Solitary (Escape from Furnace, book 2)


Author: Alexander Gordon Smith

Publication: 2009, Faber and Faber

Pages: 272

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: Alex and his friends have made their escape, blowing a hole in the prison floor. But the river they leap into is no escape at all. They soon find themselves locked in solitary – a small, dark hole in the ground. Silent, isolated, left to go mad. But there are other creatures roaming the hidden corridors on the edge of Furnace – failed experiments, locked in a desperate struggle with the black suits and wheezers who guard the prison. And they want Alex to lead them to freedom.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: Smith is at his best when writing a tense, white knuckle scene, and Solitary is chock full of them. First I thought there was no way it could get much better than crawling through a narrow, pitch black tunnel a mile beneath the earth – with no idea where they were going or if they were simply squeezing their way to a dead-end. Then Smith tops it with Alex’s sweaty, fear-soaked descent into solitary – stuck in a tiny, black hole in the ground, no light, no sound, no friends. You can feel him starting to go mad.

But Smith knows how to play a good balancing game, as every high quickly gives way to a new low, a new reason to be afraid. And as we peel back the skin on the horrific genetic experiments going on within Furnace, Smith does a masterful job of stoking Alex’s fear – knowing just when to give us a break, and when to let it go to full boil.

What I Liked the Least: Very minor, but there was a point not long after Alex went into solitary where I found myself thinking, this is great stuff, but is the whole rest of the book going to be like this? Alex trapped in solitary, just like in the title, trying to figure out how to stay sane? Not to worry, quick enough Smith twists the story and finds a way to get Alex out and plotting a new escape.

How Good was the Action? Awesome. Smith takes full advantage of the setting – playing off the dark, confined spaces, the raw terror of being chased by some genetic monster glimpsed only in flashes of light. Whether Alex is fighting, running for his life, or hiding from the click-clack sounds of an approaching monster it’s impossible not to feel his adrenaline and fear.

How Engaging was the Story? From everything I’ve already said, I think it goes without saying that once this story digs its claws into you, there’s no letting go. By this second entry in the series, I no longer even thought about whether Alex was a good or bad person, whether he deserved to be in prison. Furnace is such a horrific place, the notion was irrelevant. All that mattered was that Alex was loyal to his friends, and that he was fighting not just for himself, but for everyone else in the prison. And with each page, the stakes in that battle seemed to get higher.

Overall Assessment: An amazing follow-up to Lockdown. If you liked the first book in this series, you will NOT be disappointed with book two.

Profanity: Minimal.

Sex: None.

Violence: Yes. The prison is a violent place, and even though Alex has escaped General Population, with its gangs and turf wars, violence still rages all around him. Only now the fights often go to the death. And the worst punishment of all is being sent to the Infirmary, a gruesome place where horrific experiments are carried out. So yes, this can be a violent, bloody story.  

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