The Maze Runner
Frome, Chicken House, 2011, 371p
Hailed as a must-read for Hunger Games fans, The Maze Runner is currently being adapted into a movie franchise. When Thomas wakes up, he finds himself in a darkened lift, unsure who he is or where he is being elevated. When the lift stops, he is in the Glade, a microcosm of young boys abandoned to their own devices. They have set up a society in which everyone has a role and order is law.
But there is no way out. Beyond the Glade is the Maze - an ever-changing mess of alleyways infested by deadly creatures. For two years, Runners have mapped the Maze, searching for an escape, trying to avoid the Grievers: gooey mechanical monsters that scratch, sting and kill. Thomas can't remember anything about his life before, but he knows he wants to be a Runner.
This novel is sickeningly thrilling, all because of the horrendous Grievers. The Maze is rather difficult to visualise, but Dashner details the monsters like something from his nightmares. He is not afraid to be graphic in scenes of violence, with pain and death being a constant threat to this group of boys. And, with Thomas and his companions having few or no memories, the reader is constantly guessing, wondering what is next and what came before.
That element of mystery is what kept me gripped. The pace is quick from the first page, but begins to lag at the half-way point, when the path the plot will takes seems inevitable but frightening. But the uncertainty is a constant, with hints of revelations floating before you and then being pulled from beneath you. Nothing is obvious - you cannot tell good from bad, safe from danger, truth from lies - but it all feels terrifyingly possible.
Arguably, this is a story that has been told a million times before - an amalgamation of everything from The Lord of the Flies to the Hunger Games - but it feels original. It may not be flawless (in particular, I didn't feel any strong connections to any of the characters, though all had been well developed), but it is thrilling and intelligent, keeping the reader eager for more.