Alexander Gordon Smith's Lockdown: Escape from Furnace is set in a dystopian near future in which society has lost patience with teen criminals, meting out life in prison without parole for major offenses. Young (male) offenders are sent to Furnace Penitentiary, a horrific underground prison. From there, they never see the light of day again. Lockdown is the first-person account of Alex Sawyer, new Furnace prisoner, baffled at the terrible turn his life has taken, and looking for a way out.
Lockdown is part dystopian thriller and part horror story - the guardians of Furnace include freakish mutated dogs, which chase after and kill any prisoners who don't get to their cells quickly enough. The men guarding the prison have inhuman attributes, particularly the warden. Furnace has a brooding, supernatural feel, although this is set against more traditional prison characteristics, like bad food, gangs, and the comfort of routine. Here's a snippet from Alex's first view of Furnace:
"The elevator had taken us to the very depths of the prison -- a stretch of bare stone that was easily the size of a soccer field -- and above us as far as we could see lay its tortured, twisted interior. Furnace certainly deserved its name. The walls were made from the very rock of the earth, their surfaces rough and red, and the half-light of the room made them flicker as if they were on fire." (Page 52, ARC)
Smith employs a fast-paced, dramatic style that makes the pages fly by. The tension rarely lets up. I think that teenage boys will find Lockdown compelling, and will identify with Alex, a reluctant hero. All of Alex's emotions - fear, regret, determination - are immediately accessible on the page. The first page, after a breathless prologue set in Furnace, hooked me right into Alex's story:
"I can tell you the exact moment that my life went to hell.
I was twelve, two years ago now, and there was trouble at school. No surprise there, I came from a rough part of town and everybody wanted to be a gangster. Each lunchtime the playing field became a battleground for the various groups of friends. Most of the war was fought with words -- we'd call each other names, we'd tell one gang to move out of our area (we had control of the jungle gym, and we weren't going to give it up). I didn't realize until much later how like a prison school can be." (Page 7, ARC)
I don't know about you, but I wanted to know more. I ended up reading the rest of the book in one quick sitting. I didn't flag very many passages, because I was reading in "what happens next?" mode. However, when I flipped back through the book, I found the writing to be descriptive and, sometimes, moving, as well as compelling. I also found the premise of the book, about teen criminals essentially thrown away to a hellish prison, timely, in light of current Supreme Court deliberations regarding life sentences for juvenile offenders.
Lockdown is probably not for everyone. It's quite grim, and occasionally grotesque. But there are flashes of humanity and humor sprinkled through the book that keep it readable. I think that it would make a great next choice for fans of The Maze Runner, The Grassland Trilogy (reviewed here and here), or Lord of the Flies. As for me, I'm looking forward to future books (Lockdown: Escape from Furnace is the first of a planned trilogy). Recommended for dystopia, thriller, and horror fans, or anyone looking for a fast-paced, spine-chilling ride.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: October 27, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be compared against the final printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: TheHappyNappyBookseller, Squeaky Books, In Bed with Books, The Book Smugglers
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).