By Alexander Gordon Smith
Released 27 Oct 2008 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Review copy provided by publisher
I have been reading the survey responses, and I'm working out how to incorporate the various bits of advice into the blog. There hasn't been any advice that I really hate, so everything is under consideration right now. Someone wanted more background on the books, so I'm going to start this a little different than usual and see how it works for me.
LOCKDOWN is the first in the Escape from Furnace trilogy, which is already available in full in the UK. They're set in an alternate future, one in which teenage gang members wreaked havoc for one memorable summer. Now, the adults are afraid of their kids. Now, juvenile offenders go to Furnace. This underground prison is for life. Although sometimes it seems like calling it life might be a stretch.
The story is narrated by Alex Sawyer, who was a decent kid commiting progressively worse crimes. However, he didn't kill his best friend; he was framed by the black suits - the Furnace guards themselves. The only way he keeps himself going is by dreaming of escape, taking his new friend Zee and his roommate Donovan with him. Of course, he manages to make life more difficult for himself by antagonizing the Skulls, the prison gang.
But the gangbangers are nothing. LOCKDOWN is a horror novel, and as such is filled with a couple of eldritch abominations. Alexander Gordon Smith deploys them well: he describes the monsters' physicality and basic functions, but often leaves the most brutal moments to the imagination. Books never really scare me, but Smith does well at creating an atmosphere of dread and punctuating it with terrible events. I also like that the ending seems to promise there will be some explanation of how these creatures came to be in the other two books.
On the down side, LOCKDOWN definitely feels like the beginning of a trilogy. Yes, the boys achieve something at the end, but the novel ends immediately after. Most of Alex's adventures are set-up, making sure the horrific scenery of Furnace is fully in place. Eventually an escape plan develops, but until then the plot is a thin affair, not much more than a reason the characters are in such an awful place. (Of course, horror is not a genre that calls for dense, involved plots.)
I wish I knew about this series earlier, since I could've bought myself copies of SOLITARY and DEATH SENTENCE. Now I'll just have to wait with the other Americans. That or have my friend who's studying abroad in Ireland this spring ship me some books - after all, she will owe me a twenty-first birthday present.
LOCKDOWN is a good choice for people who enjoy something creepy and have a strong stomach. And due to an Anthropology class two years ago, I can't help but think people who are into prison reform would enjoy it metaphorically.