Book Review: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

It seems as though everything in YA market these days is either dystopian, post-apocalyptic, or a fairy-tale reframing. “The Maze Runner” is one of these, though to identify which might give too much away. I’d heard about this novel from several source and wanted to read it. My daughter read it already and liked it. It’s supposedly done well–well enough they’re preparing to do a movie.

But I’ll have to admit the book left me unsatisfied. Not disappointed, mind you, just unsatisfied. The concept is interesting, the writing is tight, the descriptions vibrant. But I felt somewhat cheated to have waited through the entire book while Dashner keeps us in the dark about…well, nearly everything…only to receive no pay-off for my patience. I don’t know that I know that much more than I did before, and we don’t even get to stop and enjoy the protagonists’ victory before we’re off and running (no pun intended) yet again.

The premise is that our main character, Thomas, wakes up in a box being raised up into a giant maze populated by teenage boys. He remembers practically nothing about who he is, what he’s done, where he is, or why. He and the other boys have to find a way out of the giant maze that changes every night. That’s a very brief summation, but essentially correct.

Yes, having Thomas not remember anything certainly heightens the tension. But it also gives us very little idea of who Thomas is as a person, or why. We see how he acts, but we don’t see the motivation behind it. he’s as surprised by his actions as he is.

That in itself is not a fatal flaw. YA novels are not exactly known for well-developed, complex characters, even in their protagonists. As I said before, the problem is that I didn’t get enough of a pay-off for sticking with the story to the end. This doesn’t seem to bother the host of teen fans, and I’m clearly not a young adult reader, so it wasn’t written to please me in the first place.

But what I suspect is that the trilogy was originally written as a single novel. When it sold they realized it was too long for a single novel and decided to break it up into three parts. While it may have divided nicely, there was no clear denouement for at least the first part. It transitions, but there is no real pause to enjoy or to learn anything significantly new or interesting.

The edition I bought also included a few preview chapters from the second book. I perhaps should not have read those right on the heels of the first book, as it also shows that they don’t get much time to enjoy their victory in the second book, either, before it’s right back into the crucible.

The first book is intense, though not particularly graphic. There is some unpleasant imagery, and the grievers are as creepy as your imagination can make them, but Dashner’s not going for shock value. That changes right away in the second novel, apparently. My daughter was eagerly awaiting my completion of the first novel so that I could render judgment on whether she could read the second. I told he she could read it, but warned her it might not be very pretty. I had her read the two preview chapters first, which seemed to change her mind about wanting to read it. Perhaps that was the only graphic part of the novel, but I somehow doubt that.

I wanted to like this novel. I’ve met James Dashner, and he seems a nice guy. His guest spots on Writing Excuses have been excellent. He’s a good writer. I don’t have any problem with the way he told the story–until the ending, anyway. It’s just in the end I feel no compulsion to read the second book. Making it all the way through one novel with insufficient pay-off: shame on him. Making it through a second one with insufficient pay-off: shame on me.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Maze Runner, by James Dashner”

  1. The funny thing is that actually books 2 and 3 weren’t bought by the publisher until months after book one was sold. Maze Runner was sold as a stand alone. James had books 2 and 3 planned out, but they weren’t part of the initial deal.

    1. Well, there goes that hypothesis, then. That makes me curious to know if the ending was different, then, when it was a standalone and perhaps they changed it after they decided to make it a trilogy. That seems an odd place to end a stand-alone.

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