My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Perhaps I shouldn’t have read this so soon after the Divergent series, as for me this book ended up being quite a disappointment.
Let’s start with the premise: a boy wakes up in a strange settlement at the centre of a vast maze. He has no memory, and all the adults are gone. The book follows Thomas’ attempts to make sense of the world he finds himself in and to escape the maze and its monsters.
I suspect it is intended to be something of a cross between Lost and The Hunger Games, but unfortunately this book mainly reminded me of the clumsy attempt to make the Lost Boys look cool in the film Hook. The dialogue and language used don’t have a sense of authenticity; it reads like a middle aged adult’s perception of how “youth today” might talk. The tone of the dialogue itself is uneven; one moment characters are talking in short sentences and slang, and the next they utter fully formed, complicated sentences replete with complicated ideas. I’m not saying this is impossible for teenagers, but that the way it’s done here means that you can practically see the edges.
It’s not just the dialogue that seems overly self conscious either. Some of the descriptions, especially towards the beginning of the book are detailed to the point of obsessive, where I think a lighter hand just sketching the details would have been just as effective. For example, the author spends eight whole paragraphs explaining how the doors of the maze close!
This underlines the main problem with the book for me. It feels raw – like a first draft where the author is trying to explain to himself as much as to his audience what he can see in his minds eye and how it works. Unfortunately this imbalance of subjectivity also extends to his descriptions of the monsters.
It looked like an experiment gone wrong… Its body resembled a gigantic slug, sparsely covered in hair and glistening with slime…every ten to fifteen seconds, sharp metal spikes popped through its bulbous flesh and the whole creature abruptly curled into a ball and spun forward.
While he describes the monsters in a way that makes sense to him, I’m unconvinced as to whether Dashner has considered how to make them sound scary to his audience. Compare this to the introduction to the Steel Inquisitors when we meet them in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, whom Dashner cites as an influence. Dashner gives a description of what it looks like but there’s no sense of sentient menace – he’s telling, not showing.
This book isn’t without it’s good points though, which makes it all the more frustrating that the parts it falls down on are so very visible. The plot itself is good – I didn’t see the ending coming and once I resigned myself to the fact that the writing itself wasn’t going to carry me along on its own and focused more on the action I did find it fairly compelling. Frustratingly, as the action speeds up towards the end, much of the stuttering, affected style at the beginning diminishes and the last quarter or so of the book is actually quite suspenseful – I just don’t know why the narrative was allowed to remain so uneven.
Overall: If you can rise above the writing style and focus on the plot, this may be worth a read. But if you’re a purist who expects consistency in writing quality as well as storyline then you may want to give this a miss.