When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze. This is how American author James Dashner’s 2009 novel „The Maze Runner” kicks off, already posing a lot of questions to the readers which have probably already flown through critically acclaimed dystopian adventures such as „The Hunger Games” and „Divergent”.
The first novel of the pentalogy with the same title, „The Maze Runner” tells an intense story similar to those involved by the previous books mentioned: a group of teenagers with multiple qualities try to make their way through the mess of a failed dystopian society, attempting to save themselves and also save the world that they live in. Dashner’s literary post-apocalyptical adventure, though, will take the reader aback through a peculiar style, an extensive character development, a persistent feeling of utter suspense and, last but not least, a fascinating, yet broken universe that might not actually benefit from a final solution.
The book commences with our male protagonist, Thomas, entering the Glade, a surrounded area resembling a human campsite, located in the centre of the Maze. His arrival is followed by his integration in the Glade’s community, where he meets other boys who arrived in the Glade the same way that he did, through a lift that brings supplies periodically from an unknown location. As Thomas learns the way things are supposed to go like in the Glade, he also discovers his intense desire to become a Runner, one of the few inhabitants of the Glade who can leave to explore the Maze, return to recount his whereabouts and help at drawings maps and trying to find a way out of it. The Maze is more than just a simple series of seemingly endless corridors and a puzzle, as it actually harbours not only a complicated system of working, but also plenty of dangers for those who dare to enter it, and Thomas is determined to discover all these things. In the meanwhile, the usual unfolding of events in the Glade is abruptly interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a new inhabitant, a girl named Teresa, who changes everything. In these circumstances, the Gladers need to escape the Maze more than ever before.
As a fellow reader of YA and dystopian literature, I didn’t expect much of this book, except for a plentiful supply of action and anticipation, a range of young, yet determined and Mary Sue-like characters and many other YA clichés that seem so popular to readers at the moment. From this perspective, „The Maze Runner” surprised me in a good way. Having watched the movie before, I eventually decided to give it a try, and ended up in awe of the universe projected by Dashner in these books. Soon enough, I could call myself a fan and actually proceeded to read the rest of the series, so hungry for what might happen next to the brave and tenacious Gladers.
„The Maze Runner” is a book you simply cannot get bored of, and you don’t necessarily have to be a YA fan to achieve this level of entertainment. Our characters end up in different sets of circumstances that will stun you and make you unable to resist the temptation of turning another page. Dashner proves to be an unbelievably imaginative author, always bringing up something new, an intriguing question awaiting an answer, while carefully avoiding the danger of becoming unrealistic. Everything that happens in „The Maze Runner” universe seems to make sense, taking into consideration the unusual traits and working of this universe. If not actually a masterpiece of the YA genre, this book can definitely be seen as a read made to entertain, surprise and keep the readers on the edge of their seats.
Speaking of masterpieces, though, I feel the need to also acknowledge Dashner’s unique literary style, which caught my attention from the very first paragraphs. His descriptions are simply fascinating, regardless of how unpleasant their objects may be, as they detect and analyse their most important characteristics, creating a realistic depiction of things we’d otherwise have trouble to understand and imagine. Moreover, the descriptive sequences enhance the actual action of the novel, without loading it up with unnecessary details or tiring breaks from the unfolding of events. Dashner has an idiosyncratic way of talking about the universe he’s created, and as far as I am concerned, this is the thing that makes him stand out in our current YA literature.
His characters receive just as much attention as the surroundings in which they act, and thus, their development is excellently depicted throughout the novel. The narrative perspective allows us to fathom their worlds and the working of their minds, and eventually relate them to their actions, gestures and words. Therefore, as I was reading „The Maze Runner” , I had the unique chance to actually understand how being in the characters’ shoes felt like; I could comprehend their despair, confusion, indecision and, by this, also the overall message of the story. From my position as a reader, I can confirm just how important this sort of literary experience was for me because, for the first time, I could actually sense a real balance between the action and its representative vibe, and the themes, symbols and motifs standing beyond them.
At this point in my appreciation for the book, I might have to call out some things I disliked. First of all, the characters didn’t impress me much; they were beautifully described and explored, that’s true, but taken apart as individuals, they struck me as typical teenagers choking on their own ginormous egos and childish, immature desires to make everything go the way they want it to go. In fact, the universe of „The Maze Runner” is harsh, demanding, exhausting, and regardless of their young age, I expected the characters to develop some sort of maturity that would help them adapt to their nasty situation. That didn’t happen at all throughout the first novel, to my disappointment. At the same time, I felt like the style in which characters were described was indirectly urging me to agree to their actions, or at least understand that they made sense, while they didn’t. All in all, a pretentious critic might describe „The Maze Runner” as a TV sitcom high school full of spoiled youngsters, post-apocalyptical version. And although I could easily avoid being bothered by these details of the novel, I couldn’t avoid mentioning them either.
Lastly, I was just as upset with the fact that „The Maze Runner” doesn’t really make any sense – or outline a particular message for the reader – if taken out of the context of the whole pentalogy. In other words, if you decide to read just the first book, for a reason or another, and not go on with the rest of the series ( the two sequels and the prequel ) , you’ve kind of read the book for nothing. The book finishes with a spectacular cliffhanger and the promise that the Gladers’ adventures have just begun; basically, the Maze is actually just a tiny puzzle piece in the complexity of the final image, and what’s the use in understanding what the Maze meant, if you don’t relate it to the back story of the protagonists and their undertakings post-Maze? Going beyond to the main themes of the novel, they don’t have any significance either, if we try to grasp them while sticking solely to the first „The Maze Runner” book which is, after all, about a bunch of kids trapped in a maze that they are trying to escape, not about where they come from, why they ended up in the Maze in the first place and what they are supposed to do if they get out of the Maze, after all. Definitely an entertaining read, definitely a read that was made to intrigue and make the reader wonder, but a meaningless read if not accompanied by the rest of the books.
Taking everything into consideration, I eagerly recommend „The Maze Runner” to any reader looking for a little bit of adventure told in a different manner from the usual approach of dystopian literature, and of course, to any reader looking to engage in a long-term book series. Just as described by the critics of the Chicken House Ltd. publishing house, „The Maze Runner” is a cryptic, pulse-pounding, adventurous read that will not only surprise you with the most unexpected twists of events, but also change your perception of YA literature for good.