Furnace: Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Furnace: Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The end of this gripping series of masculine teen thrills. It's perhaps not as great as it might have been, but serves to conclude all that has gone before very well.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Faber Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571259403

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And so to the end. Alex and his closest friends have escaped the Furnace Penitentiary, that mile-deep hell-hole cum nightmare scientific experiment writ large. He's arisen to find the country in tatters, as the nasty creatures born there are in charge and decimating the population. There is only one thing to do - kill the man responsible. And Alex, eight feet tall, with an obsidian blade for an arm and muscles upon his muscles, will still face his hardest battle yet.

The title is most apt, for even though the prison called Furnace is but a jagged memory, the man Furnace has to be sought, even beyond all his mind-controlled monsters. And the Execution part? That has greater bearing on the story than you might think.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn't keen on the first third of this book. Alex wakes from his latest battle in hospital. He's again penned inside an institution, for the sake of the 'goodies', we at first think. But in his half-awake, half-asleep, half-alive, half-dead state, every second chapter slips away into a fantasy realm, a flashback-cum-dream-cum-exposition. Yes it's all completely relevant, and suitably dark and horrific, but for me the series is better in dealing with the more concrete - the body horror, the battles, the most perfectly tangible senses of dread, nightmare and threat. Yes, those emotions do come solid in writing this good.

Beyond that extended, divisive opening, things definitely return to form. The action, the black mood, the carnage, all continue, and the writing conveys it all brilliantly. It's actually quite a rich, literary style. Monsters bask in darkness in subterranean lairs. There are lots of quality turns of phrase here, to show Smith's consummate skills expertly, should you wish to see beyond the kinetic, page-turning qualities and witness them.

And the approach to the whole cycle is one of merit too. It is one that can bear the burden of being loaded down with copious references and genres, and still come out the far end its own creature. A few, to whet your appetite - the crime thriller, the mid-apocalyptic war movie, the mad scientist genre, the Nazi allegory, the Fall of Man - it's an odd mixture, but the conviction with which it appears on the page makes everything gel.

And so I'm left with the end of it all here (or, actually, elsewhere - read the last page for further details). While I didn't find perfection in any one volume, and didn't enjoy the beginning here, I did successfully admire it all, and what Smith has achieved - combined, a solid week's worth or more of the most literally visceral teen reads I can think of.

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

To recap, the series started with Lockdown. I urge you to try a different teen prison story too - whatever your age - in Boot Camp by Todd Strasser.

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