Solitary by Alexander Gordon Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Delving further into the bowels of Furnace Penitentiary, Alex Sawyer desperately tries to hold onto his fleeting sanity. After a failed attempt to escape the underground horrors, being thrown into solitary confinement is a fate worse than death. A hole in the rocky earth becomes his coffin, yet it won't save him from what roams the corridors, in search of warm flesh to eat.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
With this second installment I desperately tried to overcome my primary issue with the series - the suspension of disbelief that it relies so heavily upon. Unfortunately I just can’t get behind the all important plot point of how this prison even exists; world building has been pretty unremarkable in that regard. I mean, how could parents just be okay with never seeing their teenage children ever again, no matter what crimes they’ve apparently committed? I digress. I promised myself this wouldn’t be a rant-review, because in actuality, I enjoy the struggles of Alex quite a bit. Smith adds such raw emotion to the dire situation, and good, descriptive writing I can appreciate. Rather than Alex and his friends emerging into the light of freedom, they’re thrown into solitary confinement in this addition. Who knew general population would be greatly missed? I have to give credit where it’s due; the unpleasantness of solitary at times made my skin crawl. Despite the main protagonists being in their teenage years, little detail was left to the imagination - even their toilet habits were voiced. This is the sort of book I would have loved as a younger reader; pushing the boundaries of the young adult genre with its bleak themes. Perhaps I would have even dismissed the implausibilities in favour of enjoyment, but my mind doesn’t work that way these days.
I can’t say that Alex, as a character, developed a great deal. His way of thinking was much the same as the last - feeling helpless and doomed, followed by a sense of hope and determination. One thing in particular became very much apparent, and that’s the fact his actions wholly depend upon his companions. Without them, and I believe he’d be a very lifeless person. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I am a fan of independence. I often wondered what, if anything, he would have achieved if truly without anyone. He hinted once or twice about suicide, but again I think his relationships give him his every bit of strength. Perhaps he’ll find himself all by his lonesome at some point, as his allies are dwindling in number. A new character was introduced however, and I liked Simon and what he represented.
As for the plot, it was thoroughly entertaining, even if it was a recycled escape and fail trope. By now I know that Smith favours the action-packed scenes that keep readers on their toes, and together with the turbulence of Alex’s mind, it was enough to keep me invested. I enjoyed the change of scenery, and especially the horrors of the infirmary. Questions arose about the mystery behind it all; the black substance that transforms the subjects, the overall goal of creating monsters. There’s an endless supply of prisoners, after all, so what’s the point? To build an army?
In conclusion: Even though I preferred Lockdown a bit more, this one showed no signs of the series slowing down. It’s grim and frightening at times, and I appreciate the expressive way in which the story's told. If only more information was given to properly quench my concerns.
I wondered how many voices there were living in my head, and how they could all have such different opinions.
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