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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alexander Gordon Smith had wanted to become an author since the age of six & that's' when he began writing. After leaving school he started writing non-fiction, including several children's books on space and geography and hundreds of articles for various magazines. He won the 2nd prize in the Wow Factor competition, run by Faber and Waterstones, after which Faber published his submitted manuscript. He has five children's books out already & seven non-fiction titles.
"Lockdown: Escape from Furnace" is the author's US debut novel. It was previously published in the UK on 2nd July 2009.
PLOT SUMMARY: Furnace Penitentiary: the world's most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth's surface. Convicted of a murder he didn't commit, sentenced to life without parole, "new fish" Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world. Except in Furnace, death is the least of his worries. Soon Alex discovers that the prison is a place of pure evil, where inhuman creatures in gas masks stalk the corridors at night, giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, deformed beasts can be heard howling from the blood-drenched tunnels below. And behind everything is the mysterious, all-powerful warden, a man as cruel and dangerous as the devil himself, whose unthinkable acts have consequences that stretch far beyond the walls of the prison.
Together with a bunch of inmates—some being innocent kids who have been framed, others being cold-blooded killers—Alex plans an escape. But as he starts to uncover the truth about Furnace's deeper, darker purpose, Alex's actions grow ever more dangerous, and he must risk everything to expose this nightmare that's hidden from the eyes of the world.
FORMAT/INFO: The US edition stands at 273 pages broken down into twenty-nine titled but unnumbered chapters. Narration is via the first person, and features Alex Sawyer, the young protagonist. "Lockdown: Escape from Furnace" is the first in a series of five books.
October 27, 2009 has marked the North American Hardcover publication of "Lockdown: Escape from Furnace" via Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books.
CLASSIFICATION: This book is a YA thriller with paranormal overtones and will appreciated by readers who have read and enjoyed Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly, Jake Ransom & the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins or the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
ANALYSIS: I had heard bout the book via a reference and while the book blurb seemed interesting enough, it was after reading the four chapters featured on the Macmillan site that I got revved up for the book; after finishing the book I must say that it doesn't disappoint or rather it blows your mind and then some.
The 1st chapter begins with the protagonist, 12 year old Alex Sawyer trying to outrun some monstrosity while incarcerated in the Furnace. It's from the second chapter when we learn how Alex got there along with the rest of the other inmates and about the events which had led to the development of the Furnace. Within the first few chapters the back-story is established and therein our tale begins when Alex arrives at the Furnace with the other prisoners. It's from here that the story wildly escalates from its simple beginnings into a locomotive express which has shades of "The Great Escape" combined with "Tom Sawyer".
The plot while not being totally original does have some surprises in store for the readers. Alexander Gordon has a very fresh voice and it shows in his writing which makes for a very entertaining read. The book chapters are in the James Patterson mode, short and fast. The main character of Alex, the protagonist, is a bit gray as well which adds to the story. The descriptions of the world below & life generally in the furnace is done in quite a lucid manner so as to make the reader understand the frustrations of the central characters. The book also deals with the harsh setting of prison life though in a manner appropriate to YA novels. "Lockdown: Escape from Furnace" ends on a cliffhanger and while there is some closure, the overall series is left wide open with many possibilities about true story behind its happenings.
The novel has a few minor niggles in it: the world building is done just enough to fit the story & does not go beyond it; since this was the opening salvo in the series, we might get a broader view in the next installments. "Lockdown: Escape from Furnace" has no central antagonist - besides the Furnace itself - of course there are some pointers about certain persons that may become of major importance later but the reader will not be learning much in this book about them.
In the end I would say I thoroughly enjoyed "Lockdown: Escape from Furnace". Alexander G. Smith is a new fantastic talent upon the YA book scene and I can't wait to see what lies in the future for Alex and the world of the Furnace. I have very high expectations for the next book and the series overall and I look forward to seeing them fulfilled spectacularly.