LOCKDOWN: ESCAPE FROM FURNACE by Alex Gordon Smith
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This novel was one of the bleakest, harshest stories I’ve heard in a long, long time because events and situations were so depressing and downright horrible. During certain parts of the story, I wasn’t sure if kids should be reading it. My wife, son, and I listened to the audiobook in the car, and we actually started it at night, which is the wrong time of day to listen to something like this as well. The interior of the car became oppressive, while at the same time the night outside the windshield on that long trip also became a bit more scary.
The story takes place in a futuristic London that I never want to see. Basically, teens have more or less been outlawed in the world because no one can control them and they’re running amok in the street. The main character, Alex Sawyer, doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities when we first meet him. He’s been burgling houses.
The last burglary goes incredibly bad, though. His partner is killed by gasmask wearing people with no identification. After he’s drugged, Alex finds out he’s been framed for murdering his partner. The trial doesn’t take long and Alex’s next step is Furnace, the world most secure prison for young offenders.
The next part of the story is bleak and unrelenting. Alex manages to survive the isolation and the ill handling. The violence in the book is realistic and no gore is spared in order to show the reader just how bad Furnace is.
In addition to the abusive treatment from the guards and the fact that he’s buried far underground, Alex and his fellow inmates are treated to scientific experimentation that turns them into weird, half-human creatures that feed on human flesh. Every day brings Alex closer to that horrific fate.
The novel focuses on the escape plan Alex and some of his friends put together. The reader will have to be patient to get to that part, but the author spends the time investing in the characters. As the pages turn (or the minutes go by, in case of an audiobook), the characters become more and more human, till the threat of what is going to happen to them is all-consuming.
I loved the intensity at the same time I hated it. On one hand, I wanted a lighter read, but on the other I was captivated. I was as trapped by Alex’s situation as he was, and I felt like I put in the same amount of time and went through the same terrors on a personal level. That’s quite an experience for a writer to deliver.
Lockdown isn’t going to be a read for everyone. It’s much darker than Harry Potter ever was. But for male readers wanting something scary, something that will keep them hanging on by their fingernails at the end of the book, and something with questionable humor, there are few books that meet those wants as well as this one.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, but the second book is already out at the time of this review. I’ve got it ordered.