Review: Solitary

Solitary: Escape From Furnace 2 by Alexander Gordon Smith. Sequel to Lockdown. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2010.

The Plot: At the end of Lockdown, Alex and his friends escaped the underground prison, Furnace, by blowing up a wall and throwing themselves into an underground river.

Alex knew it wouldn’t be easy to escape Furnace. What he didn’t realize was how many dark, bloody secrets Furnace hid, it its underground cells and laboratories. He didn’t realize there could be something worse than recapture.

The Good: Just like Lockdown, the first book in this five-book series, the action is nonstop and breathless. Yes, I think you need to read these books in order. In all honesty, I could easily see these five volumes being printed up in one volume, it’s that type of story. For those who haven’t read Lockdown, Smith provides enough detail to quickly get the reader caught up on what is going on: Furnace is a horrible prison, Alex and his friends have escaped, prisoners are the subjects of terrible surgeries and experiments that turn them into monstrous creatures, “rats,” “dogs, “wheezers,” “blacksuits,” whose only purpose is to cruelly control the prison population. Got it? Good. Actually, not very good for those who have to live it.

Solitary is full of action. As the title implies, Alex is ultimately caught and thrown into the “hole,” solitary confinement. Smith can even make solitary confinement action packed. Alex is not the sort of person to sit quietly and contemplate his lot in life. He’s someone who acts rather than reflects. Even when he is forced to, well, think about what he’s done and why he ended up in a place like Furnace, those dreams and memories aren’t quiet and low-key.

Oh, Alex. As you may remember, Alex was a criminal, just not a murderer. He was framed for the crime that brought him to Furnace. One thing that is admirable about him is that he does not deny his actions and his past: “I’m not a good person. . . . I stole from the people I loved, and took the things that meant the most to them.” Even as Alex owns his past and his actions, there is sympathy for him. Furnace is a hell that no one deserves. Here in this immoral place, Alex faces hard moral choices and makes the “right” decisions, or, rather, the least “wrong” one. He’s not perfect, but as his actions show, he isn’t as bad as he thinks.

Given the harsh subject of the book (teens are imprisoned and turned into monsters), it’s a bit odd for me to say this is a fun series but it is. First, it’s never overly gory; there is just enough detail shared to know what’s going on, to know what is being done to the boys, to understand their hardships, without it being over the top. Second, whatever the boys did to get sent to Furnace, what’s being done to them is so much worse that they are  heroes you can cheer. The tight bonds they form with each other add to it; as I mentioned in my review of the first book, Alex isn’t afraid of his emotions. He isn’t afraid to be afraid; he isn’t afraid to cry. He just doesn’t let those emotions get in the way of his goal: Escape From Furnace.

All five volumes are already available in the UK. If you do not like spoilers, do not look this series up on the Internet! Do not even look at the titles for the next volumes


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