Review: ‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dashner

With the film release imminent, it seemed the right time to fire up the Kindle and read one of many books I purchased on a whim and never got around to reading. And if I’m honest, ‘The Maze Runner’ perhaps shouldn’t have been a priority pick.

The basis of the plot is compelling enough and perhaps the saving grace of the book: dozens of boys stranded in a maze with no memories and only basic tools for survival in their enclosed world. Memories keep trying to drip through, keeping you in anticipation of what might have caused their imprisonment, or rather whether they are imprisoned or being protected against a harsher world. Add in a hybrid mammal-robot killing machine and you’ve got a decent amount of tension surrounding the new boy, Thomas, who is learning about this world as we are.

Thomas’ status as some sort of chosen one is stated from the outset, and character archetypes are fairly blatantly stated throughout (innocent naive victim, the man who should be leader and the man who is, the hero, the antagonist…). We are told a lot of the information we need, rather than being shown it, which detracts somewhat from believability, particularly when we’re having to be reminded who Thomas likes and doesn’t (as in the case of Alby towards the end of the novel) at random intervals. Equally, after building tension towards the big reveal as Thomas goes through the Changing, half a page tells us everything we ever needed to know – the prior pages building speculation are wiped away, there’s no horror in dawning realisations, just straightforward ‘let’s get on with this then’ information. Having said that, one feather in the novel’s cap is the ending (perhaps telling in itself as to why I’m not rating this too highly) – the memorandum from the Wicked VP which alludes to a bigger plot, which is incredibly tantalising. If it had been backed up by an equally taunting novel, it would have hooked me into the sequel – as it stands, I’ve gone to a trusty source (hello, Wikipedia) and glanced over what’s next for Thomas and co., and I’m glad I didn’t spend my time reading the sequels if the synopses are anything to go by.

It’s already started to come through that one of the major irritants with this novel was that it was actually an exciting premise, and I did want to get through it to find out what had happened to earth as we know it. The telling of these events were so briefly dealt with that, like Thomas, I felt lost; a page of dialogue told us about Flares and sickness, and that the maze was a trial, but it was all tenuous in how it linked together: how does solving a maze and torturing children prove anything about the survival of a race? Why not train them in a more logical manner to rebuild a broken world? I suppose that’s part of the plot, that barbarism of it all, but that’s not what comes through; instead, you’re left with a bitter taste that alerts you to the fact that the strings holding the plot together are loosening rapidly, and that the quick explanations of what should be more crucial plot points are desperate attempts to knot together fraying ends.

I repeat that it’s a shame this promising plotline didn’t come to a fruitful end in terms of reading: Dashner’s ideas are interesting and play on an expanding teen dystopian market, but they lack the substance needed to make you believe in the chaos a post-apocalyptic world would descend into. You don’t know what to think, who to hate, who to support, how right and wrong might factor into things…In short, you’re left like Thomas: stranded in a book with no clue as to what to do next.

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