Title: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Genre: Dystopian/Apocalyptic, Horror, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Books
Publication Date: October 2009
Hardcover: 384 pages
Stand alone or series: First book in a planned series.
How did I get this book: Review Copy from a fellow blogger (thanks Amy!)
Why did I read this book: I have been crushing on this book for a while now – ever since I saw the cover and read the synopsis, I’ve been dying to get my hands on it. A while back I was tweeting about how much I was drooling over this title, and the lovely Amy of My Friend Amy was an absolute doll and offered me her copy! Naturally, I accepted. And, here we are.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.
Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.
Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.
Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.
A dark room ascends. A young boy awakens with no idea where he is. With no idea who he is. All that he can grasp in the lonely darkness is a name – “My name is Thomas.” When the ascent stops, Thomas is hauled out of the dark room and into a strange new world where he’s greeted by teenage boys of different ages and sizes. Thomas is the latest addition to the Glade – a large open green square, surrounded by an immense labyrinth. By day, the Glade is a place of hard work as boys dedicate themselves to their specific, important jobs: farming, cleaning, tending, killing. No job, however, is more important than that of the Runners – the smartest, quickest boys who go out into the Maze every day to document its paths and attempt to find an exit. The Runners must be quick because every day come nightfall, the immense doors connecting the Glade to the Maze shut, and unspeakable monsters called Grievers roam the labyrinth. As the new boy (the “shank greenie”), Thomas grows increasingly frustrated when no one answers his questions about the Glade, the surrounding maze, and the Grievers that roam its exterior in the dark – but soon Thomas learns that the rest of the boys are just like him. None of them can remember anything prior to the box, nor do they recall why they are in the Glade or who put them there. All they know is their dedicated safe routine, and their precipitous existence – work your job, keep your head down, and hope that the runners will one day find the exit to the elaborate, ever-changing maze.
Until the day after Thomas’s arrival, that is. Everything changes. There should not be another delivery from The Box for another month – but the following morning, someone else arrives in the Glade. A beautiful teenage girl, bears a disturbing message. Everything is about to change. Somehow, both the new girl and Thomas are connected to the mystery of the Glade and its Maze, and they must do everything they can to find a way out, and to lead the other Gladers to safety.
The Maze Runner is every bit as delectable as advertised – it’s everything I love in a novel. Isolated characters in an impossible setting, fighting for their lives – check. Futuristic sci-fi/post-apocalyptic/dystopian setting – check. Mass amounts of tension and violence – check. The only thing that could have made The Maze Runner even more of a “Thea book” would be to set it in outer space, with zombies and time travel in the mix somehow (then again, that may have been a tad much). My point is, I loved the setting and the premise for this novel. There are quite a few young adult survival of the fittest types of stories pervading the marketplace now, which may have some readers skeptical of another new similar title. Rest assured, dear readers – reminiscent of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the Gone books by Michael Grant, The Maze Runner is a shining new entry in this particular subgenre, completely worth your time.
The most striking thing about The Maze Runner is the strength of its world-building and the adrenaline-fueled plot. This is akin to a novelization of Lost (one of my favorite television shows ever) – no one knows what’s going on, and mystery and danger abound at every turn. Somehow, all these teenage boys have been transplanted to an isolated world surrounded by an ever-changing maze with only one objective – find a way out. The idea of the Glade and its surrounding, shifting maze, filled with heinous monsters is incredibly compelling and raises a number of questions – why are the boys there and who put them there? Is there anything outside the Glade? Is it some sick experiment or type of imprisonment for crimes they have committed in the past? These questions and countless others are raised – and even more importantly, are addressed – in this provocative novel. Also impressive is the writing style of The Maze Runner. Similar to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books, The Maze Runner employs a particular new slang – the Gladers have evolved their own way of dealing with problems and speaking, using words like “shank,” “greenie,” “griever,” among others. It’s a little strange initially, just as it is strange to protagonist Thomas’s ears, but makes sense in the context of the story.
I don’t want to say anything much about actual plot points as these are things best discovered upon reading without spoilers, but suffice to say that the writing and plotting are irresistibly tight and crisp, and Mr. Dahsner knows how to write a thrilling mystery. Just when we receive an answer and one part of the puzzle is uncovered, that leads to an even larger question. And he manages to keep you interested in the story, dying to find out what’s next, with only a minor level of annoyed “WTF is going on!?”-ness (And trust me, as a long-time Lost devotee, I can honestly say in terms of pace of revelations, The Maze Runner is not even close to the level of impotent frustration that it could have reached).
These strengths in terms of pacing and plot reveals are also in part due to the strength of the main character, Thomas. Thomas is a clever young man and he asks all the right questions (whether or not he receives answers to them, well, that’s a different story). Because Thomas is completely new to the Glade and the way of life of the boys there, his own burning questions and frustrations are ones that we share as readers, which makes for a very effective device. As far as protagonists go, Thomas is a fine one with a natural curiosity and ability to voice his opinions, even when they may not be the popular or safe choice. He’s tenacious and brave, but not so flawless to render him one-note. Considering that Thomas and the other characters in the Glade cannot remember anything about their pasts, they are all distinctive, well-rounded characters and very believable. In particular, I loved Minho, Newt, Chuck, and Gally – each has their own charms and distinct personalities.
The only character I wish we got to see more of and understand more was the lone female member of the cast, Teresa. We get tantalizing glimpses into her past and her abilities as linked with Thomas, but as she’s in a coma and ostracized for most of this first book, we don’t get to truly know her. However, this is something I think that will be remedied in the next two books.
In many ways The Maze Runner is a reflection of the Maze that surrounds the Glade itself – little pieces of the puzzle gradually are shuffled and revealed throughout the book, keeping readers on their toes. We keep guessing what could be next, and what each individual piece means until finally the whole picture comes into dramatic crystal sharp clarity. And when you talk about a cliffhanger ending that leaves you salivating for more, I don’t think you can get any more compelling or infuriating than the end of The Maze Runner (I’d put it on the level of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness). I need the next shankin’ book. NOW.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.
Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.
With another jolt, the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.
Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine. The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy’s stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his senses, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting.
My name is Thomas, he thought.
That… that was the only thing he could remember about his life.
He didn’t understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business.
And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. He didn’t even know his last name. Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.
You can read the full excerpt and the first nine chapters online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: If you liked The Maze Runner and want more of the same dystopian style goodness, where children are put in drastic situations, you might want to try some of the novels below. These include – The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Battle Royale by Koshun Takami, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, The Long Walk by Stephen King, Gone and Hunger by Michael Grant, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, and The Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines.
Also, for more information on The Maze Runner (including audio excerpts, a game, author interview, and discussion forum), check out the book’s awesome website HERE.
Verdict: If you couldn’t tell, I loved The Maze Runner. Anyone looking for a thrilling, white-knuckle read should look no further. This title from James Dashner totally rocks. Absolutely recommended…and is it October yet?
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson