The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Rating 8.7/10
Exploring survival, identity, friendship, global warming and human intelligence.

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This is the first instalment of ‘The Maze Runner’ trilogy, which explores the themes of survival, identity, friendship, global warming and human intelligence. Although the novel is aimed at YA readers, full grown adults will enjoy the series too. It is fast paced and has plenty of action, so it’s impossible to get bored. Plot-wise, the book kept me guessing until the end. Is this an experiment? Are they human ‘lab rats’? Or are the group being punished, with the maze serving as some kind of prison? There are several plot twists within the book, and I have a feeling there will be more surprises in the following books. I don’t think the true answers will be fully revealed until the end of the last book.

The story revolves around Thomas, who wakes up inside a lift with no memory of who he is or where he is being sent. The only thing he knows for certain is his name. The lift hatch opens, and Thomas is hauled up by a large group of boys, who call themselves the Gladers and likewise have no memories of their previous lives. They tell Thomas that for as long as any of them can remember, a new boy is sent up in the lift every month, and that they are all there to serve one purpose – to solve the maze. Thomas soon learns that this is no ordinary maze; it is a complex labyrinth with towering walls which move every night, making it impossible to ever find a way out.

The group Thomas has found himself in live in a large clearing just outside of the maze, which they have dubbed The Glade. A power hierarchy has formed within the group, with Newt, Alby and Minho at the top. The rest of the boys have all been assigned specific and useful roles, such as cook or gardener, based on their strengths. The fact that there is such a structured group in place immediately makes the reader suspicious. This is a group of young teenage boys, who all arrived in the Glade knowing as little as Thomas. And yet despite this, they have managed to create a seemingly functional and organised community out of practically nothing. There is a very sophisticated group dynamic in place, complete with a panel of council members who make decisions on behalf of the group. There is even a rudimentary form of court, although their idea of ‘justice’ can be a bit extreme. It’s all very neatly structured, and fairly peaceful. It made me wonder what was special about this group to make them so ordered and inventive.

Everyone in the Glade is expected to pitch in and work for the benefit of the group, including poor Thomas who is overwhelmed and frustrated, desperately trying to find answers as to who he is and how he has ended up in this strange place. Thomas does not seem to suit any of the tasks he is given, until he meets the Runners and feels an unexplainable urge to join them. The Runners have the most dangerous job of all, and so only the best members of the group are chosen for the role. The Runners enter the maze every morning, and run through as many paths as they can in order to try and find the way out, while tracking the routes they take. Each night they return, and combine their maps to see if any of them have found anything useful or interesting. The danger emerges at night. If they do not make it back to the entrance by nightfall, they will be trapped inside the maze as the doors seal shut. Then the monsters come. Giant slug like beings knows as Grievers, who slither their way through the maze attacking any Glader in their path.

Before Thomas has a chance to adjust to his new life, everything changes. The first girl to ever join the group arrives in the lift the day after Thomas, barely conscious and bearing a note declaring she will be ‘the last’. In a new twist, she communicates telepathically with Thomas by calling out his name, just before slipping into a coma. Thomas learns that he has triggered ‘The End’ meaning that if they do not solve the maze soon, none of them will survive. The story really kicks on from here. The action is non-stop, and what I enjoyed most was that just when you think you’ve solved the puzzle, there’s a new twist.

Understandably, the reader can feel a bit frustrated at times. Questions such as who is Thomas? Who are the Gladers and why are they there? Who put them in the Maze? All I can say is stay patient – almost everything will be explained within the book, but there’s still a few mysteries carried over to the sequel. The good thing is that Thomas feels just as frustrated as the reader, because he knows as little as we do.

At first, the language can be slightly off putting. In a similar vein to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or ‘Ridley Walker’, a new dialect has been created. The boys all use a form of slang, with odd words such as ‘greenie’ and ‘Shuck face’. Every time I came across one of these words, it threw me, and stopped the flow of the book. But I think they are a nice touch – they add to Thomas’ feelings of isolation and confusion, which in turn helps the reader sympathise with him. These words stop being a problem after a while; in fact I barely noticed when they were used after a certain point. Once Thomas becomes used to the language, the reader does too. Apart from the slang, the narration of the book is simple and easy to read, meaning that you can still enjoy it even when busy.

What lets this book down is the character development. The story is very plot driven, and very fast paced, meaning that less detail is put into character description. Apart from Thomas, I found that Newt and Minho were the only other characters I invested any feelings in. I felt that there could have been so much more interaction between the characters, and the author could have spent much longer developing the friendships between Thomas and the group. If you compare the novel to others in the genre, such as The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) or Exodus (Julie Bartagna), the difference between the level of character development becomes more obvious. However, given that this is a trilogy, there is plenty of time for the characters to grow.

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The Maze Runner reader reviews

from Bhutan

10-stars

10/10 IGN

from Argentina

6-stars

A friend lent me the book because he was amazed by the series - so good that I didn't buy it. The most annoying thing is that the first book is actually good and has some badass moments, but the rest of the series' development is cliched and predictable. I thought that the answers to questions after I read the first one would be awesome, but they turned out really silly. So yeah, I think it's quite a weak book and fails compared to The Hunger Games and other modern young adult books. The lack of character development is almost criminal.

8.2/10 from 3 reviews

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