The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, The Maze Runner. You can read my review of this novel [here].

To celebrate the release of the movie, I’ve decided to bump forward my review of The Scorch Trials by James Dashner. The novel was first published in 2010 and is the second book in The Maze Runner trilogy. It is preceded by The Maze Runner (2009) and followed by The Death Cure (2011). Dashner has also released a prequel novel titled The Kill Order (2012). A second prequel, reportedly titled The Fever Code, has been cited for release in 2016.

Following their traumatic escape from the Maze, Thomas and the other Gladers finally seem to be safe. However, when they wake up in the night to find that all of their saviours are dead, they realise that their ordeal is far from over. Searching the complex, Thomas finds that Teresa has been taken from them. In her place, they find another boy – Aris – who tells them that he was previously trapped in a different Maze. The only difference between their situations was that his group was otherwise entirely female and his partner – Thomas’s equivalent – was killed during their escape.

It is not long before WICKED contacts them again and reveals that a further Trial awaits. This time, each of them has been infected with the Flare. If they wish to survive, all they need to do is travel north for 100 miles. If they reach the Safe Haven their within two weeks, they will all be cured and their trials will finally be over. If they fail, they will succumb to the disease and die.

While the task seems straightforward, the Gladers quickly discover that this is not the case. The world above is a barren wasteland, plagued by the scorching sun, deadly lightning storms and bands of people who have been driven mad by the Flare. Yet these obstacles may be the least of their problems. They are also competing against Group B, who Thomas quickly discovers are determined to kill him…

Before I begin, I think that I should probably note that this novel does not stand alone in any way. The story continues from the point where The Maze Runner left off and so if you’re coming into this with no background knowledge you will be completely lost as to what’s going on. The novel is also fairly violent in places. It’s as grotesque as the likes of Charlie Higson’s The Enemy or Darren Shan’s The Demonata but it’s still something to possibly bear in mind if you’re sensitive to gore.

Anyhow, with that out of the way I’ll start with the positive. The Scorch Trials is still a pretty gripping read. It is a lot faster paced than The Maze Runner as it doesn’t need to spend half of the novel setting the scene. The chapters are short and often end on cliff-hangers and the action rarely eases up. This merciless pace certainly did keep my attention throughout but it also made reading the novel a little tiring. There were very few quiet moments within the story to give my mind time to rest. The novel merely raced from one action sequence to another at a frantic pace, throwing twists and hints at the reader constantly without allowing much time to absorb this information.

Which leads to my first problem with the story. The middle book of a trilogy often feels like filler – nothing more than a bridge between two halves. While I haven’t read The Death Cure to be sure, that’s certainly the impression I got here. For all its exciting sequences, I feel that I didn’t learn much in The Scorch Trials that I hadn’t already sussed out in The Maze Runner. I don’t think I’ve learned anything more about WICKED. They still seem pretty shady to me and I am still none the wiser as to what a killzone is or what the variables are being gathered for. I still don’t really know how Thomas and Teresa were involved with WICKED prior to the maze. I’m not even really sure where the Flare came from (although Brenda implies at one point that it was spread when some biological research station was destroyed). I was somewhat disappointed when I reached the end and realised that this novel had not really expanded its concept in any way.

I was also disappointed that the series has become a lot more generic. As you may remember, I loved the whole concept of The Maze Runner. It was fresh and unique which really made it stand out among a lot of the other dystopian novels I’ve reviewed. The Scorch Trials lacks any sort of edge. The endless desert setting isn’t dissimilar to Mad Max and the infected Cranks (yes, the novel still has its own unique terminology) are really just plague zombies (think the Crazies from the Romero movie of the same name). This, for me, was the novel’s biggest crime. It lost all of the mysterious weirdness of the Maze and replaced it with things that I’d seen dozens of times before.

The characters in the story were also not without their problems. Other than Thomas and Teresa, no one really got any development. In the last book, I really felt for some of the Gladers – particularly Minho and Newt – and certainly didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. While they were still present in this novel, they really didn’t make much of an impression. They didn’t do much more than walk across the Scorch and occasionally express their fondness for Thomas. Even Aris, the new and deeply suspicious member of the team, didn’t get a lot of page time. I spent most of the novel wondering what his deal was purely because he escaped mention for chapters at a time.

Thomas, while being by far the most likable and interesting character in the story, is also increasingly feeling like a bit of a Gary Stu. This comes across very strongly when you consider the messianic posters all over the city that declare him to be the true leader and the fact that he manages to sweet talk people out of killing him on two separate occasions. I also got a little frustrated by how Dashner constantly just told the reader what Thomas was feeling instead of showing it through his expressions and actions. As the novel was told in third person, there was really no excuse for this.

I was also incredibly frustrated by the female characters in the story. I mentioned last time that I really wanted to see Teresa playing a bigger role in the story. I’ve changed my mind now. She appears even less in The Scorch Trials than she did in The Maze Runner yet her actions annoyed me a lot more. I can’t say too much here as it constitutes a massive spoiler but let’s just say I was behind Thomas entirely by the end of the story. I never want to see her again either.

Beyond Teresa, there is still a lack of other female characters in the story. Most of Group B are left unnamed and the ones that are don’t really do or say much. The only other character that’s introduced is Brenda – a Crank that helps Thomas in the city who forms a kind of love triangle with him and Teresa – but even she doesn’t really get any development and gradually disappears from the story once the Gladers put the city behind them. This is kind of a pity as I’d still like to see a bigger female presence in the series. Maybe I’ll get lucky in The Death Cure.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. The Scorch Trials was a bit of a disappointment as it was nowhere near as unique and memorable as The Maze Runner. It didn’t seem to do much at all to advance the plot or develop any of the characters other than Thomas and Teresa. Still, I wasn’t bored and some of the action sequences are incredibly exciting. While I’m not as excited to read more as I once was, I’m still curious to see how this series will conclude in The Death Cure.

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

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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