Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner cover art
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

I just love me some post-apocalyptic angsty emo teen thrillers! No, really.  I do. I’ve seen The Day After Tomorrow like, twenty times.

The action in this book started off slowly, like a freight train, then sped up about halfway through, and kept a breakneck pace to the end. The postscript was meant as some sort of grand reveal / shock-and-grab you into the next book, but I wasn’t very surprised by it.

The “let the children save us from the awful world we created” trope in the sci-fi literature was established, and perhaps perfected, in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. There’s something like that going on here, but we as readers won’t know until the characters know, because it is written from the main character’s perspective.

All the characters’ memories have been wiped before they enter the world of the Glade/ Maze. (The Glade is the living and farming area, and it is surrounded by the Maze.) The characters, however, remember their names, and words for objects and events in their world. They have nuanced reactions to experiences they’ve had, but they don’t remember their parents, or anything about their world before they got to the Glade.  Science is amazing, but I doubt that even precision brain surgery could alter / erase memories that thoroughly. Victims of strokes, for example, can have swaths of memories erased, as well as difficulty remembering words or experiences they’ve had, and they may never recover. But they remember their name, or the house that they grew up in, or their children’s names, or how to walk, or what have you. It creates an interesting problem for the author: how will the boys react to various stimuli, not knowing their pasts?

Thomas, the main character, learns about the Glade through lots of exposition, but Dashner introduces the characters and the world in a way that feels organic. The main problem is that the established routine of the Glade / Maze is changing, and no one knows why.

One of the ways that the characters discover new information about their world and the people who put them on it is clunky, unreliable and slow. Apparently, they have to get bitten by the cyborg-terror-amphibian-thing in the Maze, and then receive some kind of antivenom which gives them hallucinations, which are then treated as memories. It is a rite of passage that not all survive.

My main complaint about teen characters, as they appear in books, is that they are well-imagined, strong people who have maturity and problem-solving skills way beyond their age group. I’m not sure that is the case here:  there is some angry, alpha-teen-male posturing, and some chest-pounding and the like. There is also some pretty nuanced self-government and problem solving going on. Thomas reacts completely differently than the others, even from the beginning.  I think that is partly because of his “memory programming,” for lack of a better phrase, and partly because of his particular strengths as a person. Perhaps the others already present when Thomas arrives are more entrenched in “the rules,” or too busy doing subsistence farming to survive. Thomas shows initiative to save another boy’s life and live through the night in the maze.

The character arcs are, unfortunately, pretty flat. One kid stands out: the annoying kid, the faithful sidekick, the younger one who shows some vulnerability, humanity, and depth to his character. (He’s totally the “sucks to your assmar” kid from Lord of The Flies.) So you know he’s not going to live through the book, right? The one good thing about the characters is that they are not all white: there is some effort by the author to prove that there is a diversity of characters, which makes it seem like it could be a post-apocalyptic America.

Despite the lack of surprises, this is a pretty good book. There are a few interesting twists and turns, and a few characters who are complex. I’d recommend it because the premise / world seems promising, but if the second book is mediocre, I’ll pass on the rest.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner”

    1. Did I mention I love angsty emo post-apocalyptic stuff? Because I do!

      Honest Trailer: NAILED IT!!!! Hilarious. It bums me out that the sci-fi thriller genre has been farmed out to the Young Adult genre, because they will sell, or because they have child/teenage protagonists. Enger’s Game had children for characters, but it wasn’t written for children or teens, or because it would sell sell sell. Ender’s Game wrestles with some real dilemmas… Maybe I should go re-read Ender’s Game! HA!

      Book reviews which give too much of the plot away are frustrating to me. Or, on the other hand, reviews that bloviate and blather about how great it is / how bad it is are also super annoying. It is okay to like a book, and not like everything about it. (Except AUSTENLAND. That book is pitch perfect!!!) I tend to like characters who are a bit flawed, but working towards wholeness. Mustache-twirling Evil Villians Who Are Evil For Evil’s Sake tend to wear on my nerves a bit.

      I enjoy reading. What I need from a book review is for the reviewer to answer my question: “Is this book worth my time?” Ultimately, it comes down to a yes or no. The reviewer needs to address how well the author deals with elements of plot, character development and diversity, character arcs, and how the book fits into common tropes.

      If a book reviewer said, “This is cracktastic – pure bullshit, but a joy to read!” I’d think about reading it. I’ve skipped books due to a few bad reviews on Goodreads. I have reviewers I trust (ahem ). But sometimes I will just go through the “Star Attractions” section at the library to see if there is anything interesting. That was how I found this book.


  1. Thank you for the great review! I have seen the film and have recently picked up the book at The Salvation Army (they were having a 75% off sale!)
    Now, it would appear, I will have to set down some of my indie author friends’ books and give The Maze Runner a read 🙂

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