I like books. I mean who doesn’t? More importantly I like reading books. I like how a well-crafted story can transport the reader to a fantastic location, it can weave the reader into a complex mystery, scare the piss out of them, or morally and ethically challenge them. Of course we’re talking about fiction here, there’s a completely different place for non-fiction.
As an avid reader I’m always looking for a good story to read. When I was young I started and faithfully held true to the fantasy genre for a very long time. Over the past few years I’ve noticed my tastes have changed to a sci-fi heavy reading list. Some of that has to do with games I’ve been playing, others is just being tired of over used tropes. So it was with eager excitement when my friend Sarah told me about James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. We had been hanging out talking about our reading lists and when I mentioned how much I had loved The Hunger Games, Ready Player One, and other similarly dystopian reads, Sarah was quick to recommend Maze Runner.
I was deep in a very long series so it took me awhile to get around to the book. I just finished it. There were some things I like about it and some things I very much didn’t. I’ll be honest while the idea of the series is somewhat appealing; the draw for me is very minimal. So much so that I’ll actually be moving on to another author altogether and putting this series on the shelf for a while.
Let’s start with the good. Dashner does an excellent job communicating the confusion our main character experiences from page one. The reader really gets the sense that not only do they not know what’s going on, but also neither does the character (and even possibly the author). Dashner also does a pretty good job of keeping the pacing of the book up so there’s not too much down time. While the idea behind the story wasn’t a fresh one, it was handled towards the end with a bit more mystery and finesse then other attempts I’ve seen.
Now the not so good. Most of the main characters are arguably bipolar or at the very least emotionally dysfunctional, but not in a way that makes sense. Dashner attempts to communicate an environment of extreme stress and pressure, but it comes off as disjointed and the characters seem unstable. The connection just wasn’t developed enough for it to really come across well. Likewise the main character Thomas, wasn’t really all that likeable or relatable. He was very wishy-washy and indecisive it felt. Now as someone who writes teen\child characters at times I know it can be difficult as an adult to harness that youth. But for a supposed sixteen something, our protagonist had the spine and attitude of a thirteen year old at best. Lastly I’d say the world of the Maze could have used a little more development. I know it was supposed to be bleak and minimalist, but it came of almost as an afterthought or simple backdrop. The result was something that was okay, where it had some potential to be really intereting.
As to the straight up bad. Unfortunately Dashner broke the number one rule of writing, show don’t tell. It took me a few chapters to figure out why I was having a hard time getting into the story and I finally realized I was being told eighty percent of the conflicts. This is probably why the characters all seemed so bipolar and Thomas especially came off as spineless at best sometimes and downright annoying at the worst. As a reader you don’t want to be told the conflict a character is going through or their constant inner dialogue. It has to be shown through the interactions with the environment and their relational interactions. And that rarely happened. Eventually I just felt like things needed to hurry up and happen because the constant being told about Thomas’ courage then fear became tedious.
Overall I felt the book was a fine read. Yes it’s teen fiction, but so have been plenty of other books that still managed to weave a particularly engaging tale regardless of the reader’s age. Eventually I’ll finish the series and I can hope as Dashner’s writing experience grows so will the refining of his narrative detail. Regardless it’s probably a great option for younger readers, as it’s essentially clean and easy to take in. I’d be interested in hearing your opinions especially since it’s a best seller and being adapted to film.
Now, go read a book or something…