May 09 2014
Alright, I’m back again with another trip through the literary wilds. Every so often I take a break from video games and movies and post about a book series I recently finished, now that my Kindle has changed my life and increased the amount of books I read per year by about a thousand percent.
I was on a fantasy kick for a while, chewing through A Song of Ice and Fire and The Kingkiller Chronicles, and I’m always reading some sci-fi novel or another. But I also like to check in with what the kids are reading, and therefore I dive into Young Adult series from time to time. I’ve tried all the major ones. Couldn’t bring myself to get through Twilight, loved The Hunger Games, was so-so on Divergent, and now I’ve arrived at The Maze Runner.
I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a YA book myself, but as I don’t really know what’s going on inside angsty teenage girls’ heads, I’m at something of a disadvantage. That’s why The Maze Runner seemed interesting. It’s written by a guy, stars a guy and loses the traditional first person narrative. All three of these things are unusual in the genre, so I was curious to see what type of series it would be.
As it turns out, pretty damn engaging at first. The book is being made into a movie soon, so you’ll get to experience all this onscreen shortly, but a quick rundown of the first book makes it sound a bit like one of the weirder episodes of Lost.
A kid wakes up with no memories inside a giant outdoor area surrounded by towering stone walls. Other kids there are about his age, and tell him he’s at the center of a constantly shifting maze. None of them know how they got their either, but know that solving the maze is their only way out. “Maze Runners” spend their days running through the maze, mapping it out in their heads and writing it down when they return before nightfall, when creatures enter the maze called “Grievers” that mean to do the boys quite a lot of harm indeed.
The arrival of the main character, Thomas, changes the dynamic of the maze group, who has been trying to solve the puzzle for years. He has memories of everything seeming familiar, and right after he arrives, another new recruit shows up. A girl, the first one ever. He also knows her, but can’t place from where or when. With her comes the message that they have to solve the maze quickly, or they’ll all die one by one. Yikes.
If that sounds interesting to you, go read the first book. I can’t promise the two sequels and the prequel that follow are as engaging as the first one, but they’re an easy, short read and I got through the whole series regardless. Now, I’ll turn to a more specific discussion of the events of the series for the curious or for those who have read it already.
One of the main problems of the series is that while it’s full of mysteries to begin with, you literally know nothing about what’s going on, that’s really no longer the case by about midway through the second book. Even with their memories wiped, Thomas and the other boys figure out more or less what’s going on. The maze is a giant experiment to test their decision making process, to narrow them down as “candidates” who will have the proper brain “pathways” to overcome the Flare, a disease ravaging the world that eats away at the mind and makes people insane before it kills them. The Flare spread after solar flares roasted half the world and released the virus from a containment facility. That’s what’s going on in the outside world, and after book one, that’s where the rest of the series takes place.
The second book, The Scorch Trials, has echoes of the first book in the sense that yes, it’s still another test. The group is tasked with getting from point A to point B across a vast, sun-scorched wasteland, running into a town full of Flare-infected “Cranks” in the process.
It’s here where the must-have YA love triangle begins between Thomas, the final girl to show up in the Maze, Theresa (whom he shares a telepathic bond with, for some reason), and an infected girl named Brenda. Unlike most YA books, the love triangle isn’t front and center, and by the end, I’m not even sure if Thomas and one of the girls share more than a kiss, and maybe not even that. It’s not the strongest part of the story, regardless.
The Maze Runner has the problem Divergent had, where in its need to surprise you with twists and turns, you lose the ability to trust absolutely anybody at all. For example, the book has Theresa betray and then re-ally herself with Thomas so many times, you just give up trying to guess what’s in her head at all. The grand organization running these trials, WICKED, is full of both friendly and evil members, and by the end I had no idea if the repeated mantra of the book “WICKED is good” was even true. The idea was that by putting these kids through hell, they’re trying to find a cure for a worldwide disease. The kids fight back against being tortured, and kill many people themselves, and in the end it becomes an argument about “the greater good” with no clear resolution.
Well, there is a clear resolution, as at the end of the third book, the surviving kids are transported to a secret utopia where the immune among them are supposed to reproduce and remake the human race over time. It’s a happy ending, despite a few major character deaths, but one that feels pulled out of the hat like a rabbit.
And again, once the series loses its mystery, it starts to rely purely on an endless amount of action sequences. The third book is all about the group getting their memories back, but by that point, everything has been so heavily inferred and implied it doesn’t even matter. We know everything we need to, and there are no more mysteries to uncover. Instead, the book just devolves into an endless sequence of fight scenes which are cool, but can get repetitive quickly, and make the series feel a bit more shallow than it needs to be.
As for the prequel? It reminds me why prequels are almost never worth the effort. It deals with the one final plot twist of the last book, that the Flare was a man-made disease released on purpose to control the population in the wake of the crippling solar flares. We start out knowing this, and therefore the book contains literally no mysteries at all, and is the most action heavy out of all of them. I did enjoy how it was written, as it was from the perspective of someone who had the Flare and was slowly losing their mind, and had to finish out their limited days protecting a little girl who seemed to be a immune to the virus. A little girl who would eventually become Theresa from the trilogy, you learn from the final pages (but guessed about halfway through the book).
Is it a worthwhile series? Mmm perhaps. Out of my last three YA adventures, Hunger Games, Divergent and this, it’s probably my least favorite. The first book is really quite interesting, as is most of the second, but once you see where it’s all heading, it’s not quite as exciting and the ending is perplexing at best. That said, nothing can be worse than the absolutely horrendous final Divergent book, not even the unnecessary prequel in the Maze Runner series.
It might be worth a read if you’re a fan of either light (very light) sci-fi or YA in general, as the central premise is pretty cool. It just sort of gets lost in the execution. All four books put together are about as long as a George RR Martin or Stephen King tome, so you can breeze through the series pretty quickly. I’m curious to see the film version now, and perhaps they can refine some of the rougher edges of the novels.
Now, onto my next series. Any recommendations across any genre? I’m all ears.
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