Friday, 12 October 2012


Title: Lockdown
Series: Escape from Furnace #1
Author: Alexander Gordon Smith
Pages: 273 (paperback)
Published: August 3rd 2010
Published by: Square Fish

Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.
Together with a bunch of inmates—some innocent kids who have been framed, others cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace’s deeper, darker purpose, Alex’s actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that’s hidden from the eyes of the world.

Alex is a school bully turned petty thief. He and his friend Toby break into people's houses and steal cash and electronics, namely for the kick it seems. Until one night it all goes wrong, and Alex is framed for murder. He soon finds himself on the way to Furnace Prison for young offenders. A prison staffed by incredibly strong men; men with gasmasks attached to their faces (something like this being the image I had in my head for this); and all run by a man with weird eyes. Escape is impossible.

I quite enjoyed this; it wasn't a particularly difficult read, though not as creepy as I was expecting based on the blurb, and the descriptions of the emotions of the main character - Alex - were generally done very well. My one complaint in this area was that Alex seemed to adjust to prison life a little too easily. He gets into the swing of everything very well, and in places it felt like he was acting like he'd been there a lot longer than he had. Other descriptions weren't so good, unfortunately, and they often felt caricature-ish. Over-exaggerated architecture and characters were unbelievable, with the Judge who sentences Alex and the description of the outside of the prison particularly standing out in my mind in this respect.

I'm quite intrigued as to what has happened for the world depicted here to end up the way it has. We're told that after a riot by teenagers where hundreds of people were killed they introduced a zero-tolerance policy on young offenders, but this seems very extreme for the circumstance and I get the feeling that something more is going on. In general the story goes nicely with good pacing, though a few plot holes. He also has a tendency to forewarn when something is coming rather than it just happening. Like, "It was the worst thing I'd ever seen, up until four days later at least." Then just carries on the with the story. These little asides seemed a little pointless to me, and means you know Alex survives because he's obviously narrating from the future so there's less tension.

The escape plan which Alex comes up with is quite ingenious, though I have to question it's feasibly quite heavily. Minor spoiler: I've never tried knotting rubber gloves, but I can't imagine it's easy, or air-tight. And of course the other kids knew you were up to something - you think they didn't notice you 'sneaking' around all the time?!

I'll probably keep an eye out for the next book being on sale or something. It ended on a cliffhanger so I'm intrigued to see what happens next but not overly or anything.

Oh, and a minor point which bothers me a bit: the main character is called Alex. As is the author. I don't know why this feels slightly wrong to me.

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