Solitary (Escape from Furnace, Book 2)
by Alexander Gordon Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Solitary (Escape from Furnace, Book 2) / 978-0-374-32492-6
I thought the first "Escape from Furnace" novel, "Lockdown", was an instant classic that filled my soul with gritty terror, and gave me a fair share of nightmares to boot. The horrors of being locked up in a claustrophobic underground hell-hole prison, surrounded by guards strongly reminiscent of the possessed puppet villain from Hellboy, and encouraged by a trapped prison mentality to lose all sense of humanity and descend into an animalistic state, all combined nicely into a book that seemed to be pure, concentrated High Octane Nightmare Fuel.
"Solitary", the successor to "Lockdown", continues the story, and does so competently, but lacks some of the sharpness and punch of the first. When "Lockdown" ended, Alex and his friends had just escaped into the tunnels surrounding the prison, and "Solitary" picks up immediately from there. Since the Furnace prison is, unfortunately, the most interesting part of Alex's story, he and his friends are almost immediately gathered back up and tossed into solitary confinement - a plot twist somewhat spoiled by the title.
Somehow, "Solitary" just isn't quite as scary as its predecessor. Maybe it's because we're now away from the general population, and we don't see the hordes of otherwise normal boys turning into hardened prison inmates and killing themselves and others. Or perhaps it's because at this point it's hard to imagine Alex's potential death as being anything other than a mercy, so there's less suspense that he might buy the permanent ticket out of Furnace. Perhaps it's just the lack of suspense - it's hard to beat the scenes from the first book where the boys lay cowering in their beds, praying for the Wheezers to pick a different victim; anyone but them. Or maybe it's the fact that Alex's humanity doesn't seem in danger when he's in solitary - he may go mad, but he won't be faced with the unhappy choice between murder and clinging to survival one more day.
Still, "Solitary" is a strong successor, and will carry the plot of this trilogy as well as the reader over the deeper secrets of Furnace. We get to visit the dreaded Infirmary - Nightmare Fuel by itself - and the depictions of solitary confinement are realistically grim and bleak, even if Alex does manage to pop in and out of his cell every five minutes or so. I'd go so far as to say I enjoyed "Solitary" a lot, although I do feel that Smith could cut back on the Purple Prose a touch - somehow, the horrors are more terrifying with stark, blunt language rather than flowery dolled-up language.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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