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 bought this when it was on sale a few months ago, and it turned out to be a perfect “while on vacation” book. It’s exciting, a bit scary, and it moves really quickly. The characters are (mostly) interesting and enjoyable to read about, although it’s all dudes and there isn’t a female character anywhere. NOWHERE. A mom and a sister are mentioned by the male characters once or twice, and that’s it. Furnace is, apparently, an all-male facility? Or maybe it’s just boys who cause enough trouble (supposedly) to warrant going to Furnace? But still: where the hell are the girls?
The lack of ANY female characters seriously disturbs me, and it made the book much less enjoyable for me than it could have been. Also, to be honest, it took me a while to get my suspension of disbelief up and running. I honestly just don’t think there’d ever be a prison where kids were put and then left there until they died. Even after a summer of gang murders or whatever– and that was never fully explained, by the way– you know the blame would not be on all kids everywhere. But then, I guess the prison isn’t supposed to be an actual prison (more like a testing facility?), and maybe the warden’s hypno-eyes took over congress or something and let the thing be built. But still. Pretty hard for me to believe, which made the entire situation less scary than it could have been if it was set more within our reality. Real scary things are always more scary than fantasy scary things, you know? Or at least I think so.
But anyway, for those who don’t have such a hard time suspending disbelief, and for those who don’t mind the complete absence of an entire gender, you’d probably really enjoy this. It has some good things to say about responsibility, friendship, and life/death. I liked that Alex knew he messed up and that he could have changed his fate any time if he just cared enough to, if he wasn’t so greedy (his word) and selfish. Taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes isn’t something that teenagers tend to do, really, and I was happy for once to have a character recognize the significance of the consequences of his/her own actions and the part he/she played in bringing them about.
Although all that does tend to get glossed over by the violence/action/puke, so it’s not nearly as effective as something in the way of a Walter Dean Myers book.
So basically: good book for boys and people who like near-dystopic, set-in-the-future books with weird sci-fi/horror elements in them, but it desperately needs some female characters that aren’t dead and/or only mentioned by male characters. I haven’t even touched on the writing, but Leila says it’s like Darren Shan and James Patterson, and that seems a pretty apt description.
Read: January 10-13, 2011