Like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner is action-packed dystopian science fiction in which teenagers attempt to survive in a ridiculously hostile environment. Both books also have a high body count and deal with adults sacrificing teenagers “for the greater good.”
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As the title suggests, much of The Maze Runner consists of scenes in which the main character, you know, runs through a maze. Which is great fun, as Dashner’s real strength is in his action sequences. While the second two books in the trilogy also feature quite a lot of action, it takes a backseat to world-building, character development and dialogue...which are not nearly as strong. Consequently, unless you’re hooked on the overarching mysteries behind the Maze and WICKED, the Maze Runner books are less and less enjoyable as the series progresses.
Now, there’s a prequel. The Kill Order tells the story of what came before the Maze: how the human population was decimated, first by nature—when the planet was ravaged by solar flares—and then by man—through the creation and deliberate release of the rage-inducing, sanity-destroying Flare virus. Wholehearted fans of the original series will be happy with this offering—it’s similarly fast-paced, with lots of action, gallows humor and dangerous futuristic gadgets.
Meanwhile, those who were less enamored with the Maze Runner books will have many of the same complaints about The Kill Order. Namely, that the plotting is borderline inane; that much of the prose is repetitive and/or clichéd; that we’re always informed of the characters’ emotions, rather than allowed to feel them; and that the tension that results from well-crafted action sequences is drastically lessened when the reader doesn’t care about the characters.
Here, I’ll back up my complaints with examples:
Inanity: It’s a year after everything went to Hell. Our characters have created a settlement up in the Appalachian Mountains. They’re eking out an existence, living in small huts and underground burrows, and while they have food, it’s strictly rationed and they’re still somewhat malnourished. Which makes the fact that the main characters eat a breakfast of pancakes and deer sausage flat-out silly. (Have you ever made sausage? Delicious, yes. Something that you’re likely to make if you’re low on time, energy and supplies? No.) Don’t get me started on their stockpile of grappling guns.
Prose: Alec is a super tough, somewhat grizzled former soldier. How do I know this? Because the narrator calls him some combination of the words “old,” “grizzly,” “soldier” and “bear” at least every three pages. And while action sequences may get you through lines like “Alec’s eyes burned with intensity and purpose,” they’re a lot harder to take when you stop a moment to consider them.
Emotion: These books are all about Telling over Showing. As the reader, you know how the characters feel because the narrator tells you, full stop. Each emotion is spelled out, often in paragraphs-long detail. If you don’t connect, it’s difficult to care. And if you don’t care, it doesn’t matter how much action there is—you’re going to get bored.
There’s enough information to allow readers new to the series to catch up, though they’ll likely find the Prologue and Epilogue sections superfluous—I did, and I’ve read the original series. Regardless, though, fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series may want to give Dashner’s books a look, as the two series share many of the same strengths and weaknesses.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.