Have you ever hung out with someone and the whole time you spent with them you just loved the experience, only to separate and after careful reflection realize that you were being played with?
That’s the feeling I got when I read James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.
The time it took to get me through it, I was riveted and excited for what would happen next, but in the end, I felt wanting and like I was left out to dry. This book is a fantastic example of how to write tension, suspense, mystery,whatever you call it. It’s the closest thing I’ve read to a horror in a long time, and thus this book took on a very unusual tone for the young adult market and one that I think will stick with me for a while. But I did have some problems with it. I can see why it has had two movies made, and though well-deserving, there are definitely some issues I had.
We start with the boy Thomas who arrives in an elevator and when it opens up he finds himself in the middle of a giant glade. In this glade, there is a society of boys who have survived there for two years and are surrounded by a gigantic maze.
Now the mystery comes on pretty thick because everyone has had their memories erased and nobody knows what is going on. This is a very easy and popular trick, it’s even one I’ve used. However, my problem is that throughout the book when information can be readily shared we are constantly led to chase the carrot. This gets to the point where it becomes agonizing for very small details to be shared. This in some ways made the dialogue feel very forced and contrived all for the sake of pushing the clandestine plot forward.
Too many times in the dialogue I found characters just stubbornly not sharing information for the sake of building suspense, and not because it made any sense for them not to share that information.
It’s times like this the plot feels a little convoluted and forced because when the information is finally revealed, it is revealed in a repetitious manner and makes it seem almost annoying and I questioned why It was even withheld to begin with. This especially happens when Thomas first arrives at the glade and frankly it’s annoying.
As I said, the story was not the strongest point of this series,though it is original in some ways, it was still super predictable, and the ending was a bummer to the max. I was not familiar with the series at all, but I pretty much knew the ending after only a few hours in. Well, then why did I keep going? That leads to the next part which I’m dying to talk about.
The tone of this book is that of a mystery, science fiction, young adult horror all seamlessly blended together in nice drinkable and very intense reading experience. The book is near masterful at it, and James Dashner should be praised. I’ve never read a book for this audience that had me on the edge of my seat and wanting to know what happened so badly even though the story was very frustrating to navigate and super predictable. Dashner’s capacity to build the setting, as well as the characters and the sense of mystery around the story, was wonderful. His use of words and language was near hypnotism as I discarded all rational sense had to know what was going to happen next.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to write something a little more cerebral, and suspenseful. The book starts out slow, but when it does speed up, boy does it go. The pacing of this novel was very very well-timed for the premise, and in a weird way almost felt like creating a junior Stephen King novel.
Enough really can’t be said at how well the novel read and felt. The tone is an often overlooked facet of writing that really builds the experience for the reader, and is difficult to master because so many factors play into it being done well. Voice, setting and plot pace all have to be really well blended with the language to really carry and bring the sense of that story done. Dashner clearly knows how to write a compelling scene and is someone I’ll be reading more o,f specifically because of this trait.
The Maze Runner is pretty readable and it’s simple enough that you don’t need to be too high up in your vocabulary to get.Throughout the book, there is a lot of original expletives(swear words). This can be a little distracting at first, but the execution is done so often that subtly over time you begin to accept it.Why there are these words still remains a mystery as I don’t feel like it helped in the great sense of the world, but again it was something.
Sometimes I worry that Dashner felt by pointing it out and making it awkward to Thomas, it would help us acclimatize to it easier. Perhaps it did, but it was an unusual addition to the book.
As I said earlier, the dialogue was frustrating, not because of how it was put together. But the content of the dialogue. There are times when a simple transition paragraph would have worked to move a scene along but instead, he plays the whole thing out, which could be…tiring.
Now who is to say this very aspect of his writing didn’t help in creating the tone, so I’m not going to be too critical, but as a writer, it was something I noticed from time to time.
Now for a book that takes place in just one location, Dashner did a very good job of making a bit of a sprawling feeling to it. We quickly find ourselves adjusting to the Glade and it becomes a second home throughout the book. As we go into the maze the feeling of the constantly changing corridors as well as the mystery that it involves makes for an immersive experience.
It was truly an adventure novel done well.
Again this was very vital for the tone which as I said from earlier, this is one of the best books I’ve seen for that. So yeah, enough said.
This is the one part I felt really separates the book and keeps you reading. This was both a good and bad part for me. Because any movement in the story I felt all too often only happened at the end with a masterful capacity for story spinning in the middle of the chapter, where usually nothing ultimately happened with exception to a few choice chapters.
Dashner was mindful to place a hook at the end of every chapter, to the point where we had to keep reading even through very painful parts, like a good Stephen King book.
Because of the lack of disclosure throughout the book, and the incessant, almost maniacal amount of setup for the sequel, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this book is going to be the first of a series, and you have to read the others if you’re going to learn anything.
In spite of this, how he applied the hooks here were incredibly impactful on the reading experience and kept me going even though it didn’t take too long for me to realize he was stringing me along for a whole series, not just a book.
This would be a very good book to understand what kind of content as well as the wording of certain hooks that should come at the beginning and end of a chapter. Writer’s be mindful.
I’ll be writing a whole separate article about what I’ve learned hooks, which will be coming soon.
With the characters, there was nothing special here. Thomas was the hero, and knew everything and embodied every characteristic you would want in a hero. He got angry but it hardly felt like a fatal flaw. As for the other characters, they were frankly so vanilla for me I don’t want to even bother. They fit their roles, and pushed the plot, but nothing too crazy here, even though I really liked Minho.
In the end, I can only give Maze Runner three and a half out of five black diamonds because honestly, it wasn’t a full book. The writing was wonderful, but the structure of the story made it felt like I read the first part of a gigantic book, not finished one.
I felt like Dashner’s writing held it up a lot because he’s obviously a superb writer, but the actual story just in and of itself was a bit wanting. Rubber stamp characters and an ultimately predictable plot, with an ending that teased and flirted more than it committed.
The writing was great, but get ready for a three book deal if you want to have any sense of closure because one will not be enough to satisfy.