This is what the first book of a series should be. Bewildering, traumatizing, and exciting, The Maze Runner by James Dashner is fantastic. Let's look at the specifics.
Thomas, the main character, awakes in a dark box that is moving slowly upwards. Moving towards what, he has no idea. In fact, he has no idea who he is, where he is, or how he got there. All he remembers is his first name and some basics about the world. He doesn't have any memories of his life at all. You will be reminded of this constantly throughout the first half of the book. It gets really irritating after a while, but after a bit, the constant reminders stop. Which is nice. But I digress.
After the box stops and the lid opens, Thomas is met by sixty-ish teenage boys who are living in a glade at the center of a massive maze. Throughout the novel, Thomas makes friends (Minho, Chuck, Newt, Alby) and enemies (that motherfucker Gally) in this group. In fact, more than one person tries is kill him.
The day after Thomas arrives, a girl in a coma comes up in the box with a note saying that everything is about the change. This is the first girl that has ever been in the maze. We know nothing about her, but Thomas has an immediate connection with her, despite the fact that she is in a coma. She stays in a coma from a solid portion of the book. But there is something strange about her. For some unknown reason, the girl can speak in Thomas's head. This is how we learn that her name is Theresa, that she knows Thomas from before the maze, and that she is bringing about the end of the maze situation. Basically, Theresa is the catalyst for the end of the book.
Inside the maze live these nasty, horrifying creatures called Grievers. They attack and kill people who enter the maze (not all the time, but there are attacks). When Gladers are attacked by the Grievers, they are given a serum that keeps them from dying, but they experience intense pain and regain some of their memories.
Everyone in the Glade (which is the portion of the maze where everyone lives) has jobs. One of these jobs is Runner. Runners go out into the maze and explore to try and find a way out. Immediately after finding out that this job exists, that is what Thomas decides he wants to do. He is confused as to why, because he is confused about everything. Through acts of heroism and cunning, Thomas becomes a Runner. He works with the leader of the Runners, Minho (who is hilariously sarcastic and honestly the best character in the book).
This overview is taking forever. A lot of shit happens in this damn book.
I should mention Gally. Gally immediately hates Thomas for reasons unknown to us and Thomas. He mostly serves as an antagonist to Thomas. He becomes incredibly important in the end, though.
I'm going to skip to the end now, because this is fucking ridiculously long. The book is barely this damn long.
In the end, Thomas and Theresa (who comes out of her coma and immediately becomes Thomas's best friend and most trusted companion) figure out that the maze is a code. It spells out words that they need to enter into a computer that is through an invisible hole in the maze. Thomas learns about the hole after he is attacked by a Griever and regains a few of his memories. The Gladers then band together to fight the Grievers, so that Thomas, Theresa and Chuck can enter the hole and punch in the code. Chuck is the young kid who immediately takes to Thomas and is his first friend in the Glade. Chuck is also incredibly important to Thomas, as he becomes Thomas's main motivation for getting out. He promises Chuck over and over that he will get Chuck out of the maze and back home to his mother. That should tell you that shit is going to go down with Chuck in the end.
|Basically my reaction when Chuck died.|
At the very end, the Gladers are rescued by yet another group of strangers. The strangers murder the lady who entered with Gally and usher the Gladers onto a bus. They are then transported to a safe house and given food, clothes, and beds. The Gladers believe that they are safe from WICKED and that their problems are over. Thus ends the narration on a high note.
Oh, wait, never mind. Everything is still terrible for the Gladers.
In my experience, epilogues only serve to make everything significantly worse. In series like the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games, epilogues typically just piss off the fans. In The Maze Runner, the epilogue changes the entire ending of the book. The narration ends on a high note, with a contented Thomas going to sleep in a clean bed in a safe room, but the epilogue makes it clear that the "rescue" was just another trick by WICKED and the Gladers are anything but safe. This is just another step in their plan. We are still not let in on what the whole plan is, though. We just know that even though they made it out of the maze, the Gladers are still not out of the woods.
At the beginning, the book is kind of slow. It takes a while before you really start to understand what the hell is going on. However, that is by design. By keeping the reader in the dark, it is creating a symmetry and kinship between the reader and Thomas, who also has no idea what the fuck is going on. Basically, we are set up to understand Thomas's actions better because we are just as confused as he is. When Thomas is frustrated by the lack of information, the reader is frustrated. When he is surprised, we are surprised. Dashner builds an understanding of Thomas for the reader based on our mutual confusion. This is beautifully done.
There is one seriously clunky moments, though. Early on, we learn about these mechanical spies for the creators of the maze, silver rat-like things that scurry about. They have the word 'WICKED' scrolled on their side in red. Very weird. Later, in the maze, Thomas notices a sign that says 'World in Catastrophe, Killzone Experiment Division.' Most readers will immediately make the connection that this is what the anagram WICKED stands for. However, it takes the actual characters a frustratingly long time to figure it out.
Also, the Gladers invent their own slang, which is always a fun element to any story. It's really interesting to learn about. You'll want to start using it in everyday life, but your friends will think you're a total dweeb. Trust me.
|I'm a big fan of reaction gifs.|
In the end, the book is fantastic. As soon as you finish it, you'll want to start the second one. In fact, the second I finished it, I started reading The Scorch Trials. And I was really glad I could. That's the great thing about coming in late to an established series. No waiting for next book. No more Harry Potter-level cravings for more information. It's already there for you.
I know. Holy Wall-Of-Text, Batman. I swear to you, this is the only time you will get a giant post like this. You'll get a shorter one to catch you up to where I am in The Scorch Trials, then much shorter updates about my general thoughts on passages and quotes. I swear, you will never have to make your way through one of these long and winding posts again.