Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A gritty adventure story for young men that will turn a few off with its dark start but successfully entertain thousands more with its cinematic, kinetic qualities.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0571245611

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Meet Alex Sawyer. Framed for a murder he certainly didn't do, the lad is given life (of a kind) in the Furnace, a literal hellhole of a private prison, buried a mile under England. It's a vicious existence, with tribal gangs among the inmates, and worse on the staff - the warden is helped by his malevolent blacksuits, nasty medical aides called wheezers, and there are mutated, feral creatures of all kinds collectively called rats. After two previous books of failed break-outs, Alex is under the knife of the warden, who has a new tactic. He does not want to break Alex - he aims to remake him, with medicine, surgery and Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing, as one of his own.

Looking over my notes I see the word 'impressive' a lot - but also realise how ineffective that word can be. The first hundred pages in this two-act story are impressive, but... They're chiefly concerned with the torture and mind-wipe inflicted on Alex, and the way things swing so often from dream to nightmare to real life, from dark to depressing to dramatic, is superlative. My twelve year old self would never have read anything like this before, but I can't guarantee that he would have actually stuck with its inherent dreariness.

Things do swing into a very different gear eventually - and I was surprised by how quickly this was done, and again impressed by how effective that was. And from then on everyone will be impressed - this is a macho action adventure of very high order. The twists and turns are punctuated by solid chapter-ending punchlines, and the whole has a great kinetic drive, propelled by superb first person characterisation, and a cinematic look at action, drama and - again - darkness.

I can't see this successfully sitting on many girls' shelves - there is hardly a mention of a female character (some flashes referring to Alex's parents are all we get, dismissively). There is instead a lot of testosterone, and the gritty welter of physical action, ad hoc weaponry and spot-on psychological insight all merges into a distinctive page-turner of high order.

Four and a half stars from us at the Bookbag is nothing to be sniffed at - but round it up if you have started where you should start, with the first book in the series, as the engagement with the characters will be most beneficial early on here, as well as explain some of the references and terms used. With that and its sequel Alexander Gordon Smith - despite a name that makes me think of Tory politicians - has a hit series. Fans will definitely enjoy this cycle-changing entry.

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

A similarly dark institution is to be found in the superlative X-isle by Steve Augarde.

Alexander Gordon Smith's Furnace Series in Chronological Order

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Buy Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Furnace: Death Sentence by Alexander Gordon Smith at Amazon.com.


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