After detoxing from my major Hunger Games overdose, I had a craving for more post-apocalyptic dystopias. I hit Barnes and Noble (yes, I still shop at bookstores and buy books – I have a thing about the physicality of books, don’t get me started) and in the “If you liked The Hunger Games…” section, I found The Maze Runner by James Dashner.
The opening of the first book (The Maze Runner) is totally gripping. A kid wakes up in an elevator/lift-type of contraption and knows absolutely nothing other than his first name (Thomas). He has basic understanding of how the world works, but has no specific memories to tie to this knowledge. The lift brings him to an expansive courtyard where he is greeted by a group of other boys that had the same experience.
The courtyard (known as “The Glade”) is the center of a gigantic maze, comprised of enormously tall walls that keep out “Grievers” (gross squishy-robot-killer creatures) that come out at night. The boys have created a community amongst themselves, organizing to clothe, feed and train all new boys that arrive, none with any memories. While most of the boys tend to the courtyard, the most skilled boys run the maze during daylight hours, trying to find a way out. Their way of life is challenged when a girl shows up and they are told she’s the last person that will ever be sent up in the lift. Thomas becomes a “Maze Runner” and we find out it’s up to him to figure out the challenges of the maze and ultimately help everyone escape.
The Maze Runner is well-written, a gripping tale, and has a fantastically Lord of the Flies-esque feel to it. This group of adolescent boys have created a way of life in a hellish situation, have their own jargon and clearly know they are on their own in this unknown world. There are great twists and interesting clues that allude to the greater mystery surrounding the Maze and it’s purpose. And… it all goes downhill from here.
After a fantastic first book, the second book, The Scorch Trials definitely didn’t live up to the hype that the cliffhanger of the first book suggested. It kind of recycled the idea of the first book – putting a group of kids (surrounding Thomas) in impossible, random and life-threatening scenarios to ostensibly serve a higher purpose or “greater good”-type of function. However, there were some kind of tired concepts (labeling members with “Leader” “Traitor” etc.) that seemed like a lame social psychology experiment. There were also random causes of deaths and injuries that, looking back, didn’t ultimately serve the “higher purpose.”
At the end of the book, Thomas rebels against the “higher purpose” for freedom and answers. By the end of The Scorch Trials, I was bored and frustrated, but I can’t read 2 out of 3 books.
So, I begrudgingly downloaded The Death Cure onto my Kindle (having no attachment to this series and no desire to spend more money than necessary on this story). It was unbalanced and stupid. Thomas tries to rebel against the evil forces that put him in the Maze, but there’s no real logic to the plot, no closure, we never find out who Thomas is or where he came from (because he chickened out of getting his memories back) and it’s just a cop-out of a trilogy-ender.
I’m torn about my recommendation – the first book is very interesting and sets up a world full of fascinating potential. If you can only read one book and you’ll deal well with leaving the trilogy on a cliffhanger, go for it. I truly enjoyed the craftsmanship of the first book.
If you’re like me and it’s all-or-nothing, just don’t do it. The second two books are NOT worth your time. Go re-read The Hunger Games. The Maze Runner Trilogy tries to be a sad, formulaic rip off of the Hunger Games trilogy anyway.
As a note about post-apocalyptic literature in general: it’s kind of a giveaway when it’s written in first person. It’s really interesting to see the world through a specific point of view, but then you know that the protagonist can’t die, so all mortal peril that they’re in is kind of dampened. Someone get on this.