The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner

In case you missed my post yesterday, I’m taking a brief break from my schedule to bring you a short series of “Christmas” reviews. You can read more about it [here].

The Maze Runner was written by James Dashner and first published in 2009. It is a dystopian novel which focuses on a teenager named Thomas as he tries to find a way to escape a deadly maze. The book was followed by two sequels – The Scorch Trials (2010) and The Death Cure (2011) – and a prequel titled The Kill Order (2012). Another prequel (reported to be titled The Fever Code) is due for release in 2016.

When Thomas awakes to find himself trapped in a moving lift, he realises that he can remember little other than his own name. When the lift finally opens, he finds himself in a large grassy area which is populated entirely by boys aged between 12 and 17. The place – known as the Glade – stands at the centre of an endless maze which changes every day. The boys have made it their mission to solve the maze in order to find a way to escape.

The Gladers have formed an efficient society, with those unable to run the maze taking on jobs to ensure that everyone survives while the mysterious people below keep them stocked up with daily supplies and a new boy every month. However, things change the day after Thomas’s arrival when the lift moves again and this time brings up the first girl. She carries with her a note that declares that she will be the last.

Soon after, things suddenly start to become more dangerous. The sun disappears from the sky and the supply packs stop coming. Worse of all, the doors into the maze no longer close at night, leaving all of the boys vulnerable attacks from the horrible monsters (known as Grievers) that live there. Thomas knows that they urgently need to solve the maze and escape and feels that he is the one to do it. There is something familiar about his whole situation and he knows that its secret lies in his missing memories…

The Maze Runner is a very unique dystopian novel and certainly stands out well among the other stories of this genre. Although the cover of the book likens it to The Hunger Games, I feel that this is an unfair comparison that has the potential to leave readers disappointed. The Maze Runner is an incredibly different book. It reads more as a young adult version of the film Cube, which shares the concept of a group of prisoners being forced to understand and navigate a dangerous maze.

The novel instantly forces the reader to share Thomas’s experiences, causing the early chapters to be very confusing. Although the story is told in third person, its focus is always on Thomas’s thoughts and feelings in order to ensure that the reader learns everything about the Glade at the same pace that he does. I found this to be a really effective way to tell the story, as it captures the attention and just makes you want to keep reading to learn exactly what is going on. I even thought that the made-up curse words – “klunk”, “shuck”, “slinthead” – were fairly cute, though I do appreciate that some readers may find their overuse rather annoying.

However, this structure of the narrative does leave itself open to exploitation. It frustrated me no end that no one would tell Thomas anything. I fully felt for him in his frustration because there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for it. In the early chapters, Thomas asked questions endlessly of the more experienced characters like Alby and Newt, yet they just fobbed him off with weak retorts like “newbies don’t need to know that”. At times, I just wanted to knock the characters’ heads together because there was simply no need for them to behave that way. Admittedly, if they had immediately told Thomas everything that he wanted to know the opening would have been nothing but exposition but it would have integrated him into their community a lot faster.

The first half of the novel was also very slow moving as a lot of it was spent word building and introducing Thomas to the different concepts of the universe. While I was expecting there to be a little more action in these early chapters, I never felt that it got boring. The setup of the Glade and the early glimpses of the maze beyond were fascinating and necessary to set up the second half of the novel. From the midway point, when the sun vanishes from the sky, the novel immediately picks up pace and grows more and more exciting. I soon found that I just couldn’t put the book down as I was desperate to find out what the secret of the maze was and how many of the characters would be able to escape it. The Grievers helped add to this tension, providing an enemy that was both alien and impossible to reason with. Their slow movements gave them a very sinister presence and the effect of their poison (a painful sickness known as the Changing which left the sufferer a shade of their former self) made them incredibly threatening.

The other thing that I found commendable about the story was its cliff hanger ending. As you may have noticed, I generally don’t like cliff hangers very much but in this story was one of the rare occasions where I felt that it fit well. While the story did round off nicely, the epilogue contained a sharp sting that has left me eager to discover what will happen to Thomas and his friends in The Scorch Trials.

The primary cast of The Maze Runner were well rounded, offering a wide range of different character types. I did appreciate the fact that they had embraced their need for survival by deciding to work together, realising that everyone had skills that were necessary to their existing (even those who were only skilled in scrubbing toilets). As a lot of dystopian stories (such as The Lord of the Flies and Michael Grant’s Gone series) show society falling into chaos without adults, it was nice to see one where the teenagers prove able to work together in order to survive.

Thomas was a very sympathetic protagonist, helped in part by the fact that we shared in his confusion for most of the novel and therefore could appreciate his frustration. Of the other boys, the ones that I grew most attached to were probably Chuck, Newt and Minho. While each of these had their own fears and insecurities, they were all good hearted people and proved to be loyal friends to Thomas when it mattered most. The only character that I found to be a bit disappointing was Teresa. While she proved herself to be intelligent and quick to stand up to the boys, she did not get a lot of opportunity to do much within this book as she was unconscious for a large chunk of this. I’m hoping that she will have a larger role to play in The Scorch Trials and I’m very eager to see if this is the case.

To conclude, The Maze Runner is a very enjoyable novel that presents a refreshingly original dystopian setting. Although a little slow burning, the story never gets dull and builds to an incredibly fast-paced second half. Its cast is very likable and so I felt genuine concern for them when they were in dangerous situations. All in all, this is definitely a book that I would recommend to others and I can’t wait to look at its sequel in a future review.

The Maze Runner can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AntVicino
    Dec 16, 2014 @ 21:58:49

    Where do you rank it in the pantheon of recent YA dystopian novels, ie: Hunger Games and Divergent?

    Great review by the way!

    Reply

    • Kim
      Dec 16, 2014 @ 22:16:03

      I haven’t read Divergent so I can’t really comment on that. I certainly enjoyed it as much as the first Hunger Games novel (Catching Fire would take some beating) though it’s difficult to compare the two as they’re very different in tone – Hunger Games is more of a political commentary while Maze Runner is a pure survival story. Maze Runner probably has more in common with Gone by Michael Grant (though I would say that Maze Runner was a better novel). None of them surpass Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, which is my favourite YA dystopian novel by a long shot.

      Reply

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