Alexander Gordon Smith is a UK author who seems to be coming into his own. His first major book to his North American markets was Lockdown, Escape from Furnace book 1. It has been nominated for the American Library Association Quick Picks for Young Adults, with good reason and this sequel due out in North America later this year should also garner much praise. But for those who have read Lockdown and cannot wait until October for the US release, there is another alternative. The series is already on book 3 in the UK. Like book 1, this story takes place in Furnace Penitentiary, a super max prison for young offenders built into the earth.
This story continues immediately after the first story. Alex Sawyer has just attempted to escape from the prison no one has escaped from. Along with a few friends he has managed to get out of the prison and into an underground river. Soon he is in a maze of tunnels, vaults and caves under the prison. They say that hell is below heaven and that furnace is below hell; Alex is about to find out what is below furnace. As the title indicates, Alex ends up in solitary confinement. There he must battle not only his own personal demons but also he encounters some created by the prison and the staff as they have experimented on the young inmates in their charge.
This book is kind of a cross between Escape from Alcatraz, and The Island of Dr. Moreau but with a sadistic Nazi Concentration camp-like experiments or somewhat like the Saw movies. The book is a compulsive read; you will discover that you cannot put it down. What does hold you back is knowing that it is only book 2 in a 5 part series and that 2 have not even been published yet. The book is dark and as hideous as the experiments depicted. Our main character has fleeting thoughts of suicide and struggles to maintain not only hope, but the ability to keep trying and striving to find a way of escape.
The book begins with Alex telling us "I have a confession. I'm not a good person. ... I stole from the people I loved, and took the things that meant the most to them. ... So don't go fooling yourself that I'm an innocent victim, someone who didn't deserve to be locked up inside the hell on earth known as Furnace Penitentiary." His time in isolation forces him to honestly evaluate himself and his worth. And he finds himself wanting.
I am not sure I even want to imagine what being locked in a hole carved in rock would be like, yet Gordon Alexander Smith seems to not only place a character there, but enters his mind and that confined space, and gives us an incredible experience of it. In this book we learn more about Furnace and what is really happening there, but we are also left with more questions - hopefully some of which will be answered in book 3, Death Sentence.
As stated at the beginning, this book is currently only available in North America by overseas shipping. With how popular the first book is becoming it is surprising that the publisher is not pushing up the US releases to get caught up to the UK releases. This book was a great read, but I would not recommend it for all readers; it is very dark and in some places gruesome, but never to a point that it does not fit the story. I read it twice late at night, and though I do not often remember my dreams, both evenings I dreamed of Alex and his struggles. It is a story well told, and told well in the details. It leaves you cheering for the underdog even though he recognises he is not innocent, not good and has failed everyone who has ever known him. It is a good instalment in what is shaping up to be a great series.