leedock’s CBR-III Review #29-“Maze Runner”, #30-”Scorch Trials” – James Dashner

More dystopian fiction full of confused kids just trying to negotiate their teenage years. No time to worry about the prom when you are dodging mechanimal slug-like blobs wielding sharp objects and power tool attachments.

These are the first two in Dashner’s trilogy with the third to be published in the fall. Easily comparable to the “Hunger Games” trilogy, both books jump right in to the action from the first chapter and never stop.

In “Maze Runner”, Thomas finds himself dumped in an elevator and deposited into a walled community of teenaged boys. Each of them has had most of their memories erased and have no idea why they have been placed there. Every morning, a doorway opens in the wall. Every night, it closes. The veterans have been trying to find a way out for 2 years, by sending out “Runners” through the open door and into the maze that surrounds the walled “Glade”. The others are busy cobbling together an existence by gardening and raising livestock with supplies provided periodically in the same elevator that offers up “Newbie” teens into the walled glade.

The maze pattern is constantly changed, presumably, by the powers that be who use “Beetle Blades”, mechanical bug cameras marked with the word “WICKED”,  to scamper about recording all action as the boys attempt to find their way to a home that they can’t even remember.  Around every corner is a chance to run into a “Griever”, the aforementioned mechanimal slug whose sting causes a nasty sickness full of hallucinations and glimpses of the victim’s  forgotten past. A serum has been provided by the unseen forces in charge, but while recovered physically, the boys are never the same again.

Thomas, despite feeling oddly familiar with his new surroundings, is just getting his bearings when the elevator makes an unscheduled appearance delivering the Glade’s first ever girl. Trouble ensues and concludes, predictably, with a  cliff-hanger but the story is an action packed quick read. The characters are compelling and their attempt to build a future out of an unremembered past is an interesting concept. They have no idea what awaits them if they do escape and their hopefulness that something better exists is the only thing that keeps them going.

The danger in reviewing trilogies, either partly or completely, is the chance of too much spoilery business going down, so I don’t want to get too involved in the “Scorch Trials” plot. I will say that it picks up exactly where “The Maze Runner” finished.  It was not as quick a read as the first, and did not find me flipping the pages in anticipation which tends to be the danger with these kind of trilogies. After awhile, the unrelenting physical abuse foisted upon the characters gets a little tedious. Dashner also leans a little too heavily on  too many characters who are/aren’t/are/aren’t who they appear to be and the constantly shifting loyalties that come from that become tiresome after a while.

One more item to nitpick is Dashner’s fictional future slang. It is a device in science fiction that can become aggravating when it is so clearly spotlighted. I don’t mind a word or two thrown in there, but in these books, Dashner hits it pretty hard which defeats the purpose of trying to create a believable world that is different and instead just becomes distracting.

Overall, the books are both good reads. “Hunger Games” set the bar for me, which is why I tend to get more critical with YA dystopian fiction now. Dashner’s writing is on par with Collins’ in terms of not dumbing down or underestimating its YA audience so I will pick up the third one.

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