The maze runner

The maze runner / James Dashner. Originally published 2009.

In which I struggle to be objective about a book I absolutely hated

The maze runner is the first book in the eponymous series, soon to be a poorly reviewed but possibly financially successful film. It’s a post-apocalyptic YA novel that has been widely successful but has less name recognition outside its target demographic than more popular series like The hunger games.

Brief plot description

(no spoilers)

A boy named Thomas wakes in an elevator with no memory of anything but his name. He soon finds himself in the company of about 60 other boys trapped at the center of a mysterious maze, none of whom have any idea how or why they are there. The most well-respected of these children are the “maze runners”, who daily explore the maze in an attempt to map it out and find an escape.

So how is it?

It’s a little like taking a big old spoonful of broken glass, chewing it up, and then going back for another spoonful because maybe the next one won’t be so bad.

If you couldn’t tell, I really really hated this book. I checked it out from the library because I saw how popular it seemed to be. The premise looked interesting, so I figured I’d give it a try. It was not good.

The writing is incredibly lazy. Dashner seems to think like if he just sets up a mystery then it will grab readers regardless of how little effort he put into the storytelling. Considering the popularity of the series, it seems like he was right. He falls into the calssic trap of trying to portray intelligence by making the “average” character profoundly stupid. It’s even worse since these kids are all supposed to be geniuses.

Reading The maze runner is less like reading a book and more like reading the transcripts of someone explaining the plot of a book. If a good writer is supposed to follow the “show, don’t tell” maxim then Dashner is the world’s worst writer. All of the setting and plot development comes in the form of rambling explanations for secondary characters. The fact that Dashner invents his own slang in order to avoid (I’m assuming here) having to use profanity or even words like “poop” makes the book even less pleasant to read.

The pacing is also terrible. It’s either incredibly slow, bogged down by pages and pages of being told what is going on or it’s way too fast, with events that are apparently “world-changing” happening before the reader has any real sense of what the world was like before.

Part of the problem, I’m assuming, is that Dashner wanted to maximize the sense of mystery and foreboding. Unfortunately, he went so overboard that incidents just seem to happen, with no justification and not following on anything that has happened before. The book just kind of ends, a new character appears to explain why things were how they were, and then we get the sequel hook.

It could have been an interesting book, if almost everything about it was different.

Strengths:

The premise is kind of cool

Weaknesses:

Writing so bad it’s a wonder this book was actually approved by a publisher

Characters are flat and inconsistent

The actual plot makes no sense whatsoever

Recommendation:

There’s only one situation I can think of where I would recommend this series: if someone who is a huge fan of YA science fiction, and can’t find anything to read, I’d suggest it. Otherwise, I’d say stay away.

Because of the simplistic writing style, it might appeal to struggling or younger readers who like the genre but find the better YA series too difficult to properly enjoy.

Everyone else should just read The hunger games instead. It does virtually everything about ten billion times better than The maze runner.*

*This is not hyperbole. I did the calculations, and this is how much better The hunger games is than The maze runner.

Other books to read instead of this one:
The hunger games / Suzanne Collins

Montmorency : thief, liar, gentleman? / Eleanor Updale

Harry Potter / J.K. Rowling

Lockwood & Co.: the screaming staircase / Jonathan Stroud

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