The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genre: Young Adult / Sci-Fi / Dystopian / Apocalyptic
Publisher: Chicken House
Synopsis: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.
Remember. Survive. Run.
I decided to pick up The Maze Runner series after watching the first two film adaptations. I was pleasantly surprised by the first film and, whilst the second wasn’t as good, I still enjoyed it. So, I thought it was finally time I picked up the books.
The Maze Runner tells the story of a group of boys, known as Gladers, who are trapped at the centre of a seemingly unsolvable maze for some inconceivable reason. They have no real, concrete memories, except their names, and must carry on with life with no proper answers. Each month, one new boy is sent to the centre of the maze, known as the Glade, in a lift. They must learn the one rule of the Glade: no one, except the Runners, goes into the maze, especially after dark. At night, the doors to the maze close and the Grievers come out.
Yet, when Thomas turns up, the sense of order within the Glade begins to unravel. I thought the opening was done well; we’re just as confused as Thomas as he travels in the lift, before reaching the Glade and being greeted by a group of unsympathetic boys who won’t really tell him what’s going on, mainly because they don’t know themselves.
The characters were clear-cut from the beginning: curious Thomas, short-tempered Alby, intelligent Newt, innocent Chuck, distrustful Gally, confident Minho. I also realised that the films had been very true to the characters in the books, which was great. There was no worry here of the characters bleeding into one another, where the reader is unable to tell who’s who and who’s talking.
The suspense and mystery is also palpable from the outset. We learn everything as Thomas does, and I thought hints and revelations were dropped just at the right moments to keep you intrigued. I’ve seen some people complain that the beginning lagged, and yes whilst it did take a little while to get to the action, I was enjoying myself just learning about the characters, the dynamics of the Glade, and the mystery of the maze.
In fact, I think seeing the films first enhanced my enjoyment of the book. Like I said, I can see why some people would say the beginning wasn’t pacey enough, but having seen the film adaptation, I knew generally what was coming and was excited to see how scenes from the film panned out in the book, and what differences there were between the film and novel. Also, because I already liked these characters from the films, I didn’t need to learn to like them whilst reading the book.
However, one way in which the novel really fell short was the writing. It was pretty average. There was a fair bit of telling, not showing, and it was just quite clunky; that was obvious from the start. I felt at times the awkward writing bogged down the pace as sentences often didn’t flow well, but a lot of the time I managed to overlook it because of the plot points, which kept me reading.
Also, Thomas was definitely a bit more of a Gary Stu in the novel than in the film. Dylan O’Brien gave Thomas a lot of depth in the film, creating a character that was both confident and unsure. Whilst novel-Thomas was suitably flawed, the way he was a Gary Stu was that he seemed to have all the answers. Boys who had spent years in the Glade would not have thought of the same things as Thomas. In actuality, the author spent a lot of time having Thomas list things and other characters going “tried that”. However, whilst the characters would have “tried that”, they would not have been able to join the dots like Thomas, which felt a little unbelievable at times. Are you telling me no one else had really given that much thought to the WICKED acronym?
In addition, Thomas could also be quite passive. Things would happen to him, rather than him outright causing them. I felt that Thomas was much more active in the films, rather than someone who has things happen to them because they’re special in some way. This was also heightened when Teresa turned up, for reasons I won’t divulge as it’s spoilery, but I’m glad the films left out one particular plot point involving Thomas and Teresa.
However, back to some positives. I did really like the characters. I think Teresa is actually more interesting in the books than she is in the films, although I think Kaya Scodelario is a good actress. In a total contrast to Thomas, novel-Teresa was much more active than film-Teresa. I think Newt is also more passive in the films than he is in the books. In addition, the characterisation of Minho was executed a little better in the books. The same goes for Alby and Newt, and Frypan as well. Gally, however, was a better antagonist in the film adaptation than in the book.
Lastly, I didn’t mind the slang, such as “shuck” and “klunk”. I thought it would annoy me, as I presumed it would be used more in the book than in the film, but it was fine. It was a good way for characters to get their emotions across sometimes as the slang was clearly used in place of swearing, which is often taboo in YA that is marketable to younger teens.
So, overall, I think this was a solid start to the series in terms of plot and characterisation. However, it was definitely let down by average writing, so that knocked a star off the rating. But yes, whilst it was clunky, and some things were just a bit too convenient, I still enjoyed it. I honestly do recommend that maybe you watch the films before you try the books. The first two films are available on DVD, and the third is due out next year. I found, for once, that seeing the films enhanced my enjoyment of the novels.
Have you read The Maze Runner? What did you think of it? Have you seen the film adaptations? Let me know in the comments below!