The first two books in Alexander Gordon Smith’s Escape from Furnace series are … intense. Smith has created a nightmarish, terrifying, horrific world and it can be difficult to read at times. Not because of the writing — the writing is brilliant. But because of the subject matter.
In the first book in the series, Lockdown, we follow 14-year-old Alex — a small-time thief and burglar who is framed for the murder of his best friend and sentenced (without any chance of an appeal) to the mysterious and sinister prison for children known as Furnace.
Inside Furnace Penitentiary, Alex discovers a horrific world of hard labor, deadly gang wars and even more mysterious and cruel punishments from the Warden and his ogre-like henchmen.
The books follow Alex as he learns the ropes of Furnace (many lessons with violent and sometimes deadly consequences) and eventually resolves to escape, despite the fact that it’s never been done before. And while the inner workings of this hellish place are grotesquely fascinating, the book at times plods along heavily, with no clear direction of where it’s going.
But the difficult part of reading the Escape from Furance books is in the content itself.
Now, let me clear up front. The biggest reason I read books (in general) is for an escape. I work in TV news and cover real-life horrors all the time, so I like to get away from that by diving into a book. It was really hard for me to keep plodding along through Lockdown and the second book in the series, Solitary, because the things that happen in these books are so horrific. There was no escape — for Alex or for the reader.
And while I am an advocate of the idea that anyone can read any book, this series definitely feels more like a boy-oriented franchise. For starters, there are NO female characters (except for a fleeting reference to Alex’s mom).
Still, the books bring up a lot of tough subjects that will get young readers thinking — and they are filled with plenty of fast-paced action, which guy readers in particular will enjoy.
Lockdown and Solitary are both available now. The third book in the series, Death Sentence, will be available in the U.S. later this year.