A little while back, I hosted a giveaway contest with a random drawing to win a free copy of Alexander Gordon Smith’s book Lockdown, the first in the Escape from Furance series. Along with sending the book to the winner, Macmillan Publishing also kindly sent me a review copy. It arrived on Thursday; I got back from work at 3:30, picked it up, read sporadically throughout the day, and finished by midnight. That should tell you something.
Lockdown is fast-paced thrill ride, and you can easily blaze through this book in no time. It is a not-so-paltry 273 pages, but I guarantee that you won’t want to put it down until you reach that last cliffhanger. It is definitely a young adult novel, but there is also a certain maturity ringing through the pages that will make it a good read for adults as well (and frankly, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone under 13, unless they’re utter creep-jobs like me).
We meet protagonist Alex in a future England that reminds me of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange: violent gangs of youths run rampant, engaging in criminal activity and murder. Except here they don’t try to reform them; they just stick them in Furnace Prison, a real-life hell for young criminals that is as impenetrable as it is horrifying.
Alex has gotten into some seedy things, mainly robbing houses. I admit, when he stumbles into a setup, I was a little disillusioned by the ridiculousness of the bad guys who show up to frame him, but I quickly got over that as we see him chucked into the inescapable Furnace, which is in a miles-deep cave underground. That’s when it really starts to get good.
The prison is hot and claustrophobic, and it’s kill-or-be-killed as the rival gangs horde their territory. Each day they endure hard labor, such as chipping away at the rock walls to make more rooms, and the only respite is a short, freezing shower and the rotten gruel they eat for every meal. I could feel their hopelessness and resignation to a life where they never again see the sun in all the visceral details of the place.
But that’s not the worst part. There are creatures that come out at night to take you: wheezing men in gas masks and their rabid hellhounds. And it turns out the gas masks are actually sewn to their faces. Unfortunately, by the end of book one these men are still a mystery.
Of course, Alex won’t stand for all of this. He’s not the only innocent kid at Furnace, and he has decided to attempt the impossible: escape. But not before he nearly gets killed, experiences utter depression, and runs the risk of losing his best friends to the darkness.
My only qualm was with the Americanization of the book. We’re obviously in England, as they talk about British pounds and such, but they turn around and use “Mom” instead of “Mum.” It was like those first couple of Americanized Harry Potter books, before they wised up and stopped trying to cater to dumb Americans who don’t know what “Mum” means. But this is, of course, a minor issue that is easily forgotten.
There’s also a nice interview with Alexander Gordon Smith at the back of the book, and a preview of the next one, Solitary, which I plan to read as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Storyline: 9 out of 10 hellhounds
Characters: 8 out of 10 hellhounds
Originality: 10 out of 10 hellhounds
Writing Style: 6 out of 10 hellhounds
Scare Factor: 8 out of 10 hellhounds
Overall: 8 out of 10 hellhounds