The Maze Runner by James Dashner Review 4/5

Overall Impression: A thrilling, adrenaline packed adventure full of twists and turns.

For a long time I resisted the pull of The Maze The Maze Runner by James DashnerRunner. 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
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!

Overall: 4/5

Image Sources:
Book Cover.

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44 thoughts on “The Maze Runner by James Dashner Review 4/5

  1. I did enjoy this… And the rest of the series, though maze runner will always top in my heart. watched it, and loved it! characterization was best laid out in the movie.. Changes are inevitable but it didnt despair me and my love for thomas or rather dylan o’brien cutie! 🙂
    very good review, by the way!

    • I’m glad to hear you enjoyed The Maze Runner book and the film version as well! I think it will be pretty tough to top this novel because it has such an awesome concept, but I hope the rest of the series will be interesting too. 🙂
      So happy to hear you felt the characterisation was better in the movie because that’s what I was hoping for! I think sometimes when you can put a face and actor to the name it can improve your enjoyment.
      Thank you!

  2. YES TO EVERYTHING!!!!

    I do believe that James Dashner overwrites things in terms of explaining the character’s emotions. I’m reading it over and marking when he says “Thomas felt this…” Happens a lot and not just emotions either. A lot of explanation of the setting/characters that I didn’t need. More of it could have been inferred.

    I did see the movie and did a review myself on youtube. I liked the movie even though the plot was different. But you may get a little mad about how the female character was portrayed. Let me know if you want to check out my review (it’s not as good as yours though)!

    Great review as usual!!!

    Dreamer’s Spirit.

    • Yay! I’m glad you liked the review and agreed with all the comments. 🙂

      Dashner does tend to overwrite and often uses phrases saying how Thomas feels instead of letting Thomas’s actions and predicament do the work. It is a little frustrating, but I also get how easy it is to fall into that trap! Authors want their readers to understand what’s going on and feel the right emotions at the right times which often leads to overwriting. It’s easily done!

      I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the movie! Plot differences are a given and I’m okay with that as long as it doesn’t stray massively but a negative female representation can put me off a film pretty quickly. It would be a shame if Theresa’s character was a let down. I would definitely be interested in reading your review, feel free to send me the link. I’m sure it’s great. 🙂

      Thank you!

  3. I keep seeing the film advertised and had no idea what it’s about so thanks for filling me in!

    It’s interesting that you were saying about the over-explaining thing because it’s something so many dystopian authors fall into but it must be a really difficult balance to get right. I mean how do you make it so that everyone can see the world inside your head but without going on so much that you lose your audience? It’s such an important skill but it must take a lot of practice!!

    • I think the best way to explain things without over explaining is to make those details you explain do something for the plot or character. Like if you’re explaining that a setting is shrouded in mist/fog, do so by saying that a character is lost because of all the fog or something. It’s a matter of sprinkling details to avoid info dump. It’s a common issue in fantasy novels too. It can be remedied though.

      • Definitely, a restrained sprinkling of explanation is best! It’s an obvious issue with sci-fi/fantasy novels because there’s so much new that you have to convey to an audience and I can see why you’d be eager to get it all out there so the story makes sense but it’s best to hold back so the reader can make up their own picture to some extent. And so that you don’t bore people with all the info!

    • No problemo! I didn’t have much of a clue either until I read the book although I had been aware of its existence for some time. I was planning to let it bypass me but then I got reeled in!

      Yes you’re right, it must be so difficult for authors who have created their own world to get the balance of explaining right. You don’t want to info-dump, but you don’t want to confuse your readers either. It must me so tempting to explain it all in one go but I definitely think it’s better when information is slowly revealed thought the book. On the other hand though, it can also become annoying if you have to wait to long for answers!

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

  4. This is the most perfect timing ever! I legitimately just finished the book I was reading and I have the ENTIRE Maze Runner trilogy sitting in my suitcase.
    I wasn’t sold on Maze Runner either until I posted on Twitter, asking if MR was basically just Hunger Games and one of my favourite Aussie YA authors replied, saying that it actually is different. And awesome
    As far as I’m concerned, that was all the encouragement I needed. Plus this review? Can’t wait to get started!!

    • Yay for awesomesauce timing! It’s almost as if it was meant to be. 😉 I can’t wait to see what you think of The Maze Runner and whether it will be in line with how I felt.
      There are definitely similarities between The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games (most are just normal genre similarities but there are a few identical plot devices as well). However, The Maze Runner definitely stands in it’s own right. It has such a fun, unique concept and because of that it’s really compelling. While reading I didn’t find myself comparing it to other books because I was so gripped by it.

      Good luck! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  5. Your review is so thorough (and makes me even more eager to read the book!) And thanks for mentioning about the made up swear words- I was so confused about where those words had originated from in the movie! I agree, I really liked Thomas because he falls into a lot of the “likeable male protagonist” tropes, although I was hoping perhaps the other boys and Teresa would be more fleshed out in the books (but the books don’t look like they’re that long either). I think you’re really going to like the movie!

    • Awh, thank you! I love reading thorough reviews so that’s what I try to write on my blog. 🙂
      Ohh, no problem! Did they not mention the reason in the film? Although I know it’s a normal thing to do in scifi, I did think it was a bit strange that he chose made up swear words and used the new environment as the justification. I couldn’t image teens changing their swear words simply because they were in a different place. Naming new objects/things yes, but renaming/substituting existing stuff? Nah.

      Yes, Thomas is a great character because he’s one of those people always trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the secondary characters don’t get as much development which is a shame!

      I hope so. 🙂

  6. I saw the movie but have yet to read the book (I know, so backwards!) I really liked it and it kept me on the edge of my seat but I also felt like there were a lot of things left unsaid that the audience was just expected to know or figure out – probably because they assumed everyone had read the book! So now I have to read it. Glad it sounds like it’ll be worth it! If you want to check out my review of the movie: http://www.cinefilles.ca/2014/09/18/the-maze-runner/

    • Hahaa, the first world problems of a bookworm! It’s difficult sticking to the ‘read the book first’ mantra these days though because SO many book are being adapted, it’s impossible to keep up.
      The book kept me on the edge of my seat as well so I’m glad to hear that has been transferred to the movie. Ohh really? That’s interesting. What kind of things? In the book there are a lot of questions and most of them remain unanswered after the first installment so maybe that’s why? I guess I’ll have to wait and see what you mean. 🙂
      I’ll definitely give your review a look!

  7. I so wanted to like this book! The movie trailer was freaking amazing, and Dashner’s plot concept was really cool. But I couldn’t get into the story for many of the reasons you listed — poor writing (TONS of repetition), little character development, distracting slang terms (which I totally agree was a transparent attempt to use swear words without using swear words). Also I felt like no one really “solved” the maze, which was sort of the whole point… Anyway, I’m still excited for the movie!

    • Ohh no, sorry you couldn’t get on with it! I totally understand though because there are a lot of flaws with the writing and character development. It’s funny how in some cases if a book is compelling enough you can forgive it’s discrepancies, luckily for me The Maze Runner fell into that category.
      Yes, the avoidance of real swear words did annoy me! I’m very pro swearing in YA because it’s realistic and I think adults and publishers are way too hung up on it. Young people hear it all the time and I was frustrated that Dashner took the easy route.
      I hope you enjoy the movie more! Thanks for reading. 🙂

  8. I rated it three stars, and I’m sure I did a review somewhere, but I looked and can’t find it…I seem to recall that it started to fall apart for me after that scorcher of a start. The description of The Grievers…grieved me…as I remember; they seemed vague and ill-thought out after such a build-up. I had the impression Dashner didn’t really know where he was going with it all. Excellent review, as usual!

    And thanks for recommending Trouble – I’ve been zipping through it and nearly crying at points!

    • I was so torn about whether to rate it 3 or 4 stars but by the end of the book the balance just about tipped into a 4. 🙂 It’s funny, at some points The Maze Runner actually reminded me a little of your book Eight Mile Island (in a good way!) the bizarre monsters, the approachable protagonist and some of the cool science fictiony bits.
      The Grievers grieved you, LOL. Brilliant. 😀 I must admit I’m not a fan of made up monsters, they’re usually pretty lame and un-scary so I was really surprised by how much the Grievers unnerved me! That’s another reason it got a 4.

      Ohh yay I’m so glad!! It’s definitely a tear tearjerker, but I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying it. I will *nervously* await your full review reaction. 🙂 I feel like I want everyone in the world to read that book.

  9. I had a lot of the same gripes that you did, but still enjoyed the novel! However, the second one I never finished – I just couldn’t get into it. Great review, as always my dear!

    • Glad to hear we’re on the same wavelength, Rachel. 🙂 There were definitely some distracting writing issues but I feel like the story made up for that in the end. Shame you couldn’t get into the second book! Although I have to say after just finishing The Scorch Trials it wasn’t nearly as good as The Maze Runner.

      Thank you muchly!

  10. Great review! I completely agree with a lot of your points here Becky…Except for the fact that the story itself was not enough for me to love, or even like the book. I wouldn’t say Dashner’s writing is horrible, it was just very excessive. I don’t know if I can go on to the second book :\ But if anyone is interested, I made a mini film/book comparison on the Maze Runner as well. http://nearlytwentyone.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/if-i-stay-the-maze-runner-book-vs-film-spoiler-free/

    • Thank you, Olivia. 🙂 It’s totally understandable that you couldn’t overlook the negatives and enjoy the story. Sometimes a writing style can grate on you so much that it’s impossible for you to get into the plot, even if it is intriguing! If it helps you at all, I didn’t think the second book The Scorch Trials was as good as The Maze Runner, so if you didn’t like the first it’s probably unlikely you’ll enjoy the second. I will get a review up at some point so watch this space!

  11. The only reason I’ve heard of this is because the trailer for the film came on when I was at the cinema over the weekend!

    Sounds like a mash-up between Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and the maze from Harry Potter in my little tiny brain. Certainly comes across as intriguing and I want to know what happens, but I’m worried that there’s a lot of YA churning out the same kind of stories and themes at the moment. Maybe I’m just being too reticent and need to give it a go!

    Fabulous as always.

    • Aha! Good old theatrical trailers, I do love them. 😉 Which film did you go and see?

      Yes, that’s the perfect description! Although I haven’t read Lord of the Flies I had that in my head as I was reading, as well as the maze from The Goblet of Fire. It definitely fits in with those books although Dashner adds a lot of his own flair which means it still feels unique.
      Yes, agreed! There’s so much dystopian around right now so it’s important to pick and choose. It’s best to go with the ones that take your fancy and ignore the rest. I’m really into this genre at the moment but I’m trying to be selective. 🙂 I don’t want to read so much of it that I go off the genre altogether!

      • I went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2! (I’m such a child). Have you seen them?! Brilliant films!

        I have the potential to become stupidly obsessive over this kind of genre so I’m fighting against reading too much of it. However, the same thing happened with The Hunger Games where I put off getting into them but eventually I caved and devoured them all.

        What this long-winded comment is essentially saying is: it’s only a matter of time before I get round to The Maze Runner. Tick tock.

      • Ah yes! I went to go and see that in the cinema as well, we’re just too cool. 😛 I CRIED AT A CARTOON. *Hangs head.* That film was brill though and I will shout it from the rooftops.

        I think I may already be entering that zone! I’m trying to be selective but sometimes I feel like I want to grab all the dystopian. Haha, I would like to see what you think of The Maze Runner…or Divergent! Although I haven’t finished either series yet so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend them because they could go downhill.

        Well, you know I’m a fan of long-winded comments. 😉

  12. I completely agree with your review. The whys kept me reading and it was a quick entertaining book, but I didn’t feel for the characters as much as I should have. I’m hoping the movie fixes this. haha I never thought of pac-man, but you’re right! I’ve read them all and sadly they go down hill. The sequel was okay, but I didn’t like the third one. Some people like them better, so I’m probably odd here, but that isn’t a first.

    • Thanks, Molly. I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength! That sums it up perfectly, the book and world building makes it an compelling and entertaining story, but if you start to look there is some definite fraying around the edges which prevents it from being extraordinary.
      Hehe yes, the Pac-Man thing just popped into my head. 🙂
      Ohh no that’s a shame. I hate it when a series stars really promising and then rapidly looses steam.

  13. oh golly! I really want to read this book, mostly because of the movie’s previews (I’m a fan of Dylan O’Brien from watching Teen Wolf on MTV). But your review has increased my interest in the book. It sounds exciting and different from my usual reads.

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