The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner | Delacorte, 2009

James Dashner’s The Maze Runner has received some attention as of late thanks to its relatively successful film adaptation. A fact I’m aware of because I am, quite possibly, the only 31-year-old male who watches the star, Dylan O’Brien, on MTV’s Teen Wolf. I find this fact only mildly embarrassing. I read Dashner’s newer science fiction novel, The Eye of Minds, not too long ago and while I wasn’t enamored with the novel I at least found it enjoyable. I have similar feelings towards Dashner’s The Maze Runner.

Looking at the Young Adult/Teen novel market I consistently get the impression that its primary audience is female. From an anecdotal perspective I get the impression that females, by and large, a willing to read a broader spectrum of novels then males. Indeed the very fact that there is an entire body of academic work on young male literacy, and at least two popular movement dedicated towards advancing literacy in boys (check out Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read for an excellent example) sheds light on why teen novels seem to trend towards a more female audience. I am perhaps a little off topic here but novels like The Maze Runner, with its almost entirely male cast, are the exception in the teen world particularly when looking at teen speculative fiction.

The Maze Runner uses the amnesiac lead character as means of keeping the reader in the dark. Thomas arrives in the mysterious Glade knowing almost exactly as much as the reader does. It provides an easy way to introduce readers to the world that Dashner has created allowing Thomas to tour, with the reader in tow, all the different areas of the Glade. The Glade is a miniature society comprised entirely of teenage boys. Where it’s located is unknown but it sits presumably at the center of a giant maze. This maze is the center of the Glades existence as the inhabitants believe that it holds the key to escaping the Glade. Complicating this fact is that the maze closes every night and those that map the maze, called runners, find that the pattern has changed come morning. It also doesn’t help that its corridors are haunted by monstrosities which, if they don’t kill you, will leave you forever changed and possibly insane.

All this makes for an interesting set up but with some major problems. First off while Thomas’ amnesia helps ease the readers into the world it also makes for a fairly uninteresting lead character. Without a history he comes off as bland and his motivations somewhat self-centered. It doesn’t help that the characters that surround Thomas aren’t all that interesting either. It doesn’t help that dialogue feels rather flat. The set up and information required to get a working knowledge of the Glade also takes far too long to accomplish and throws off the novel’s pacing. As a result the beginning of the novel is rather boring and it is only in the novels final third that things really ramp. Indeed the final third of the novels makes for an exciting read with high stakes, some additional mystery, and an absolutely wonderful twist ending that despite my struggle with the beginning of novel makes me want to jump right into the next book.

Dashner is a creative world builder but The Maze Runner struggles with its lack of characterization. Throughout the novel there is a sort of detachment from the characters. Never once did I get the impression that anyone really mattered, including Thomas, and my investment in the novel only came once some of Thomas’ history was revealed. That was an interesting twist and, had it existed from the start of the novel, would have certainly guaranteed my early investment in the novel. Regardless, The Maze Runner, despite appearing to cash in on the trend in teen fiction towards dystopian settings, is an original concept the depth of which is only revealed in its final pages. An interesting novel that despite bland beginnings leaves me curious to see how events proceed in the second book The Scorch Trials.

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