James Dashner’s ‘The Maze Runner’ is the first of a four-part series set in a grim dystopian future, but the most intriguing part of this book is that none of the characters know that. Each of the characters — all teenage men — arrive via one-way elevator to the lush, green setting they come to call the Glade. Confused and memory-wiped except for their names, the first days are terrifying, but they slowly realize this is their new reality, and they must accept it and sustain a community if they want to survive.
The story opens when Thomas, the latest addition to the Glade, arrives at the surface level of his new home. Blinded by the light that’s penetrated the darkness of the cold, metallic elevator, he’s surrounded by young men who have gotten acclimating the “Greenies” down to a sarcastic science.
There’s admittedly a bit of a learning curve in the opening pages. Although the boys retain memories of language, their mysterious new surroundings have required them to come up with a lot of slang, including made-up swear words. But you have to respect a novel meant for young adult readers that keeps in gratuitous “swearing,” and if you can suspend your disbelief enough — it does seem cheesy at the beginning — I can assure you the story is worth it.
The Glade is almost completely surrounded by massive walls that reach to the sky. In a far corner is a forest, in the distance, a farmland with enough animals to sustain life, and in the center is living quarters for the Gladers called the Homestead. Enough young men have arrived that they’ve formulated a small, working society. They have cooks, there are medics, but the most respected are the Maze Runners.
The skyscraping walls surround the Glade everywhere except a massive opening that leads to a dangerous maze, filled with creepily organic-looking robots whose sting is fatal if not treated immediately. Every night, a colossal door slides shut, seemingly on its own, enclosing the Glade completely, and every morning, it opens back up. No one knows why or how, but the mystery of how they got here, who they are, and who sent them here is so captivating — and terrifying — the fastest Runners are sent to scout the maze each and every day.
I feel like I’ve already told you too much, but this book is such a natural page-turner, you will probably get much further than this in your first sitting. Dashner does mystery well, keeping the well-paced reveals very close to his chest, and although the old “waking up without any memories” can be an eye-roll-inducing trope in video games, it couldn’t work any other way for this particular story.
The one aspect that gets a bit tedious is experiencing Thomas’ life along with him, fraught with the confusion and frustration one would experience in a group of guys tired of explaining the situation once a month when a new “Greenie” shows up. Thomas wants answers, but he’s met with caustic teenagers who resent being the Welcoming Committee. Yes, your memory is gone. Yes, it happened to all of us. No, we don’t know why. Stop crying and choose a profession.
…Huh, actually, is this just an allegory for graduating college? (It’s not.)
This talent of Dashner’s to withhold the easy-to-tell information, while an effective storytelling device in suspense, was the main complaint I had with the book. I’m over-cautious about getting sucked into tense and shocking mysteries after the disappointing ‘LOST’ finale, and this book was setting off all my hatch alarms. It was getting increasingly difficult to keep track of how many puzzle balls I had in the air. Wait, do we know why the maze is there yet? Which boys should Thomas listen to? How did that polar bear get there, and does it trust Sawyer?
In my opinion, ‘The Maze Runner’ is the best and strongest of the original trilogy. (‘The Kill Order’ is a prequel, and it’s still in my personal reading queue.) I loved the language, I loved the scenery, and I loved the thrill of not knowing what was going on. Ever. It’s definitely a literary skill to pace things in such a way that each chapter ends on a shocking note, preventing you from ever shutting the book, without falling into the old ‘Goosebumps’ trap. It only took a few chapters of that delightful children’s series ending with “Suddenly, there was a GHOST!” and having the next chapter open with “It wasn’t a ghost at all, but her brother wearing a sheet” before you stop trusting the thrill tease. But James Dashner keeps the intensity high and the suspense thick.
Precious little is known about the big-screen adaptation of ‘The Maze Runner,’ based on the book by James Dashner. While director Wes Ball seems to only have short films attached to his name, his apparent strong background in the art department will surely benefit the look of the lush and mysterious scenery where the first book takes place. Also an apparent newcomer, to the screenplay world at least, Noah Oppenheim has received many accolades as a producer in the television realm. But fresh eyes to the feature film industry is never a bad thing.
Definitely pick this book up before the movie comes out and settle into a comfy chair. You’re going to be there for a while.