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Literature / Escape from Furnace

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The original cover for the third book. It was rejected for being too scary.

Beneath heaven is hell. Beneath hell is Furnace.
The Warden (series tagline)

Escape from Furnace is a series of five books written by Alexander Gordon Smith detailing the adventures of Alex Sawyer in escaping Furnace - an underground penitentiary for teenage criminals.

The main books are:

  • Lockdown
  • Solitary
  • Death Sentence
  • Fugitives
  • Execution

With two prequel short stories available for free reading online:

  • The Night Children
  • Silent Night

This novel features the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Captain Annabel Atilio
  • Adults Are Useless: Kids are being dragged down to be tortured for life at an underground penitentiary and nobody even cares. Alex vaguely mentions about there being protests, but mostly, adults are just glad to get rid of the problematic kids. Teens Are Monsters is a common belief in that world, though, which explains the mentality.
  • The Alcatraz: Furnace. Together with Hellhole Prison, it defines the plot.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: A previous escape attempt had been made by an inmate named Scott White who sneaked into the air vents during a lockdown and managed to find his way onto the elevator up. However, he had gone delirious from dehydration and starvation and was easily caught by the time he made it up. The Warden had Scott brought out into the courtyard and devoured by dogs for everyone to see.
  • And I Must Scream: Inmates strapped down in the Infirmary.
  • Anyone Can Die: And how. Just don't get too attached.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Zee sure was into Alex after he became a Blacksuit.
  • Big Bad: Alfred Furnace.
  • The Big Guy: Donovan, Gary, Alex after becoming a Blacksuit.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Donovan, Alex, and Zee respectively.
  • The Berserker: The Berserkers, Gary and Alex.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Alex, after becoming a Blacksuit, really comes to like fighting.
  • Blood Knight: Alex tries to not become this but when his Berserk Button is pushed, watch out.
  • Body Horror: The series runs on it, basically.
  • The Bully: Alex himself used to be one.
  • Cain and Abel: Supposedly Alfred to his brother Jószef, but really it was all a set up by the stranger.
  • Catchphrase: "All for one, and let's get the hell out of here!" A phrase shared by Alex, Zee, Simon and Donovan.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jimmy is an inmate who is first introduced at the same time as Alex, Zee, and Monty who swears with them that they'll all break out of Furnace together. He doesn't particularly show up again for the majority of the book until he overhears a conversation Alex is having about breaking out. He asks Alex to be a part of the plan again, but Alex denies it. The next morning when the escape plan is in motion, he catches Alex and crew in the act and alerts the guards.
  • Child Soldiers: The Blacksuits
  • Christmas Episode: The prequel Silent Night is centred around Donovan and Adam's belief that it is actually Christmas up above, and find their own ways to celebrate it. From sharing Christmas stories from their past, to actually making their own Christmas tree. There's even a character named Santa in the story, however this Santa is a ruthless gangster and stabs Donovan three times. Oh joy!
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Particularly in Solitary, for obvious reasons, and in the beginning of Death Sentence.
  • The Corruption: The effect of the nectar to turn the inmates into power hungry, sadistic Blacksuits, that gets stronger as they continue to feed on it.
  • Crapsack World: While somewhat justified, it's incredibly dark how quickly English society was willing to sentence children to life sentences, never to be heard from again. Turns even more into this after Furnace's berserkers and rats flood the streets, killing thousands and destroying most of London.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Many of the plans Alex improvises count as this.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "You funny now, but dead men don't laugh too loud."
    Alex: I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. It sounded like some terrible Sunday afternoon horror film.
  • Dark Is Evil: Played straight from the name and look of the Blacksuits, to the colour of the nectar, the entire being of The Stranger and metaphorically resisting the darkness of evil.
  • Dark Lord on Life Support: Alfred Furnace.
  • Deadly Environment Prison: The prison is still a mile underground, with only one way up. Donovan does toss out the suggestion of picking a spot and digging a way out in the span of about a thousand years. But even in the chipping rooms, there runs the risk of a complete cave-in which previously reduced Room Two to rubble. Even though Alex tries to exploit the underground river in Room Two, it only takes him deeper into the bedrock of the prisons tunnels and into the hands of bloodthirsty rats.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Just about all the inmates.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: The Warden's punishment for the entire prison after a nasty canteen fight and one of his hellhounds being put down due to Alex and Zee tricking it into jumping off one of the high platforms.
    • Donovan notes it's not an unusual punishment, that the longest they'd gone without food was for three days after a riot.
  • Died Happily Ever After: The spectral visions of Simon and Donovan waving and smiling at Alex cliff side, as Alex leaves the island.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Literally played straight when Alex lands a punch on The Stranger in the orchard.
    • He then actually kills The Stranger by transferring its blood into Panettierre, causing both of them to disintegrate.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The warden learns it the hard way.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: In the end of Execution, both Alex and Donovan play this role. Alex projects a vision of Donovan to all of Furnace's creatures, who in turn embodies all the love and happiness they could be a part of. Adding onto this, Alex refers to Donovan as the "shepherd of lost souls" guiding everyone from a hateful, pained life into a peaceful ending while Alex himself speaks words of encouragement to follow Donovan.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Alex fights tooth and nail to get out of Furnace and goes above and beyond to release his fellow prisoners as well and to seek retribution on Furnace and The Stranger to end what they have created. He didn't quite keep his promise to Lucy to make things normal again, but the ending is on a note of recovery from the aftermath.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Stranger.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: Again, the Stranger.
  • Eye Scream: The first surgery in the Blacksuit transformation procedure is to replace the person's eyes with new silvery ones that can see in the dark. Alex has passed several inmates in their cubicles with bandages wrapped around their eyes, bleeding through their dressings.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Being taken by the Blood Watch.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The warden. Sometimes, Alex notices that he's being genuinely affable, but it doesn't last very long, and most of his smiles are all acts.
  • Gang of Hats:
    • The Skulls all wear black bandannas with a crudely drawn white skull in the centre.
    • The Fifty-Niners have black stripes drawn underneath their eyes.
  • Gas Mask Mooks: The Wheezers.
  • Great Escape: The entire premise of the series.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Summer of Slaughter, namely to establish the creation of Furnace Penitentiary.
  • The Heavy:
    • Warden Cross (up until Fugitives).
    • Colonel Alice Panettiere in Execution.
  • He Who Fights Monsters
  • Heel–Face Turn: Alex: during the first book after he gets thrown in Furnace, again in the third book after he becomes a Blacksuit, and again in the same book when he recovers from the warden's brainwashing.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Alex describes many of the horrors of gen pop as being that. What makes the rats, Blacksuits, wheezers, berserkers and even the warden so scary for him are the fact that they look like people who came out very wrong.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Played straight as Alex rushes up to the eighth floor to stop Ashley and Toby Merchant from jumping. Inverted however, when Ashley tries to pull Toby down with him, but is punched by Alex and completes the deed by himself.
  • I Want Them Alive!: The warden to Alex, but mostly because death is an easy way out.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Ozzie's death by Alex' hands.
  • The Lady's Favour: A platonic variant, Lucy loans Alex her father's St. Christopher medallion before he goes on his mission to the tower, on the promise that he returns it to her once he kills Furnace and life returns back to normal.
  • Market-Based Title: In the initial UK launch, the books were referred to as the "Furnace" series. American publishers decided to extend the title to "Escape From Furnace" as to make it clear this is a prison break series.
  • Master Race: The Blacksuits.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While Escape from Furnace explains its horrors through science, The Night Children uses creepy lore to explain the same things.
  • Medical Horror: Particularly associated to wheezers with hypodermic needles strapped to them, and down in the Infirmary where they perform surgery on inmates taken during the Blood Watch who are Strapped to an Operating Table to become Blacksuits.
  • Mercy Kill: Donovan, by Alex who smothers him. Zee tries to do the same thing to Alex, and asks Alex to do it for him as well.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Easily wiped and gunned down by Furnace's creations in Fugitives and Execution, to the point where only after Alex kills all of Furnace's creations that they can actually help. Captain Atilio justifies this by explaining the British army had been completely unprepared, with most of their troops overseas and leaving the home reserves to the fighting.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Many of the berserkers and leviathans look like this.
  • Monochrome Apparition: Averted, in a few of Alex's hallucinations he describes Donovan as being very bright, but with multicolour patches of light glowing throughout his body.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Furnace and Warden Cross were actually Nazis, which explains their desire to create a Master Race and rule the world.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Furnace Penitentiary. Lampshaded by a few of the characters.
    • In the kitchen, Alex remarks on how up to safety standards it seemed, only to realise they cook up Mystery Meat and literal garbage for the prisoners.
  • No Swastikas: Partially subverted. While Furnace's symbol is rather a blatant stand-in (especially on its flag: red backdrop, white circle, black symbol), swastikas are directly mentioned in a dream Alex has while becoming a Blacksuit in Death Sentence.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Played for laughs, Zee is painfully aware of this due to all his time spent cleaning the toilets in gen pop.
    • Also between Donovan and Alex sharing a cell.
      Donovan: Sorry, Alex. That's the other thing you never really get used to. Pooping in public.
  • Not So Above It All: Zee reveals he's this in Fugitives when it's revealed he used to carjack.
  • The Old Convict: Donovan.
  • One Last Job: Alex's last heist with his best friend Toby, where he is framed for murder.
  • Origins Episode: The short story prequel Silent Night serves as such for Donovan and his life prior to meeting Alex in Furnace.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: The Blacksuits to Alex while he undergoes surgery, assuring him once it's all over he'll be accepted into their Brotherhood.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Hilariously between Zee and Alex, with Zee stating that Alex, with his worn out, ragged, ill-fitting prison outfit, is looking "practically indecent".
    • Running Gag: Just about once each book someone's caught with their pants on the ground.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Zee.
  • Prison Riot: In Death Sentence, Alex manages to overpower the guards with a prison riot powered by the sheer rage that had been repressed inside the inmates for years.
    • In Solitary, Simon reveals that when Alex and crew escaped in Room Two, the Skulls and other gangs rioted to try to break in and use the same route.
  • Prisoner's Work: Prisoners in the eponymous 'Furnace' prison are forced to use pickaxes to mine out new rooms in order to expand the place (the prison is located underground).
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": The only sound piercing the silence during a Blood Watch when wheezers mark an inmate's door to be dragged into the Infirmary.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The main colour composition of Furnace Penitentiary.
  • Resist the Beast: Alex as he continues to spiral down a path of darkness from consuming too much of the nectar.
    • In Death Sentence, when Zee begs Alex to kill him quickly so he can finally go home. This clears Alex's mind of the nectar's urges and turn against the Warden.
  • Rock–Paper–Scissors: Alex, Simon, Pete and Ozzie do this to determine who acts as rat-bait.
    • Alex and Simon turn to this again when realising that between them and Zee, someone would have to stay behind to operate the ventilation door mechanics so the other two can leave. They begin to do it, but are interrupted by Zee who insists to stay behind.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Toby, when shot during Alex's last heist.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Donovan.
  • Shout-Out
    • While talking about books and movies, Alex references Darren Shan and it's movie.
    • Zee mocks Alex with a Star Trek quote to mock Alex's ideas to escape.
      Zee: A transporter! Beam me up, Scottie.
    • Zee also does this again while trying to pull off the Wookie Gambit.
      Zee: Christ, Alex, what have they done to your brain? You don't remember Star Wars?
  • Sinister Shiv: The Skulls wield shanks they can make out of anything: rock, metal, and even bone.
  • So Proud of You: The warden to Alex. Of course, it turns into Disappointed in You very quickly.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Played straight. From the Skulls, to the hellhounds, to the Blacksuits and wheezers, then Warden Cross, Alice Panettierre, and Alfred Furnace.
  • Start of Darkness: A good deal of Death Sentence and "The Night Children" short story are about that.
  • Starter Villain: Kevin Arnold, for as much of a fearsome gangster and antagonist to Alex as he is, actually turns out to be a relatively insignificant fry in the grand scheme of the story. Even in the same book, in which Gary humiliates and dethrones Kevin.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Lucy.
  • Teens Are Monsters:
    • Furnace was founded in reaction to the "Summer of Slaughter", in which the rate of major crimes (especially murder) skyrocketed.
    • Inside Furnace, some particularly... exciting inmates fit this trope perfectly.
  • Teeny Weenie: Simon remarks when helping a Blacksuited Alex getting changed, THAT was the one thing Furnace didn't make bigger.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Alex after becoming a Blacksuit.
  • Transformation Horror: The inmates inbetween surgey when becoming a Blacksuit.
    • In Lockdown during a Blood Watch, when the Blacksuits bring in a grotesque mutilated creature that was actually Monty from just nights ago.
    • All of the rats.
  • Trauma Conga Line
  • Verbal Backspace: Zee does this, when considering reasoning with Panettierre.
    Zee: We might be able to bargain with her. I mean, you know where Furnace is now, right? Maybe we can give her his location or lead her there, something like that. Let's just see what she wants.
    Panettierre: Just give us Zee and you can go!
    Zee: Okay, maybe not.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Often the case of Stress Vomit, a notable example being Alex rushing to the toilet on his first morning due to nightmares plaguing his sleep.
  • Was Once a Man: Every horror in Furnace Penitentiary. Except the dogs
  • Wardens Are Evil: To put it lightly. The man sees the inmates as a hivemind, starving them all out as the punishment of one persons actions. Could not care less if said inmates are killed by his guard dogs or by each other. Even in his first introduction, Alex notes that he couldn't stare Warden Cross in the eye, that there was some darkness that refused to let him do it. Later it's revealed Cross is actually a century old Nazi who drags inmates away in the night surgically transforms them into his guards in order to make a new master race.
  • Wham Line:
    • In Lockdown, during a bloodwatch:
      Alex: On the creature's arm, distorted and pale but still unmistakable, was a birthmark. It was Monty.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Subverted. Donovan to Alex every time Alex brings up the idea of escape and rushes into trouble.