I am very aware that there’s not much point in writing reviews if you never write a remotely bad one; and I feel really mean writing bad things. Maybe I’m not cut out for this.
Instead, I think I will write a good review of a different book.
My first-born has just finished reading ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’. Reading is often a collaborative enterprise in my house: He’s quite capable of reading to himself but he also still likes to be read to at bed time, so I tend to jump in and out of stories, picking up where he left off.
Yesterday, where he had left off was just a little way into the closing battle in the Department of Mysteries. He has a pretty strict bedtime, and last night his light went out very late, because you just can’t stop in the middle of that section. JK has spent the whole book – not to say the series – building a universe which consumes us totally, painting characters in whom we are deeply invested, weaving mystery and dropping hints until we are desperate to know more. The page-turning climax is perfectly paced. Graphic descriptions of action are interspersed with calmer moments, where the heroes pause to gather their thoughts, reflect on their priorities. Secondary and minor characters behave in surprising ways, enhancing and developing our perception of them even as the action unfolds. At times, it looks for a second as if everything will be OK – the rollercoaster hesitates at its summit, we enjoy the view for one heady moment before we’re plunged back headlong into the tumult.
I think the difficulty with the ‘Maze Runner’ series is that it tries to dive straight into the action-filled climax without any build-up. We have to be told how to feel about the characters and their situation because we haven’t got the context or the investment to decide for ourselves.
People in my professional sphere talk a lot about ‘compassion fatigue’: the idea that if you spend all your time caring for people who are suffering, with no time in between to rebuild your own resources, you can lose the capacity to care. Reading these books, I think I gave in to ‘drama fatigue’. Everything was so fast, so cruel and violent that I couldn’t be bothered to care any more. Despite the Tom’s repeated claims, there was no trust between the protagonists so there could be no betrayal.
(I will make one exception to this. The fate of Newt, in the third book, was reasonably well written. I just… didn’t really care about anything by that point.)
Sorry, James Dashner. I think there are people who will like these books because what they really enjoy are strongly drawn, visual action sequences. I’m not one of those people, and these are not for me.