By Alexander Gordon Smith
Series: Escape From Furnace #1
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux
on October 27, 2009
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, where giants in black suits drag screaming inmates into the shadows, where 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 innocent kids who have been framed, others 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.
I had wanted to read this book since I finished The Maze Runner, but I didn’t want to read them too close together, since the plots seemed somewhat similar, in that each book involves a group of boys held somewhere seemingly inescapable. Enough time had passed, though, that I decided to go ahead and read this one, and they are very different books.
This book was pretty action-packed and exciting. It was also creepy at times, but in a way that made me want to keep reading.
The introduction of Alex’s character is quick, but done in such a way that I felt as though Alex was not necessarily a bad kid. He made some bad choices, but he was young, he loved his parents, and he was ultimately framed for the murder of his friend.
The murder leads to his arrest and trial, and he is sentenced to life in Furnace, a privately run prison for youth. There are references throughout the book to what is called the Summer of Slaughter, an event that took place a few summers ago during which time a number of youth gangs went on a violent rampage, leading to harsher sentencing and the creation of Furnace.
Alex’s cell mate, Donovan, seems tough and distant at first, but reveals that it’s just a cover when they’re out of their cells, because friendships in Furnace make you vulnerable. Donovan has been in Furnace for five years, since its creation, for the murder of his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Unlike Alex, Donovan was not framed.
They also become friends with Zee, a ‘new fish’ who was sent to Furnace at the same time as Alex. Donovan tries to show them the ropes to help ensure their survival, e.g. don’t get caught up in someone else’s problems; stay out of the way of the various gangs; etc.
Alex’s interest is piqued, however, by the various horrors encountered in Furnace, like the giant dogs that attack anyone caught outside of their cells after Lockdown, and the creatures in masks who come out at night during Blood Raids, marking cells from which boys are removed, never to be seen again (for the most part…). He decides to escape, and is met with skepticism and resistance from Zee and Donovan, but they eventually agree to help him with his plan.
I won’t reveal any more, other than to say that there is a sequel to this book that I can’t wait to read! This book was dark, but has humor and heart as well. Alex is a likable character. Despite the crimes he did commit, he was definitely framed for murder. I want to know why! I’m hopeful that will be revealed in the next book.
Similarly, Donovan and Zee are likable characters. Donovan was like a protective older brother to Alex, wanting to keep him safe despite his insistence that having friends in Furnace was a bad idea. Zee, being as new to Furnace as Alex, is more willing to try something and hold on to the ideas of hope and escape, in contrast to Donovan’s assertion that staying alive is based on following the rules, staying out of trouble, and letting go of the idea that you may one day get out.
I think that part of what appealed to me about this book is that I’ve always been interested in reading about prisons, inmates, crime, the justice system, etc. I was a criminology student in university and have always found all angles of the criminal justice system intriguing, which has, I suppose, spilled over to fiction exploring these same topics. The ideas behind youth criminal justice, whether we are too hard on young offenders or not hard enough, are very interesting to me, and definitely something I was thinking about as I read this.
This book was very entertaining, and definitely made me think. It’s dark but also funny, and I care about the characters, so I’m very eager to read the sequel to find out what happens to them. If you like young adult novels but are looking for something a bit darker, I definitely recommend this one.