James Dashner: The Maze Runner

20170215_083318I am planning a presentation-workshop at the moment, which will focus on themes from YA fiction and film. As such, this was a bit of a duty-read, and it’s possible that that has influenced my perception. At the same time, I really do enjoy the genre in general. I didn’t love this. (I didn’t hate it, either.)

There will be spoilers.

Synopsis: A boy wakes up in a box, with no specific memories apart from his name. He is in a Glade populated by a remarkably organised society of adolescent boys, inside a Maze which is shut off every night by mysterious doors. Only the strongest and fastest boys are allowed out into the Maze, and he determines to be one of them. It soon becomes clear that everything is starting to change, though, and he has to lead a desperate last attempt to get everyone out through the Maze. In theory, it’s really not a bad story.

Except that the pacing is all wrong. There’s no time for us to start to get used to the weird society in the Glade before things start changing, and no time to become attached to any of the other characters, which makes it difficult to feel emotionally engaged with what happens to them. The plot relies heavily on telling-not-showing – we know which boys are nice and which are nasty because Thomas tells us, not because we really see them acting out of their own agency very much – and on the vagueries of amnesia which are used to hand-wave over an awful lot of things that Thomas ‘just knows’, or ‘really strong feelings’.

Even the fact that people go running around the perilous maze and drawing maps every day is never really satisfactorily explained – they all have a Vague Feeling that it’s important and they have to keep doing it, even though it’s quite clearly not achieving anything. In fact, the maze itself is one big Macguffin: vitally important to the characters but serving no actual purpose whatsoever. And when Thomas, by a feat of genius, spontaneously works out what it actually is about… (spoilers) it’s a huge anticlimax with a big dollop of Deus Ex Machina. (I can’t even remember how they worked out what the codes were for, and I read it yesterday. I’ve a feeling somebody Just Knew, at exactly the right moment.)

Lapses in characterisation are similarly brushed away with a couple of words explaining that all the children chosen for the project are Very Special. They’re very specially clever, apparently – but we have to Just Know that, given that they’ve spent two years failing to spot a blatantly obvious acronym which is literally written in huge letters across the walls.

Hmm. It’s possible that I did hate it a bit, actually. Sorry – I do usually write positive reviews, and I at least aim for balanced, but this read like a bad novelisation of a film, except that the film was made four years later. Maybe the film’s really good (let me know in the comments, if you’ve seen it!). It also felt formulaic and derivative, so I had to go back and check the chronology: The Hunger Games was only published two years earlier, and Divergent not until the following year. I don’t know what its excuse is, then – it’s just not all that good.

Only I am going to read the next one. I bought the series as a set, and I definitely haven’t got to the end of the story, so I want to know what happens next. Maybe it’s not that bad.

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