This past weekend, I did a lot of reading. I received a gift of four spanking new paperbacks in the post from the lovely Lorrie, and she challenged me to read them. They weren’t, let’s say, to her taste, and she was interested to see what I thought of them.
Well. The weird thing is, I completely understand (and agree with) all the problematic issues surrounding these books, as Lorrie herself so ably pointed out – I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes quite so much while reading any series of books before, including Twilight (and that’s saying something.) However, the fact remains that I read them all. Start to finish. So, there’s that.
The books form ‘The Maze Runner’ trilogy – The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure.
The Maze Runner, the first book in the trilogy, has won, or been nominated for, a lot of prestigious awards; it has been made into a movie, soon to be released. It has gathered a bunch of gushing review on Goodreads and has become a bestseller. It’s a big, blokey gutbuster of a novel, a story about boys left to fend for themselves, fighting against (apparently) horrendous odds to figure out a way to survive in a cruel, inexplicable world. The second novel picks up where the first leaves off, almost to the second; our heroes are flung into a burning world, expected to trek through a desert landscape filled with enemies in order to reach a promised ‘safe haven’. The third brings us into the ‘real world’, a world ravaged by environmental change and disease, where the heroes (or, those who are left, at least) learn that trust can be betrayed and that those who think they’re acting ‘for the greater good’ are sometimes the most evil of all.
I should have loved every word. Sadly, the words were the main problem I had with these books.
Let me start by saying this: the basic idea behind the trilogy is solid enough, in general terms. It’s a typical ‘something dreadful happens in the world, so the government – naturally – starts human experiments on kids in order to try to solve the problem’; I’ve seen this formula before, and while it’s completely illogical and utterly unrealistic, it is compelling. The Maze Runner, book 1, introduces us to most of our major players when Thomas, the ‘hero’, finds himself in the Glade, a strange enclosure full of kids like himself. The Glade is surrounded by high walls which move at sunset to seal the kids in. Outside these walls is a Maze, which the kids are pretty sure they have to solve in order to be allowed to leave – the only problem is, it’s full of creatures called Grievers, which are like giant slugs, complete with razors and spikes and all manner of other weapons. Of course.
The plot of the first book is contrived to the point that I just gave up caring after a while, and just went with the flow. There’s no logic in Thomas (and Teresa – a girl who mysteriously arrives in the Glade the day after Thomas does) working out the secret of the Maze; there’s no logic in the kids (all of whom are supposed to be geniuses) failing to figure out a way to fight the Grievers until Thomas arrives. They’ve been seeking a way to fight them for two years, when all they needed to give it a go was there, in the Glade, for the taking. I had it figured out straight away, and I’m hardly a grizzled survivalist. There’s no logic whatsoever in the ending. The book is full of telling instead of showing – and, worse still, telling and showing – and there are so many examples of pointless conversations, all needlessly saying the same thing, that I can’t even list them all here. There’s very little characterisation – you could swap any of the boys for any of the others, and nobody would even notice – and Thomas’ actions and reactions are so unnatural and mechanical that I began to wonder if he was a cyborg instead of a human being. I hated the ‘role’ that Teresa, the only girl, is given; she’s basically a placeholder, or a plot device. This annoyed me.
The second and third books also display these flaws. The ‘telling and showing’ thing made me grit my teeth over and over; the characters reminded me of Thunderbird puppets every time they had to have an emotional reaction to something. The plot was filled with coincidences and ‘dei ex machinae’, or whatever the plural of ‘deus ex machina’ is, and this all irritated me. In The Scorch Trials, for instance,characters show up out of the blue just to tell the kids something important, or give them a ‘clue’, not once but repeatedly. Then, they vanish and never appear again. That was almost too much for me.
But – for some strange reason – I didn’t give up reading.
The second and third books also up the ante with regard to the death-rate; teenagers die, in a variety of gruesome ways, all over the place. However, the strange thing is the reader isn’t really encouraged to care overmuch about these deaths. They’re narrated in a rather detached way. The deaths in The Hunger Games, for instance, to which this series is endlessly compared, affected me far more than the deaths here. Loads is left unexplained at the end of the series, too – not in a ‘work it out yourself’ way, or a ‘life goes on’ way, but just in an ‘infuriating loose ends not tied up’ way, and – as I mentioned already – the whole reason behind the torments the teenagers have been put through is ridiculous.
But I still read it all.
I can’t really explain why I kept going. It wasn’t for love of the characters (except maybe for Minho, who I enjoyed reading – he seemed to have more personality than the others, but that’s not saying a lot); it certainly wasn’t for love of the books’ use of language and imagery (at one point, lightning is described as being ‘like huge bars of light’). I think it was curiosity, and a need to find out whether the book would end the way I thought it would (it did, pretty much) that kept me from giving up. The story is action-packed, and despite all the waffling it does move along at a pretty fast clip, particularly in book three. The first book is poorly paced, I think (too slow for the first two-thirds, and then far too much plot is crammed into the final third), but the other books improve on this a little. Some of the things I didn’t like about book one, including the treatment of female characters, did improve as the series progressed (though not much), and the events of the last book are satisfyingly twisty and unpredictable, though sometimes I wondered if plot twists were being shoehorned in just for effect.
The Maze Runner and its sequels have been extremely successful, and – of course – that’s fantastic. Anything that encourages vast amounts of people to read and immerse themselves in a fictional world is brilliant, as far as I’m concerned. It does worry me a little that the flaws, as I see them, in these books have been swallowed wholesale by their devoted audience, but I hope that the enjoyment the story has clearly brought to so many will encourage them to keep reading.
The series is billed as an essential read for anyone who loved The Hunger Games, but I feel the latter series is far superior. I also think that Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy is better than Maze Runner, in almost every way, and should appeal equally well to teenage boys. Having said that, The Maze Runner is an action-packed, gory and muscle-bound read, and if you don’t care too much about the niceties of language and characterisation it should suit you very well.
Has anyone else tried this series? Am I on the right or wrong track with my thoughts?