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Fugitives: Escape from Furnace 4 by Alexander Gordon Smith
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780374324841
Date: 28 February 2012 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Alex Sawyer and his best friends, Zee Hatcher and Simon Rojo-Flores, have escaped from Furnace Penitentiary. However, their joy is short-lived when they learn that not only are SWAT teams looking for them but berserkers and other hideous mutants are prowling the burning, corpse-littered streets and buildings. With the aid of a young woman, Lucy Wells, Alex and his friends struggle to flee from the city. Unfortunately, the berserkers they encounter are carrying a more virulent, more mutative strain of the nectar. As the plague of berserkers spreads across the dying city, Alex learns that the role he is playing is a very important one in Alfred Furnace’s plans for world domination.

In Alexander Gordon Smith's Fugitives, the nightmare created by Alfred Furnace is no longer confined to Furnace Penitentiary; it threatens to destroy the entire world. To date, Fugitives is by far the most violent, terrifying and gory in the Escape from Furnace series. (See also Lockdown, Solitary and Death Sentence.) It's a tribute to George Romero's zombie films. For example, when the boys are trapped inside Edwards Mall, Zee is reminded of the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Those who are bitten by the hideous berserkers are transformed into berserkers themselves in zombie-like fashion.

However, I have always believed, since the first installment, that this series is a type of Resident Evil for teenagers, especially young men. My suspicions were made stronger by this latest installment. The clincher was the scene in St. Martin's Cathedral when the berserkers break through the stained glass windows and begin slaughtering the parishioners. A similar scene occurred in Resident Evil: The Apocalypse; in this film, the T-Virus has escaped the underground laboratory of the Umbrella Corporation and has made its way above to Raccoon City. Future installments of this popular franchise have the T-Virus infecting the entire world, killing most of the earth's population and turning them into flesh-eating zombies. One can only hope that Execution, the last installment in the Escape from Furnace series, will have a happier conclusion.

This time around, we have a female lead, Lucy Wells, who provides a romantic interest for Zee. They share a type of Romeo and Juliet relationship. Lucy hates all the convicts in Furnace Penitentiary because of the gruesome Summer of Slaughter, during which gangs of youths terrorized England. However, she eventually learns to trust Alex and his friends. One of the major themes running throughout the series is learning to accept those who are different. Once we do this, we can work together as a team to accomplish anything, even escape from Hell.

Alex fights desperately to maintain his true identity despite the constant changing of his environment and his own physique. By means of the nectar flowing through his veins, Alex continues to receive messages from Alfred Furnace. A type of Hitler, Furnace keeps promising diminutive, insignificant Alex more strength and power by making him a leader in his new kingdom. Today, many of us, especially celebrities, lose their true identities when they are offered fame and fortune, which can sometimes be fleeting. Alex, a very compassionate individual, knows what is truly valuable in life as he continues to remain loyal to his friends rather than unite with Furnace. However, the nectar steadfastly wears away his resolve, threatening to turn him into a ravenous beast.

Fugitives is monstrous, relentless horror, all of which transpires within a few hours after Alex runs out of Black Fort, the building that contains the elevator shaft leading down to Furnace Penitentiary. The tension is unbearable as the main characters are constantly besieged by black suits, wheezers, berserkers and, in one scene, religious fanatics who believe that the end of the world draws nigh. Best-selling British author, Alexander Gordon Smith, has created his own unique vision of apocalyptic, doomsday horror; though it is geared primarily towards teenagers, it has the potential to be enjoyed by adults. I am definitely looking forward to the final installment, Execution. One can't help but ponder and agonize over the fates of Alex and his friends and the entire world.

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