Thomas wakes up in the dark, unable to remember anything about his past or who his is, other than his name. He emerges in the Glade, where inmates, teenage boys like himself, have organised themselves into a complex social structure and adopted their own slang. Every day, runners traverse the maze beyond the walls of the Glade, trying to find a way out. By night, the walls to the Glade close, protecting the boys from the Grievers who roam the maze. Thomas isn't sure why, but he's determined to become a maze runner. And then a girl arrives, and everything changes for the Gladers.
There's something about prison slang, that coarse camaraderie that identifies newbies from old hands. It's fantastic to read when it's done well, and James Dashner writes great dialogue. When Thomas finds himself amongst the Gladers, we know as much as he does about his situation, which is roughly nothing. Each boy is as memoryless as Thomas, but the time they have spent in the Glade has allowed their personalities to establish themselves. I often enjoyed reading about Minho, Newt and Chuck more than I did about Thomas, simply because they seemed more real.
The setting is the most vivid part of this book. I loved the image of the runners returning from the maze at sundown, exhausted from trying to solve it. I love mazes themselves, real or fictional; from the bizarre, Escher-like stone maze in Labyrinth, the freezing terror of King's/Kubrick's maze in The Shining, to the minotaur that dwells at the centre of the Cretan labyrinth in Greek mythology. One could write essays upon essays about the symbolic meaning of mazes, but they are, in and of themselves, pretty darn cool. Dashner has created a doozy. The monsters that roam the maze after sundown, the Grievers, are unfortunately on the lame side. They are giant slugs with Swiss Army knife attachments. I could not get scared for the kids when the Grievers came around though Dashner tried very hard to make them monstrous. Gross yes, scary no.
While this was a very good book, it wasn't a great book. Too little of Thomas's past was revealed. I find it difficult to love a story when I don't fully engage with the main character. Thomas hasn't won me over yet. (I was also frustrated by Teresa, but more of that below.) But there is the sense that later books in this series are going to get pretty wild, and I'm looking forward to them very much. Dashner has set up a lot of cool possibilities for The Scorch Trials, not the least being that the line between the good guys and the bad guys is deliciously blurred, and possibly non-existent. While my review seems a little reserved, I advise you to jump on the bandwagon early and read this book. I have a feeling book two will prove to be something special.
The Scorch Trials, book two in this series, will be available October 2010. (Gah, fracking series!!)
About Teresa. This is SPOILERY, so highlight to read if you've read the book, and feel free to discuss in the comments:
What the hell is with this girl? She's evil, right, working for the creators? There's that bit when she starts talking about the Grievers and Thomas pulls her up on it saying, "How do you know about them? You just woke up." I could have sworn she was just pretending to have lost her memory, but then in the epilogue the creator in her memo refers to the fact that Teresa did lose her memory and wrote "WICKED is good" on her arm to remind herself. Well, WICKED don't seem all that good to me, what with the whole killing children thing, but while I was sure she was a rotten spy the whole time I was reading this book, now I'm not so sure. But I am sure of this: I don't trust her one bit. Any thoughts on the matter?