consume him unless he can find a way to escape.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: This book will totally suck you in.  Smith has done an amazing job of putting you inside Alex’s head, of making it feel like you’re actually trapped in Furnace.  I felt the horror creeping up me in a lot of the scenes, imagining again and again how I could possibly survive knowing I’d been sentenced to a place like that for the rest of my life.  It’s incredibly realistic and freaky.

The writing is unbelievable.  I’m just going to quote one paragraph here, but there are lots more like it all through the book.  “It was here, holding the bars of my cell like they were my only friends, that I first heard the symphony of Furnace.  It started with the sobs, which rose up out of the darkness all around me like the gentle strings of an orchestra.  They began as hushed moans chocked back by the countless musicians that crafted them, merging together from every level to create a fountain of sound that ran down to the deserted yard below.”   Wow.

Smith does a great job making Alex into a sympathetic character.  This was really challenging.  Even though Alex is innocent of the crime that got him sent to Furnace, he’s not an innocent kid.  He’s a self-admitted thief and bully.  He broke into homes and stole money, he bullied kids at school and took their wallets, and he preyed on kids weaker than himself.  He could easily have come off as dislikable.  And yet, even though as a reader I was entirely aware of everything Alex had done – even though there were times early on when I didn’t especially like him, I couldn’t help caring about what happened to him.  And it wasn’t long before I genuinely liked him.

Smith also does a great job providing a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows.  Admittedly, most of the book is taken up with lows – Alex being terrified by all the things he sees and experiences in Furnace, being threatened by gangs or guards, and shivering in his cot at night as wheezers and devil dogs prowl the corridors, tearing kids from their bunk and dragging them off to some horrific and unknown fate.  But Smith provides just enough highs to keep us going, and because we’re so into Alex’s character each moment of happiness or relief, no matter how small, feels like a god send.

What I Liked the Least: This is nitpicky, and I only say it because the rest of the book is so good it was hard to find to find something to complain about, but Smith does too much foreshadowing.  There are quite a few places where he ends a chapter or scene by giving us a hint of what comes next.   I know he’s trying to use it as a hook, something to keep us reading, but honestly the book is so good I didn’t need any cheesy hooks to keep me turning the pages.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

p. 132 – “But I was wrong; the dogs and the warden, they were just a warm-up act for the sickest show in Furnace – a show that I would only have to wait another four days to witness.”

p. 193 – “I had no idea that she was about to betray me, that she would carry me to the most horrific thing I’d witnessed since I descended into the bottom of the world.”

p. 220 – “I guess that’s why it came as such a surprise that out of the three of us, I was the one who broke the vow first.”

How Good was the Action?  Amazing.  And I’m not just talking about the great blow-by-blow fight scenes or the spine tingling chases, with Alex trying to outrun a pack of devil dogs.  I’m talking about the sheer terror of Alex lying in bed – or refusing to stay hidden in bed – as wheezers roam the corridors at night, searching for victims for their horrific experiments, or the sense of menace as the members of the Skull gang stalk through the cafeteria – known as the trough – leaving Alex to wonder just when they’re going to stick a knife in his back.

How Engaging was the Story?  It goes without saying that this is an engaging story – for all the same reasons that the action is great, for all the same reasons I like it so much.  There will be times when you literally feel like you are inside Furnace, facing the prospect of an endless series of days, each more terrifying than the last – or worse, facing the prospect of imminent death and dismemberment.

Overall Assessment: This is a fantastic book.  That said it may not be for the faint of heart.  It’s definitely not an easy read, and it will make you think.  But if you’re up for a hammer punch of fear, action, and raw emotion, then this is one book you will not want to miss.

Profanity: Minimal.  There are a few mild cuss words scattered around, but nothing to get upset about.

Sex: None.

Violence: Most definitely.  This is a dark book.  There is blood and there is violence.  It’s inevitable, as violence is in the very nature of a place like furnace.  Alex is beaten up in gang fights.  Kids commit suicide as their only escape.  And there are the monsters.  Kids are eaten by devil dogs and torn apart by even more hideous creatures.  The descriptions are not graphic in the least, but they don’t need to be.  The atmosphere or terror is so taut, even a mild description from Smith is enough to paint vivid pictures in your imagination.

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