Beneath Heaven is Hell. Beneath Hell is Furnace.
Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Alex Sawyer is the “new fish.” Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, he knows he has two choices: resign himself to death in the darkness at the bottom of the world or find a way to break out of this escape-proof nightmare.
Firstly, thank you so much to Kristi from The Story Siren for sending me her copy of this book through her wonderful Books for Grabs site. I’d been itching to read it ever since seeing Dannie’s review over on Opinionated? Me?. Secondly, Lockdown is officially in the running for my favourite book of 2009.
In the probably not so distant future, Alex is a teen from a rough neighbourhood; he and his best friend Toby are thieves, stealing from other kids at school and breaking and entering into houses. It’s during one such B&E that everything goes wrong for Alex and he finds himself sentenced to life without parole to Furnace Penitientiary, a prison built after the Summer of Slaughter to house offenders under the 18.
Alexander Gordon Smith’s writing pulled me in from the very beginning. Told in first person, I was immediately sucked into Alex’s head-space. Everything was immediate, raw, gritty and harsh. Life in Furnace is brutal and starkly terrifying – there is no death penalty, but no one cares if the inmates kill each other off. The best passage I came across that describes the initial despair they all feel regarding their situation actually gave me chills, from the scene it describes and the language used to invoke it:
It was here, holding the bars of my cell like they were my only friends, that I first heard the symphony of Furnace. It started with the sobs, which rose up out of the darkness all around me like the gentle strings in an orchestra. They began as hushed moans choked back by the countless musicians that crafted them, merging together from every level to create a fountain of sound that ran down to the deserted yard below.
Even though the book is told in first person, I was still able to get a feel for the other main characters in the story; their personalities and quirks shone through. Donovon, who’d been in Furance from the very beginning, is tough, but has an almost mother-hen quality about him. He’s resigned to his fate, but underneath he still has hope that someday he’ll leave this escape-proof supermax prison. Zee arrives in Furnace the same day as Alex, due to much the circumstances (argh, I’m trying not to spoil any part of this book, it would just be cruel to do so), and is the funny-guy of the little group. He’s optimistic that his stay in Furnace isn’t permanent and likes to joke around. The villians (the guards and warden) remained the mystery they were meant to be and left me wondering just what the hell is going on in this prison.
Lockdown never lacked for action and I was quite happy with the pace of the book – quick, but not so fast I felt the plot was rushed. There were moments in the story that were so full of tension, terror or disbelief that, like Alex, I just wanted the next part to begin (in a good way), because surely Furnace couldn’t get any worse. Being the first book in a series, there are obviously still many things left unanswered by the conclusion of the story (including a great, big, massive cliffhanger!) – we recieve enough details to know that something really freaky is going on at Furnace prison, but hardly any major explanations. The only thing I wish would have been answered (or even mentioned) was why there are no girls in Furance. Do girls just not commit crimes punishable by life in prison, or are they just not sent to Furnace? Other than the wonder at the lack of females in the book, everything else was just perfect for the first of a series.
Especially the ending. Which had me heartbroken and a little teary-eyed, and yet happy and hopeful at the same time. God, what an ending. And I usually dislike extreme cliffhangers! I’m not going to be able to wait until next fall for the second book, Solitary. I loved Lockdown, I highly recommend it!