Review: Death Sentence

Death Sentence. Escape From Furnace 3, by Alexander Gordon Smith. Farrar Straus Giroux. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to Lockdown and Solitary.

The Plot: The third book of the teenage prison break series, Escape From Furnace, finds Alex and his friends trapped in the underground prison, Furnace Penitentiary. Alex’s second attempt at escape brought him tantalizing close to the outside. His punishment? Alex is turned over to the Infirmary, to become surgically remade into one of the monstrous creatures that police the hallways of Furnace.

At least in Lockdown  and Solitary , Alex had his friends. At least, then, he had hope. At least, then, he had his soul. Now, Alex’s own body and mind will betray him. There are some things worse than death.

The Good: As I explained in my recent review of Solitary, the Escape From Furnace series is best read in order. As a quick recap (and spoilers for the previous two books), in Lockdown, petty criminal Alex was falsely convicted of murder and sent to the Furnace Penitentiary. He attempts to escape, but is caught. Alex is punished in Solitary; but the isolation of the “hole” isn’t enough to break him. Death Sentence begins immediately after Alex’s second failed attempt at escape. Alex thought he knew all the secrets Furnace was hiding. He’s about to find out how much worse it is.

Death Sentence delivers what Furnace fans want: breathless action, deep friendships, and a likable, flawed main character. These books are all quick reads, and are relatively short at under 300 pages each. Or maybe they just seemed like quick reads, because the Escape from Furnace books are the very definition of page-turner. A lot happens, one thing after another, BAM BAM BAM. I’m amazed at how inventive Smith is with finding new and hopeless situations to put Alex in, and then having Alex and his friends brainstorm ways to pull off the impossible.

Alex and his friends manage to pull off some pretty spectacular things, but it’s always within the realm of possibility. As Alex discovers, the gigantic “blacksuits”, gas-masked “wheezers” and brutal, mindless “dogs” and “rats” all used to be teenage prisoners who have been transformed. Part of that transformation includes forgetting who you are, who you were, and becoming cruel, mean, and brutal. Alex’s punishment for two escape attempts? He’s going to be made into one of these monster. It’s a fascinating process to see the combination of science and brainwashing that goes into the transformation, and to see how Alex tries to “remember his name” and not become what he’s being made into.

One reason I adore these books? Alex’s fight is not superman. In Lockdown, he encounters a blacksuit who was a friend who tells him: remember your name. Alex’s accomplishments (and there are many) are impressive but not unbelievable. He isn’t “superhuman”, even after, well, he is made into a superhuman. His friends aren’t just sidekicks with the quick quip, or reminders of his humanity and past. They are integral; they are necessary; they have talents and skills Alex doesn’t have.

If you’ve been wondering, Furnace Penitentiary seems like an awful lot of work and expense for a bunch of juvenile delinquents, Alex finds out more about Alfred Furnace, the man behind both the prison and the experiments. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will say one word: there are Nazis. I KNOW.

As I’ve cautioned before: be careful with your Internet searching and this series. All five books have been published in the UK already and the UK website contains spoilers.

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