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The Maze Runner
James Dashner
Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 400 pages

The Maze Runner
James Dashner
James Dashner is the author of the 13th Reality series. He was born and raised in Georgia, but now lives in the Rocky Mountains with his family. After several years working in finance, he is now a full-time writer.

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A review by Dan Shade

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The Maze Runner is an exciting book and very difficult to put down. This is probably due to the unusual circumstances and situations that constitute the Maze Runner world. James Dashner, and this is the first of his books I've had the pleasure to read, has designed a simple yet mind-numbing world for his story. Also it's a science fiction story in a sub-genre heavily populated with talking cats and Vampire lovers. That alone is enough to peak my interest.

So, let's say seventy-five boys have been imprisoned in a football field-sized glade surrounded by stone walls. Outside of the glade, one on each side, are mazes. At the same time every morning and evening, the stone gates to the mazes rumble open and shut. At night, the walls within the mazes change their positions. Once a month, an elevator from nowhere which is located in the middle of the glade opens up and spits out one human boy. Our sixteen-year-old Thomas arrives that way at the beginning of the book. No one has any memory of who they were, how they got there, or what the world they left behind was like. Also, on a monthly basis the boys are sent supplies in the form of food, clothing, medical supplies, bedding, etc.

As if things are strange enough, the very next day after Thomas arrives at the glades, a girl is sent in the elevator. She is the first and only girl to arrive at the glade. She utters "everything is about to change" and then falls into a coma. They rush her to the medical facility, it's really just a shack, and she spends most of the book in her coma. By the way, everything in the glade is shack-like, having been constructed by the boys with materials sent from those they call the "creators." The fact of her arrival just one day after Thomas casts some suspicion on him. More with some than others. This is evidenced by an attempt on Thomas' life which makes sense once the reader has more information.

The Keepers, the oldest boys of each of the groups to be described give Thomas a few days to acclimate and try out different jobs. To see where he fits in, if you will. Everyone has something to do to keep order in the glade. There are farmers, cattle and pig herders, medical teams, cooks, and the most important job of all, Maze Runners. Maze Runners traverse the maze each day, come in and try to make the best map they can from memory. The theory is that there must be some kind of pattern to the mazes and sooner or later an exit will show itself. Thomas knows immediately that he wants to be a Maze Runner. Furthermore, all of this strange situation has a kind of familiarity. Thomas feels like he's been there before. However, before one becomes a Maze Runner, he must spend a day in the garden or with the animals, etc. You don't pick to be a Maze Runner. You are chosen.

So, life goes alone normally as can be expected for a few weeks. Then Alby, one of the Keepers and a runner, is severely injured by a Griever before he can make it through the closing gate. Grievers are hideous creatures that are part machine and part giant slug. They clank along with all kind of weapons sticking out, the most lethal of which are the steel needles. Alby has been stung. He will die unless he can be brought in and given the medicine provided by the "creators." The cure may actually be worse than death. The "Shanks" in the glade call it going through the change. Some make it, some come out raving mad. Often things are remembered from life before the glade.

Well something must be done or Alby will die. At the last moment, just before the gate closes Tomas jumps into the maze. In the morning, when the stone gates open, Thomas and Alby are the first to have ever survived a full night out in the maze and Thomas has become a Maze Runner. This even kicks off a series of events that will carry you through to the book's conclusion like a hot knife through butter. I must warn you that this is only book one. Book two, The Scorch Trials, is due out in October. I've already pre-ordered my copy.

This is not James Dashner's first novel. He is also the author of The 13th Reality series and succession of other young adult novels. What makes The Maze Runner so spell binding is the sparsity of the world Dashner has created. There is so much for the reader to wonder and speculate about. Who would do such a horrible thing to children and for what reasons? What kind of a place did they come from? Are they super-evolved intelligences who just like to play with humans such as in the original Star Trek episode "The Gamesters of Triskellon"?

Although the world may be sparse, the characters are rich. I could easily see myself in the glade wondering what I would do to survive. Thomas, Alby, Newt, Chuck and many others are as life-like as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. I'm not sure what purpose the girl plays in the overall story. Her part in book one is minimal. Yes, she and Thomas seem to remember each other, can communicate telepathically but she mostly spends her time encouraging him onward. That's a pretty stereotypical role for a female character to play. There also seems to be a slight love interest or attraction between Thomas and Teresa. Another stereotype. Nevertheless, it was easy for me to ignore Teresa and get on with the story. I'm sure she plays some major part in the future besides being beautiful. The final stereotype.

Copyright © 2010 by Dan Shade

Dan Shade is a retired college professor who loves to read young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But he doesn't draw the line there. He also enjoys writing science fiction and hopes to publish someday. In the meantime, you can find him at lostbooks.org (under construction).


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