Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jason Mark Curley
Reviewed by Jason Mark Curley
Summary: Welcome to the future for the punishment of youth offenders: Furnace -- the borstal from hell.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0571240807

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After the Summer of Slaughter, everyone is talking about the new tougher police force and the zero-tolerance position on youth crime, the final conclusion of which is Furnace – the maximum security penitentiary for young offenders – a real taste of hell on Earth.

Alex Sawyer is a child who's been going bad for a long time. In arms with his little gang, stealing from other children may seem quite petty, but when he and Toby decide to rob a house, things go as wrong as they possible can. A group of scary men lie in wait for them, kill Toby and tell Alex to run. The police are only ging to come to one conclusion, Alex murdered his friend.

He doesn't get very far and is soon sentenced to life in Furnace without the possibility of parole. When the Furnace guards come to take him, he recognises them as the men who set him up. With no one ready to listen to him, let alone believe him, he is transported to the nastiest place in Britain – Furnace. Will he be able to survive? Will he be able to prove his innocence, or if not, escape? Because when the doors of Furnace close behind you – pure hell awaits.

From a technical point of view, it's impossible to have any complaints about this book. Smith is a fantastic writer; the prose is sharp and focused, with descriptions that bring this alternate reality to life. Furnace itself is well conceived as a place; absolutely scary and claustrophobic to match, with evil guards and inmates obviously holding onto their minds by the skin of their teeth.

My one problem with this book is the concept of Furnace itself. There are definite parallels to be drawn with the Japanese classic, Battle Royale. For those who aren't aware of it, it's set in a reality where Japanese children have got out of control. To remedy this, the government has passed legislation that, once a year, a random high school class will be transported to an island to take part in a fight to the death, until only one student remains.

You see, with shows like Takeshi's Castle and Endurance, along with the long history of Bushido and Zen attitudes, it's not hard to suspend your disbelief at this idea. However, with Furnace, this prison has been built in Britain and is completely without any kind of oversight. The child criminals condemned to this institution are essentially subject to reification by society; something that would never happen with our society's attitudes towards child protection; I just didn't buy the concept – it pretty much ruined the entire novel for me.

But that's just me, and that's not to say that other people won't like it, so I can't wholly condemn this book because of this. The writing, the story and the characters (especially the bad guys) are fantastic, and for that I can't give it any less than four stars.

Thanks to the publishers for sending me this review copy.

If you enjoyed this, I'd reccomend The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle.

Booklists.jpg Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith is in the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009.
Buy Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.com.


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