Alex Sawyer finds himself in Furnace Penitentiary; a pit in the ground, its sole purpose to cage away the youngest of offenders. The thing is, Alex may be a thief, and he may have broken the law, but he certainly doesn’t belong in Hell. Facing a lifetime underground, of never seeing the sun again, Alex is determined to escape. Good thing he’s made friends, for he’ll need all the help he can get.
(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)
This wasn’t a bad book (the Escape from Furnace series is five instalments long); I actually quite enjoyed it on some level, however certain questions got in the way and became an obstacle I unfortunately couldn’t bypass. Without sufficient world-building, I just couldn’t fully appreciate the premise of the plot; it seemed too far-fetched to me, lacking in any form of realism. But this is a book, right? It doesn’t need to be realistic, it’s fiction, after all. Well, if a story’s told correctly, if sense is made through the writing, then the author makes you believe, no matter if it’s about elves and goblins or whatever else. Words are a tool to be used, to transport us to new worlds that in themselves need to work. This didn’t work.
Sure, there was a bit of background on the world, and it touched upon why society believed it imperative to lock away children, but it was minimal and certainly not enough. Logic and reason just kept worming its way into my mind, asking why. Why create the most horrific prison for teenagers? Adults commit appalling crimes just as much, if not worse in comparison, yet this prison – this hell – isn’t for them? Let’s get the important facts out of the way, shall we?
– Each and every prisoner is there serving a life sentence. LIFE. I recall there being kids younger than fourteen.
– Inmates have zero rights. No visitation, no health checks, nothing regarding the law.
– They’re killed and / or transformed into monsters regularly. Basically guinea pigs for the warden and his experiments.
– Oh, and they’re all male. No females in sight. I can’t say I agree with the exclusion, but I get this is supposed to be a book catered to young boys.
They’re thrown away, forgotten about, and whilst I understand the “Summer of Slaughter” may have been a horrendous thing, the plausibility was severely lacking.
Moving on, before I just keep on repeating myself! Another thing that occurred to me throughout the chapters – this series is labelled as “young adult”, however I found there to be sensitive material that younger readers could very well find disturbing; including the murder and abuse of minors. This isn’t something that bothered me per say, but even I felt a chill or two down my spine at the horror elements Smith included with vivid description.
Despite my complaints and belief that it’s extremely flawed, I didn’t hate it. I kept wanting to read more, to see what would become of each and every character introduced. I found it interesting to read about Alex’s range of emotions; from desperation, to fear, to that spark of hope. The place had an effect on the boy; weighing upon his shoulders until he felt he’d been trapped there a lot longer than the mere days in which was reality. Alex may have made mistakes throughout, but I found him likeable. He had spirit, and despite his mistakes in life, he had a good heart. He wasn’t my favourite, though, as Donovan took that position. Older, more mature, he strived to take care of the group. I believed it was completely reasonable for him to question Alex’s ideas, and for his mindset to be cynical. I actually felt something when he was taken – some sense of sadness.
Whilst some things got repetitive in regards to the writing (the same thing would be described in different ways, over and over, such as the voices of the “blacksuits”), it worked for me. A lot was able to be conveyed; the sheer ugliness of Furnace itself. The dogs, the “wheezers”, and in general the frightening side of the plot, were all written superbly. I felt entertained until the very end, and the cliffhanger promptly made me buy the next one. I guess that was the intention!
In conclusion: I found it to be entertaining, however it failed in convincing me how Furnace could be allowed in any country. I’ll be continuing on with the series, with the hopes of having a history lesson.
Solitary is the next instalment of this series, and was first published in 2009.
The monster was standing outside my cell, staring at me with eyes so deeply embedded in its shrivelled face that they looked like black marbles. The contraption that covered its mouth and nose was coloured with rust and verdigris, and this close I could see that the ancient metal was stitched permanently into the skin.
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