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.
To make a Lockdown comparison, think of the show Prison Break if all of the prisoners were children. And they were locked in with terrifying monsters. And prisoners mysteriously went missing in the middle of the night. And the prison was in hell with seemingly absolutely no way out. That should give you a pretty good idea.
The protagonist, Alex, is a criminal. He belongs in jail, or in juvenile detention anyway. And while you might think it would be hard to work up much sympathy for a character who is a criminal, by the end of the book you definitely find yourself rooting for Alex. He’s just a screwed up kid who made some bad decisions, and the punishment he receives is completely disproportionate to his sentence (worth noting: he’s not even punished for crimes that he has committed, he’s set up for a murder and receives his punishment based on that). So while as someone who has had their house burgled in the past I initially kind of felt a bit of apathy toward housebreaker Alex, in the end I was completely in his corner. This was the case with most of the friends he encountered in Furnace as well.
Smith does an excellent job making Furnace seem like a truly terrifying place to be. The world building is excellent. It reminded me of something that Tim Burton would create, but with none of the whimsy and all of the foreboding. And the monsters are really, really scary. The Wheezers are some of the more frightening characters I’ve come across in a book in some time. Just gross and creepy.
I read this entire book in one sitting and I can’t wait to get some time to read the next book in the series, Solitary. I believe that there are five books total in the series and if they are all as good as this one I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading them all. I’m hoping that the next book has some more info on the prison itself, why it is the way it is, etc. It’s explained a bit in this one but I’m hoping for more detail.