Furnace: Fugitives by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Furnace: Fugitives by Alexander Gordon Smith

Buy Furnace: Fugitives by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fourth book in the series of five, with our hero outside his hellish prison, if not outside his hell.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0571259397

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It has taken three books for Alex to get out of prison. He wouldn't have been there if the powers-that-be hadn't framed him for murder, and he would have found it a better experience were it a regular prison. But no. Over those three books we have seen just what lives and works in the completely subterranean nightmare - The Warden, Mr Furnace, and the evil creatures they are both making, breeding and employing down there. But the whole experience has come at a cost. Alex has been around these evil men too much, and they are changing him too - making him one of their tools. It's only now, on the outside for the first time, that Alex gets a clearer picture of just how many tools there are - and just how much evil has been spread.

These books have been spread through with action and violence. The only one I have read before now, the third, Death Sentence, featured gore and fighting aplenty, with a teenage fiction approach to body horror. But just because a successful escape has happened, there's no need for you to suspect a moment's peace. Here are attacks on cathedrals, escapes with stolen Humvees chased by helicopter gunships, and forever our likable hero Alex is finding his biology altering, with the evils of Nectar coursing through it - making him nastier, more muscular, and basically a pumped-up hybrid.

And even outside the prison institution there is nastiness. The whole city is besieged - by what, whom, how and why takes both this book and the series closer, due spring 2011, to tell. This is not a sunny, light-hearted read by any stretch of the imagination.

I did think last time that the series might lose something by leaving the prison, and in a way it has. The outside world shows Furnace as just another fascistic army-building madman, and his aims, and weapons, a little more like the regular kind of freakishness we've seen in other books before. But Smith has the nous to keep the compelling writing style flowing, the gutsy action and gripping consequences fully to the fore. There's a darkness about the telling once more, from the scenes in the cathedral to the horrors on the subway platform, that means we're ploughed through any impatience to hit the climax with nare a breath.

Here is a society falling apart, with no hope, little sanctuary for our hero and his friends, and however much he gets distorted by his enemy, the rest of the city is losing its humanity even quicker. It sounds like a twisted London - with Canary Wharf as the headquarters of hell, but wherever you live, the action, drama and nightmarish world is conveyed brilliantly, making you feel like it could well be your city - and only a small spell into the future.

With a smaller spell into the future to cast aside, the final book will be with us. This one at hand is of course the worst place possible yet to start reading this hard-hitting and compelling series, and only slightly suffers because we know something greater and more conclusive will have to be delivered next time. All round the cycle is very easily recommendable to those over twelve, and not of a nervous disposition. This reads like the weakest instance in the franchise, but is still essential to get us where we want to be - with Alex, combating his very uncertain future, and very unsavoury present. I'm definitely not alone in wanting to get there fast.

I must thank the kind Faber people for my review copy.

The series started - as should you - with Lockdown.

Buy Furnace: Fugitives by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnace: Fugitives by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.co.uk

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


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