Escape from Furnace I
Alexander Gordon Smith (blog)
Farrar Straus & Giroux
Faber and Faber
Some books just immediately impress you, either by their concept, the writing, or the overall skill in storytelling. This book does all three. Alexander Gordon Smith has started a series that looks to be amazing if this first book is any indication. It has been about 10 years since I got this excited about a series by the first book, and that time it was The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks.
The back story. At some point in the near future youth crime reaches epic heights. The populace responds strongly after the summer of slaughter, a period where youth murder rates soar. They create a new super max prison for young offenders, carved below the earth: Furnace. They say that below heaven is hell and below hell is furnace. There is now a zero tolerance policy on youth felons.
The story written in the first person narrative style, is the story of Alex Sawyer, a young criminal mostly responsible for break and enters and petty theft. Alex is framed for the murder of his criminal partner. Even though he is innocent, he is convicted and sent to Furnace. He arrives in Furnace, a terrifying dark hole carved from the earth, a place ruled by vicious gangs, and even more brutal guards. A place filled with horrifying creatures who come and steal boys from their cells in the night. A place with no hope and no future. Yet Alex struggles to maintain hope - that hope is escape, something believed to be impossible.
Alexander Gordon Smith does an amazing job of capturing the brutality of a prison environment, without going into too much gore. He tells a dark tale without becoming overly depressing. It is very well written.
The story is very well written for a first novel. It flows fast and furious, running the gauntlet of emotions, from hope to despair, from joy to gloomy submission. Once you start reading you won't want to put the book down. Unfortunately it races to a cliff hanger finish, leaving you wanting the next book, Solitary, right away, and it is not due out in North America until the fall. This book has made the list of my all-time favourite fiction novels and I highly recommend it. Just as a side note, I love the North American covers and that is what attracted me in the first place; if I had seen the UK covers I doubt I would have read the book. (US covers on left, UK covers on right.)
Books By Alexander Gordon Smith:
Escape from Furnace:
Execution Epilogue - Short Story
The Night Children - Short Story
The Inventors And The City of Stolen Souls
1001 Questions and Answers
Inspired Creative Writing: 52 Brilliant Ideas from the Master Wordsmiths
The Solar System
Writing Bestselling Children's Books: 52 Brilliant Ideas for Inspiring Young Readers
The Art Of Furnace
Author Profile Interview With Alexander Gordon Smith