Overall Impression: A thrilling, adrenaline packed adventure full of twists and turns.
For a long time I resisted the pull of The Maze Runner. With so many other dystopian/apocalyptic novels on my shelves I figured I could afford to give this one a miss. But then the trailer came out with running and the dramatic music and the epic looking maze and I thought holy cow, that looks awesome!
I was explaining this exact thought process to my friend and debating over whether I should see the movie and skip the book, or wait until I could get the book and then painstakingly wait for the DVD when she pointed to her bookshelf commenting ‘Wellllll……’.
I looked behind her and saw The Maze Runner on her shelf. So of course, she asked me if I wanted to borrow it and I totally caved. So here we are! And I’m glad I gave in because this book was one hell of a ride.
When the lift cranks open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone – an army of boys welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a terrible maze. The Gladers have no idea why they’re there, or what’s happened to the world outside. And following the arrival of a girl with a message, they must find a way out – or die.
When Thomas awakes and is welcomed into a glade consisting entirely of boys he has no memory of his life, his family or the world outside. When he tries to reach for answers all he finds is fuzzy faces and fragmented conversations, although he has the strange sensation he has been in the glade before. The boys have created a mini-society and to survive, order is vital. Everyone has their place – as butchers, cleaners but most importantly runners who go out each day to search the maze that surrounds the Glade, keeping them trapped. Every day the runners risk their lives looking for salvation and must make it back to camp by nightfall before the walls to the Glade close, leaving the runners trapped with ferocious, blood thirsty creatures named Grievers. Yet against all logic Thomas knows one thing, he wants and needs to be a runner with every fiber of his being, and he’s determined to find a way out of the maze once and for all.
Dashner is not the best writer in the world, but he’s certainly not the worst either. He managed to pull me in from the very first chapter and was incredibly clear with his descriptions. With some dystopian novels I find it difficult to picture the bizarre and eroding worlds the characters live in, but in this case I felt like I was really there, stuck in the middle of the Glade with the claustrophobic walls of the maze towering around me. The author is great at playing on the senses using hearing, taste, touch and smell to suck you in. As the characters raced around the maze pumping their arms with everything they had to get away from the terrifying Grievers (weird half-alive half-mechanical monsters) I could feel my own heart beating fast and felt genuinely out of breath. Books don’t normally unnerve me so I was shocked to find myself looking around the darkness of my room feeling jumpy. (I consoled myself with the fact that the boys could always hear the creatures from a great distance, it still didn’t totally work though!)
However, Dashner does also tend to overwrite in places which can become frustrating. I imagine it’s because he is scared readers won’t get his vision so he over-explains what his characters are thinking, feeling and seeing. He also overused phrases like ‘hopelessness rained/flooded/flashed/echoed down on Thomas’. It was like the guy was incapable of saying simply ‘Thomas felt [insert emotion here]’. It always had to be more intense and although I get what he was trying to do, for some reason I found it really jarring and repetitive. Maybe because it was kind of telling rather than showing.
I also wasn’t a fan of Dasher’s made up curse words because I didn’t believe the Gladers would have really developed them in their environment. However, I also understand it was probably a way for him to avoid the controversy of using real swear words!
The plot was by far the most compelling aspect of The Maze Runner. I love puzzles so I was constantly trying to work out the slow trickle of clues, desperate to discover how Thomas could find an exit in a maze with walls that were constantly moving and changing. What I loved even more was that I couldn’t work it out, so it kept me guessing until the very end! I was also searching for the ever elusive ‘why’. Why had Thomas been put in the maze? Why only boys and no girls? Why are the boys given the materials to survive each week but not the help to escape? Things in the Glade work like clockwork so it’s clear that someone from the outside world is pulling the strings but the question is why, and how they could let boys die while they sit around and watch. The mixture of action and intrigue was consistent throughout the book and the short, snappy chapters progress at great speed keeping the reader engaged. However, I did feel the author deliberately withheld information at points just for the sake of keeping the reader guessing, and at times the answers the Gladers needed appeared a little too conveniently – often Thomas would suddenly remember something from his past for no reason at all that would solve their impending doom.
I think the characterization is where The Maze Runner falls short. The problem with having characters that don’t remember anything from their past other than their first names is that it can become a little tricky to get behind them and figure out who they are. It means your impressions of them are entirely based on their present actions, and unless they do something dramatic that reveals something significant about their personality you don’t have much to go on. For the first half of the book most of the characters blended together and if not for the dialogue tags I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was who. It was only as the book progressed to the half way point that I began to single out some individuals and start rooting for them – Minho, the brave hot-head always the first to jump into danger, Newt, the sensible and pragmatic leader, Gally, the doubter, Chuck, the youngest in the group, painfully innocent but also loyal and Teresa, the only girl who sets off a dangerous chain of events in the Glade. Even so, they still felt a little….hollow.
Thomas the protagonist was the exception, we get to learn a lot more about his thought processes, morals and desires. As we follow his maze journey from the beginning it’s a lot easier to empathies with him. Plus, the way he reacts to his strange new surroundings gives great insight into the kind of person he is! He’s intelligent, resourceful, fiercely loyal when it comes to his friends and brave in the face of adversity. In other words, he’s an easy character to get behind even though he isn’t the most original of protagonists.
Essentially The Maze Runner is kind of like a sophisticated game of Pac-Man; Thomas and others Gladers run around a maze while trying to avoid weird monsters that will swallow them whole. The story is easy to follow and you don’t need to think too much but it’s thrilling beyond belief and full of twists and turns that will keep you gripped from start to finish. The book certainly has its faults where writing and characterization are concerned but it’s entertainment value makes them easy to overlook. While my head is telling me to give The Maze Runner 3 stars my heart wants to award it a 4, and when it comes to books I think the heart is better. 😉 I would recommend this novel to males or females 14+ who enjoy action, suspense and a good puzzle to unravel.
Now I just have to hope that the rest of the series can live up to the awesome concept of the first book! Have any of you read The Maze Runner? Will you be going to see the film? I’m impatiently waiting the UK release date. 🙂
(To read my review of the next book in The Maze Runner Trilogy, The Scorch Trials, click here.)
Writing Style: 3/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!