Fifteen-year-old Will Drake has made a career of breaking out from high-security prisons. His talents have landed him at the Rig, a specialist juvenile holding facility in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. No one can escape from the Rig. No one except for Drake...After making some escape plans and meeting the first real friends of his life, Drake quickly realises that all is not as it seems on the Rig. The Warden is obsessed with the mysterious Crystal-X - a blue, glowing substance that appears to give superpowers to the teens exposed to it. Drake, Tristan and Irene are banking on a bid for freedom - but can they survive long enough to make it?
There is little more I can say about the story that isn't mentioned in the blurb I've included above. Teen criminal Will Drake has so far managed to escape from every prison in which he has been incarcerated, although one particular escape did not go particularly smoothly for a fellow prisoner and as a result Drake is reluctant to get close to anyone again. However, he is now an inmate of the infamous Rig, a prison that pretty much takes maximum security to a new level. No one has ever escaped before, and even Drake could find himself up against the impossible this time.
On the face of it this might seem like a teen in prison story, but there is much more to this book than that. Yes, there are the obligatory nasty wardens and guards, and of course there is the group of hard nut prisoners who delight in asserting their strength and authority over anyone who gets in their way, and new inmates in particular. However, there is also a strong science fiction element to the story - what is the glowing blue substance that is being mined below the Rig? Why do some inmates seem to possess unnatural strength or other superhuman abilities? And why is there so much activity in the waters below whenever a supply vessel arrives? We follow Drake as he seeks to find answers to these mysteries and more as he desperately tries to find a way off The Rig.
Joe Ducie, author of The Rig, was one of the two winners of the inaugural Guardian Hot Key Books Young Writers prize. On the day the winners were announced I received a tweet from Will Hill, Department 19 and one of the competition judges, telling me that I would totally love The Rig and so I waited impatiently for it to become available. As soon as it arrived from those wonderful people at Hot Key Books I pretty much dropped everything, eager to discover exactly why Will Hill and enjoyed it so much. Mr Hill either knows his books, or he knows me well (or both) as yes, I really did love it.
There is very little not to like about The Rig. It is a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, and as the first book in a series it left me wanting more come the final page. Even better, it did this without finishing on a massive cliffhanger - the story comes to a satisfying conclusion, but the door is wide open for the next instalment.
Drake is a great character. Ducie gives him an air of mystery - for much of the book we don't know exactly why he is in prison or how he has managed to escape from other allegedly maximum security prisons. This information (or some of it) is drip fed throughout the story, but even then we do not find out all of the answers, and I would imagine that these will continue to be revealed as the series progresses. Similarly, the backgrounds of the secondary characters that Drake encounters, both as allies or enemies, are not fully revealed, and whilst some readers may find this a little frustrating, I like to be kept guessing.
In this book Ducie very much focuses on building his main character, and the world that is the Rig itself. As with the character, we are only given the occasional hint as to the nature of the society these people now live in, and just why the powers that be feel the need to lock teens away on a rig on the middle of the Arctic Ocean. As with most dystopian societies, there are hints at corruption, corporate greed, mass poverty and again, I am sure we will continue to find out more as the story develops in the future.
All the elements are there to make this a great book for boys (and many girls too). The action is unrelenting, there are countless mysteries encountered by Drake, friendships and formed and tested, and of course there is the overriding question of just how on earth Drake could possibly find a way off The Rig. I will be tossing this book in the direction of as many boys as possible as it is the kind of book that could quickly win over reluctant readers.
I do not give graded reviews on this blog (I do enough grading in my work life), but I do give starred reviews on Goodreads for every book that I read and I enjoyed The Rig so much that I gave it five stars. However (takes a deep breath) I almost gave it a lot less for one reason only - this has kind of been done before. Long time readers of The Book Zone will know just how much I love Alexander Gordon Smith's Escape From Furnace series, and there were far too many elements of The Rig that in some way mirror those of Furnace. The Rig has a teen boy who is incarcerated for a minor crime, in Furnace the protagonist is framed for a crime he didn't commit. Both Furnace and the Rig are maximum security prisons that are seemingly inescapable. In both books inmates are experimented on, giving them superhuman strength. However, because The Rig gripped me so much I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and despite the similarities there are also some key differences, the most obvious being that Furnace very much falls within the horror genre, whereas The Rig is an action thriller with sci fi elements.
As I said earlier, I really, really enjoyed The Rig and I can't wait to read the sequel. The Rig was released on 5th September so you should be able to find it in stores now, and my thanks go to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy to read.