When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre maze.
Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there, or what’s happening to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out.
3.5 Stars (Rounded to 3)
This is obviously a popular series, which most YA book fans intend to read if they have not already; it’s even been turned into a movie! Of course, I felt I had to jump on this bandwagon, but as I am for every big franchise, I was incredibly late. Earlier this month, I finally picked up ‘The Maze Runner’, hoping to love it and then want to watch the film, however I have to say that I am very disappointed in this one, and actually my opinion of this book was not very high.
I have had this book on my shelf for a very long time, not that I hadn’t intended to read it when I bought it, but as I kept on hearing how the second and third books in this trilogy are terrible, and so I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted to get into the first for the rest to be disappointing. Turns out that wasn’t an issue, given that my expectations for the rest upon finishing this one are rather low now anyway.
The persistent issue I had with the book was the main character, Thomas. Thomas is one of those ‘special’ characters who are the reason behind everything and are clearly so much more valuable than everyone else in the story, and of course Thomas was so sure of his own importance. Even before we discover that Thomas is involved in the creation of the maze, everyone believes that he is anything but normal, for no reason other than Dashner had to set is up for him being the best thing since sliced bread later on. I didn’t get the train of thought that the Gladers had when Teresa arrived: ‘She arrived two days after him, so he must know something we don’t’. Why? Oh, wait, because Dashner’s story wouldn’t work if they didn’t. Characters made completely unjustifiable assumptions about how much Thomas knew in order to make the plot work, but this just made it nonsensical. With everyone talking about how Thomas ‘isn’t normal’, his ego goes through the roof. He is one of those insufferable characters who is not only looked upon as ‘more important’, but he believes that he actually is more important. He believes that if he does ‘what is right’ (sub the word ‘stupid’ into right) then he deserves not to be punished, even if he is breaking the primary rule of the camp. He believes that he should hold authority over the people who are actually in power as he thinks that he is in the right. Worst of all is his insistence that he should be a Runner, as if he had a ‘right’ to the role, as the voice in his head tells him he should be. This self-importance makes him conceited, obnoxious and arrogant, and I constantly had the impression that we were meant to hold him in the same high regard as the other characters, the author and indeed Thomas himself seem to, and I just couldn’t. I hated how Dashner wrote him as ‘the special one’, but I hated more how he believed in his own importance.
I thought that the telepathic connection between Thomas and Teresa was an absolutely awful plot device which was intended to carry the latter part of the story whilst highlighting exactly how ‘different’ and ‘special’ the two characters are. It will inevitably be a large factor in their relationship in the next two books, which I have to say is something I care very little for. The telepathy may well be explained in the next book, but looking solely at the first instalment, the thought train behind it was ‘we are both important and chosen to do this as we have the gift of telepathy’. It sounds absolutely ridiculous.
This book bombard you with a torrent of ridiculous and unnecessary terms from the first page, and I never quite got over it. ‘Shank’, ‘Greenie’, ‘Whacker’, all in the first chapter, along with many more stupid phrases that meant absolutely nothing and did nothing to add to the world. I think that Dashner thought that creating some new vocabulary would enhance the world he had built for his characters, which would normally be the case, but as he created so much new vocab without mentioning what it really meant, and then shoved it in our face at every opportunity just to really make it clear that they were not in a normal world, it was far too overbearing for me to tolerate. Also, there was just no need for it, and I hate authors making up such a vast quantity of pointless language for no worthwhile purpose. Even by the time I had finished, I had no idea what half the language meant.
The plot of this book was very predictable. I am fine with predictability in books, and it didn’t bother me too much, but given that the whole premise of escaping the maze seems to rely on what Thomas can remember (‘special one’ moment again) if you’ve worked out all of the twists, then it takes the enjoyment out of it. I was reading this with my best friend Georgie, and we both guessed almost every significant twist, even though we knew absolutely nothing about the book going into it besides the characters’ names and its popularity: that Thomas had helped to create the maze with Teresa, that the Cliff was the way out, that Thomas would get himself bitten to remember everything, that the term ‘WICKED’ on the bugs was an acronym for the creators watching them from outside, that they were an experiment, that Alby and Chuck would die, Chuck in a sacrificial way… we were very hard-pressed to find something large that occurred that didn’t surprise us, and therefore everything was rather unenjoyable, as we had no unexpected moments whatsoever.
I did like (or at least tolerate) most of the characters, Thomas excepted. Newt was probably my favourite, as he seemed to be the most like a decent person. He was nice and companionable, but he tended to push the importance of the rules (unless Thomas was involved). He also made a good leader (although he occasionally let his friendships overrule what would be an intelligent decision), and he didn’t overestimate his importance. One thing that bugged me about Newt’s characterisation, though, is his limp. Newt has a limp resulting from a bad injury, which had left a permanent impact, and it is for this reason that Newt is no longer a Runner. The issue I had with this is that it was incredibly selective, causing problems or not depending on how convenient it is to the story. For the first quarter of the book, we see Newt many times, and it never states that he limps. Then, Newt tells Thomas about his accident, and rubs his foot, but Thomas interprets this as ‘because of the memory, not that it still pained him’. From this point onwards however, Dashner constantly makes reference to it when it is convenient for Newt to be handicapped, such as when he is running towards the maze to get to Minho and Alby, but doesn’t reach it in time. That’s obviously understandable, but later on, when the Gladers are leaving the maze, Newt has no problems keeping up with any of them, as if the injury that had prevented him from being a Runner was in no way hindering him from acting as a Runner. This bothered me both from a continuity point of view, but also from the view of a person who walks with a permanent limp; a long-lasting thing such as that is not selective, and I feel like if Dashner is going to provide that feature for Newt, he needs to make it consistent rather than throwing it in only when it suits him, and disregarding it the rest of the time to make his task simpler.
Another character who I adored was Minho. He is funny, yet often talks as the voice of reason when Thomas is sprouting rubbish, Alby is being useless and Newt lets his friendships skew his principles. Teresa seemed okay, but she is absent for the majority of the book, so I felt like there wasn’t enough time to develop a true opinion of her. I do get the impression that she tags along with everything Thomas does, and rarely has a mind of her own, though. Chuck annoyed the hell out of me. I think it was meant to be slightly endearing, but if I were to be trapped in the maze with him, I would slap him. Alby made a pretty shocking leader, even before he was bitten. I would’ve liked to see more of Gally. Whilst he was undeniably crazy, he was the only one who seems to speak the truth when it comes to Thomas, and sees through the ‘special chosen one’ routine. There was a point two-thirds of the way through that Gally just disappeared and wasn’t referenced again for about 150 pages, which annoyed me, as I wanted him to crop up more often.
Plot-wise, besides the predictability, the book was enjoyable to an extent. I didn’t struggle to finish it, and I did read it relatively quickly, but at the same time, none of it flowed naturally to me. The entire time, I was questioning the plausibility of the story. I came to the conclusion that my major issue came from the fact that it was evident when Dashner was manipulating the natural flow of events for convenience. I felt like the book would have been better had Dashner thought a little bit more about how the characters would genuinely behave in the situation, but instead everything felt forced and far too centred on convenience for me to actually care about it that much.
Overall, I’m very disappointed in this one. I may watch the film as I love Thomas Sangster, who plays Newt, however I care very little about continuing the series, especially as fans of the first one tend to be disappointed by the next two, and if I didn’t like the first, then I don’t think I’ll read on when the rest are supposedly worse.