Reading Furnace: Lockdown is like getting on a roller coaster with the safety off. The novel is full of action, with a wronged hero (who in turn is not entirely innocent but he is likable), it is well told, it has engaging characters, an incredible and awful situation, a hellish location, complete with gang fights, lockdowns, a diabolic jail, a warden dug up from the bowels of hell, and an escape plan to rival The Shawshank Redemption.There is so much that is brilliant about Furnace. The author, Alexander Gordon Smith, has clearly got a very devious and twisted little mind which he uses to great effect, messing up his main character's life. Alex is one of the bullies at school, he also breaks into houses when the owners are out, so he's pretty much a nasty piece of work, not entirely someone you would want to read about. But here, lies the genius of the author - Alex's character has more redeeming qualities than you would give him credit for and once you realise how much trouble he's in, you forget about the fact that he's not entirely the nicest kid on the block and you get behind him. Alex's voice is fresh and strong - there is no swagger, there is no posturing - he is just a kid who made a few stupid choices and because of that, he gets sent to the Furnace.
The Furnace as the setting is excellent. There is plenty of friction - imagine it: thousands of boys of various ages, thrown together in a crevice deep beneath the earth, forgotten by the world above, unable to tell anyone of the horrors of what happens in the Furnace. No one has ever escaped - ever. There are jumpers, kids who prefer suicide to living in the Furnace. Others join the two dominant gangs in an attempt to be safe and be part of a family again. Others just take one day at a time, hoping that they don't get taken at night to who knows where.
The background to the harsh treatment of young offenders stems from the Summer of Slaughter when groups of children roamed the streets, killing scores of people. New stricter laws were brought in to combat youth crime - if you act a hooligan, you will pay for it. There is no nanny-state - you get tossed in the Furnace, with no recourse, no chance to get bail - you get sent there, forever.
It is harsh reality for Alex to deal with - but he chums up with his cell-mate and learns the ropes of how the Furnace works. He toes the line, but his mind is at work on a way to escape. He does not give up, no matter what he faces. With a handful of friends he plots and plans, all the while being witness to the horrors of the Furnace.
It is a book for slightly older readers (12+) - not necessarily for bad language or difficult language, but probably for the nightmare situation the characters find themselves in. The Furnace is someone's worst nightmare come true. There are remnants of The Running Man, Shawshank Redemption and Resident Evil (those bloody dogs!) and an imagination worthy of Frank Miller, Mike Mignola and Guilermo Del Toro. In other words, Furnace: Lockdown will make an excellent movie - it has elements of the movies I've just mentioned, but more importantly, it is its very own creation and a shocking non-stop ride that will leave you wanting more.
Reading for boys (and adventurous girls) does not get better than this! I think Mr. Smith should get a Batman badge for excellence, creating both an interesting main character and protagonists (baddies) with enough menace to give you the hibbie jibbies just reading about them on the page and a storyline that keeps you hanging on to the very end, when you fall into the abyss, because, be warned, the ending is literally a cliffhanger!
Furnace: Lockdown is published by Faber Kids in the UK and will be available in bookshops from March onwards. You can also order via Amazon UK. Amazon USA is also listing the book but it appears they are calling it simply "Lockdown." You can pre-order (September release) via this page.
Visit the authorís website.