I was Googling Furnace today (yes, again!) and found some reviews that I don't think I've seen before. They were written by some teachers in Australia, which is amazing! It's so great to get their approval! Anyway, I have posted them below in case anybody is interested!
Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith (MINOR SPOILERS)
The start of this novel is gripping. More importantly, any teen male reader will just want to turn the pages as quickly as possible. A prison that is chiselled out of a huge underground cavern is an amazing setting for the incarceration of teen male offenders. The twist arrives early in the novel when it becomes apparent that prison officials head out into communities and set up potential inmates. The chapter delineations also add to the tension that the author intertwines into the plot. The temptation is to read just one more chapter. Prison life is described with great detail and with multi sensory language that engages the reader. The use of guards and their wolverine type assistants spread a fear through the ‘Furnace’. There is no escape and the inmates recognise this hopeless state. During evening lockdown, the Warden of the Furnace sends out a group of creatures called ‘wheezers’. These beings visit the cells of the teen prisoners and mark the cell bars with a large cross. The significance of this action is not only literally terrifying for the characters in the story but also for the reader. There is graphic description of the aftermath of being selected by these beings and the unfortunate cell dwellers become transformed in what appears to be secret experimentation on human teenage bodies. As in all large gatherings of people, smaller social groups develop. As expected, some of the inmates tend towards dominating as many others as possible. Alex and his small group attempt to break this standover group with violent consequences. The underground cavernous prison does have a geological flaw which is discovered by the main character Alex. Seeking the help of his cell mate Donovan, a plan of action is developed to attempt an escape. But no one escapes from Furnace! The plan becomes known to two other inmates and one of them is Kevin, the leader of the standover gang. This puts a higher risk of failure to the group but they persist. Some action packed events then occur which makes the reader feel as if there is some justice at times, no matter how small. The final chapter provides an insight into the emotional desperation of Alex and friend Zee, as they make their way to an improbable escape from Furnace. Not all of the group attempt the final step and the torment of Donovan being taken from his cell the evening prior to the escape haunts Alex. If caught, death from the Furnace authorities would result. There was only one chance for freedom and Alex took it. However, success is not guaranteed.
Trevor Dangerfield, Elisabeth Murdoch College, Vic
Set in the future, in a time of zero tolerance of youth crime, following the Summer of Slaughter, Furnace: Lockdown transports us to a sinister penitentiary, the toughest maximum security prison in the world, named after its builder, Alfred Furnace. At some twenty six floors deep into the bowels of the Earth, it is a place of violence and evil, with giant guards in black business suits, mutant dogs to chew up inmates, ‘wheezers’, with filthy coats, ancient metal gas masks stitched permanently into their skin, and carrying syringes of contaminated blood and
extension activities the book offers. The hint of a river running deep under Furnace, as a possible escape route, is also symbolic and a clever parallel. For Alex, having enjoyed Greek myths and legends at school, he must now get back over from the other side of his own River Styx to escape his Hell. Alexander Gordon Smith has indeed penned a riveting, sure-fire winner.
Alison Cassell, Qld
Hold your breath. Hold tight. This is a journey of fear and trepidation, of horrors no one would want to imagine. Worse than your worst nightmare. Imagine you were “actually in hell” for one of the crimes you didn’t actually commit. Well welcome to Furnace, welcome to a living hell. Thoughts of escape will be the only thing to keep you alive and wanting to go on. No sky, no daylight. Forget the niceties of The Great Escape. This is not a heroic tale. It is a story of survival. Every page unravels new fearful images - the wheezers with their faces removed. The fellow prisoners who might get to you first. Childhood is a thing of the past. You are taken through the terrifying journey of Alex and he needs to get out! This novel is not one I could say I enjoyed, but one that grabs you by the throat and leaves you with an insignificant level of hope. It is a novel I think may leave younger readers a little unnerved and therefore it really is aimed at 14 +. Boys would find it interesting as it takes them into a futuristic prison world for Juveniles. It deals with the moral issues about incarceration and how we punish crimes. It also examines the concept of innocence and how they are abandoned by the legal system. There is no justice, yet the legal system is expected to do something about juvenile crime. These not-so-innocents are the scapegoats. This novel would work well with a unit on “Conflict” but be warned, it does contain violent actions that may shock so be aware of your audience. Extracts from this could also be used with more academic students due to its appropriated references to Dante’s Inferno. This novel would entice boys to read and teach them a moral lesson along the way. Some may not like the uncertainty of the ending but there is a sequel!
When I began reading Furnace: Lockdown I was merely an adult reviewing some teenage fiction. I did not expect to find it particularly stimulating to the adult mind but I was pleasantly surprised! I now find myself quite a fan of Mr. Alexander Gordon Smith.
Lockdown is a thrilling read! It drew me in with its excellent writing, vivid descriptions and chilling mysteries. It is not however, a book for the faint hearted. The premise is ghastly, throwing a 13 year old boy into a violent, hell-like hole in the ground that is the Furnace Prison. If it were ever made into a film it would need a rather heavy rating for violence and horror if the filmmakers were to do the writing justice. Characters include writhing, demonic dogs, creepy sub-human guards and the terrifying Wheezers with their syringes “full of blackness and death”. Lockdown however also has emotional depth. I found myself laughing at the lighter moments, particularly the witty repartee between our hero Alex and his cohorts. The book is also not afraid to be tender. As a mother of boys the same age as Alex, I found myself invested in his emotional roller coaster, feeling proud of his wins, devastated by his setbacks and also a little sad as the hardness of The Furnace begins to have it’s way with him.
In a classroom setting, the topic of justice is opened up widely by this novel. When is it right to do what is usually wrong? How does injustice affect people in the short and the long term? Alex’s reflections of his earlier life and the decisions he made that led to his life of crime could promote excellent conversations amongst students. I am really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Furnace trilogy purely for my own enjoyment! I cannot wait for more of the deeper, darker secrets of this horrific yet fascinating place to be revealed.
Jodie Sheppard, Mountain District Christian School, Vic