Saturday, 28 June 2014

Beneath Heaven Is Hell… Beneath Hell Is Furnace.

It's been a long time since I've read a story that both completely engrossed me and completely terrified me. Yet the Escape From Furnace series by Alexander Gordon Smith has done just that. It pulled me in on the first page and kept my attention as I read through action scene after action scene, met unique, dimensional and complex characters, and had images painted with such detail and horror that I actually cringed at some points. Not since Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles or Rob Thurman's work have I been so in love with and impressed by a series. Today I'll be summing up my thoughts about the whole series– I tore through it like fire to paper– while trying to avoid spoilers. Not an easy task, so if you want to avoid being surprised all together (and trust me, you do), go on to buy the books and read them for yourself. You'll thank me later.

I love the sheer terror of these covers. It definitely conveys the terror of the series.
Escape From Furnace tells the story of Alex Sawyer, a young theif who is framed for murder and sent to a maximum security prison for young offenders. Sorry, did I say "maximum security prison"? I really meant: "Hell on earth." It isn't just the outside of Furnace Penitentiary that looks like something out of a nightmare. The prison's interior is filled with genuine murderers, ruthless blacksuit guards, stomach-churning monsters, cringe-inducing creatures wearing gas masks, and a warden whose eyes are the very pits of evil.

If none of that is bad enough, inmates could find themselves dragged away from their cells in the middle of the night to meet a fate worse that death. Unable to take the fear, Alex creates a small band of friends and plans an escape. But Furnace has more secrets than he could ever realize, and the more he discovers them, the more likely it seems that Alex will fall into a darkness that he can't escape... and may not want to.

That's about as much as I can say without giving away hints about what happened in these books. I really can't stress enough how much I enjoyed them, how they deserve to be read and enjoyed. I tried to think about talking about my favorite parts, but there were too many to list. The characters are solid and unique, easy to understand and loveable. I even had to respect the villains at some point. Okay, respect is really the wrong word given the atrocious things they put Alex and his fellow convicts through, but Smith didn't make one dimensional characters.

Alex himself is the protagonist, but he isn't really a hero. He did things that made me sickened by him, but at the same time I understood him, and that made him an excellent main character. To be honest, one of my favorite things about him were in the later novels when his mind is corrupted and changed. His ending in Fugitives really shocked me, and had me eager to jump into the next book. All of the secondary characters were sympathetic and realistic, and I actually considered them to be real human beings when I was reading.

Despite these novels being essentially in the horror genre, it wasn't all nail-biting fear. There were some genuinely tender moments. The ending of the final book, Execution, got me a little teary-eyed, and I never though I would get choked up about teenagers hunting for burgers.

The action... Oh man, the action. Pulse-pounding is an understatement. Every battle was rough and brutal, Smith's descriptions giving clarity to the danger the characters were in. It was like reading an action movie, impossible to be bored and always excited when the heroes were locked in combat.

Speaking of descriptions, that's another thing that Smith has mastered with this series. He has an art for giving just enough information to let your imagination flow, so you can picture the terrors Alex and his friends face, while painting a vivid concept that's all his own. This helped build the atmosphere for me. I can't even remember the last time I read a book that scared me as much as this one did.

The moment I finished reading Lockdown, I knew I would be a fan of Alexander Gordon Smith. His writing is incredible, and I've already recommended this series to some of my friends. Those I haven't told it about will be hearing about it shortly. Even if you don't typically read YA, read these books. They're intense, heartfelt, terrifying, and a blast from beginning to end. I highly recommend you take a look inside Furnace and learn its secrets, if you dare...


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