The Maze Runner

Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Publication: 2009, Delacorte

Pages: 384

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1] 

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Thomas wakes up with no memory of his former life to find himself stuck in the middle of a maze.  He’s not the only one, either.  There are at least sixty boys all together.  Some are relatively new, others have been there for a couple of years.  They live in a compound in the center of the maze.  Each week they get supplies and each month a new boy arrives.  None of them know why they’re there, but they’re highly organized and all driven toward the same goal – solving the maze and finding a way out.

Unfortunately, this is no ordinary maze.  Every night the walls shift, and when the sun goes down the Grievers come out – weird creatures, amalgams of flesh and machine that roll through the maze, using spikes to climb the walls and attacking people with sharp needles and long metal arms.  Plenty of kids have died in the maze.  It’s a terrifying place, but somehow Thomas feels oddly at home there.  And from the first day he arrives he feels driven to be a runner, one of the boys who venture out to explore the maze.

Then everything changes.  For the first time ever a girl arrives in the maze, and she carries a special message – “Everything is going to change.”  Soon Thomas and the others find themselves locked in a battle for survival as one by one ‘the creators’ shut down all the systems that have been helping them survive, forcing the boys to confront the maze head on.  They have only one choice: escape or die.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Normally I try not to read other people’s reviews, so I can approach each book with a clean slate.  I don’t want my own review to be colored by other peoples’ ideas.  In this case, however, I couldn’t help noticing some of the negative reviews.  Quite a few people have bashed The Maze Runner for having flat, lifeless characters.  And ultimately they’re more or less right.  The characters in this book are pretty one dimensional.  But I think the negative reviews have also missed two crucial points.

First, this is a plot driven book, and as with many plot driven thrillers character development is secondary to action and to unraveling the mystery that lies at the heart of the story.

Second, while Thomas is the main character in the sense that we see everything through his eyes, I’d argue that the real main character in this book is the maze itself.  Thomas and all the other kids are here for one reason and one reason only – to solve the maze.  And it is the maze and its secrets that ultimately drive the story forward.  While the human characters may not be fully developed, the maze is wonderfully elaborate and complex, and Dashner does an excellent job of parceling out its secrets.

In fact, most of the things I really liked about this book are related to the maze.  The Grievers are probably among the most terrifying and ingenious creatures I’ve ever come across in a novel, and Dashner describes them with just the right amount of detail – telling us enough to be scary while leaving plenty to our imaginations.

I also loved the ultimate solution to this maze.  Without giving anything away, let me just say that  Dashner’s done an excellent job of taking all the conventional approaches to solving a highly complex maze and turning them on their head.

Finally, I was thrilled to discover the ultimate purpose behind the maze.  Dashner drops a few hints over the course of the story, but even so the final explanation was fun.  Of course this is the first book in a series, so he doesn’t give away all the details, but there is a great last minute twist to propel you into the next book in the series.

What I Liked the Least: Well, as some of the reviewers noted, the characters in this book do fall a little flat.  I’m certainly happy to argue that bashing this book for poor character development kind of misses the point, but the fact remains that these are not the world’s most exciting characters.  Thomas can actually get pretty annoying in his single minded quest to learn everything about the maze.  He often seems to have only three moods – afraid, angry/determined, and insatiably curious – and there were times when I wanted to smack him upside the head and tell him to stop asking questions already.

Most of the other characters are the same.  They’ve got only one or two ways of reacting to the world, whether that be tough and in charge (at least until the moment they crack), aggressive and slightly crazy, etc.

How Good was the Action?  It’s a mixed bag.  The scenes that take place inside the Glade (which is where the boys live, sleep, eat, etc.) tend to be either emotional or cerebral as they try to deal with the pressures of living in the maze, argue with one another, and search for answers.  The scenes that take place out in the maze are more action oriented.  And there are some great action sequences, particularly when Thomas is either fighting or running from the Grievers.  That said you shouldn’t be looking for some sort of blow-by-blow battle – an ultimate fighting championship between a boy and a genetic monster.  The action sequences here are more about tension, about feeling the fear pulsing through Thomas’ body as he watches the Griever slowly makes it way toward him or as he barrels through the maze with Grievers hot on his tail.

How Engaging was the Story? As you might have guessed, this is not a book you’re going to read for complex and engaging characters.  But Dashner’s story definitely kept me turning the pages, because I wanted to figure out the maze just as much as Thomas did.  Dashner does a great job of dropping hints and parceling out the information that ultimately enables Thomas and the others to beat the maze, and that’s what kept me racing through the book – the knowledge that there was a solution to this maze and that if I stuck by Thomas I’d eventually learn what it was.

Overall Assessment: The Maze Runner is a fun, plot driven novel.  Dashner has done a masterful job of creating the maze and the creatures that inhabit it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of discovering his maze for myself.  But this is a plot driven novel, and anyone who reads books primarily for the characters will find themselves sorely disappointed.

Profanity: There is, but they’re all words that Dashner created for the story.  That doesn’t always work, but in this case the new words – ‘shuck’, ‘shank’, and ‘clunk’ – flow seamlessly into the dialogue.

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  There is some person-on-person violence – a few fights between the boys and someone gets shot with an arrow.  But most of the fights are between the boys and the Grievers.  These are somewhat graphic affairs – but ultimately there’s not a whole lot of blood.

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