Friday, March 08, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: The Hit List: Young Adult Series Favorites {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner

The Hit List: Young Adult Series Favorites

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Maze Runner Series by James Dashner

by Karen S. Wiesner

In the first half of the 2000s, Young Adult series were all the rage, dominating the attention of teenagers and adults alike. Several that became household topics at the height of their popularity, enjoying fame as both book and movie series, seem to have fallen by the wayside since. Even still, I find many of those unique tales are well worth returning to for a fresh perspective. Over the next month or two, I thought I'd revisit a few series that would make any hit list of past favorites.

Although this series has been around a long time and, if people wanted to read it, they probably already have, in fairness, I'm including this disclaimer because some of the newer entries in the series might be unfamiliar to readers who may want to read them first: Warning! Spoilers!

I'm not actually sure I remember what made me pick up this series in the first place, but the situation in the first story is very compelling. A group of teenage boys find themselves in a place they call the Glade. None of them can remember how they got there or who they are. Together, they work to make a life for themselves while trapped within four large doors--the Maze. The doors open every morning and close at sundown. These walls they live within change constantly, but there's a pattern to them that the "maze runners" have discovered. Those designated runners venture into the maze every day in order to map it, find a pattern to its workings, and ultimately to find a way to escape. Life in the Glade would otherwise be peaceful and quiet, other than the biomechanical creatures that come out of the maze and kill some of them. Each of these beetles has the word "WICKED" stamped on it. None of them know what it means. Newt is one of the most beloved leaders of the group.

One day, a teenage boy arrives in the Glade, and he's not alone. A girl--the first--emerges with him. The boy is dubbed Thomas, and his curiosity and need to understand what's happening is without limit. When he's the first to survive a night in the maze, several of them agree to support his quest to find a way out, including Newt.

The second book continues where the first left off. Having escaped the maze was only the beginning of understanding. WICKED is a militant organization, and the survivors are forced to undergo "the Scorch Trials"--crossing a barren wasteland populated with humans being consumed by an infection (the Flare) that pretty much makes them zombies. In this series, zombies are called cranks.

The third book sees the group become prisoners of WICKED. They learn that WICKED's goal has been to find a cure for the Flare--to that end, using those with natural resistance to it, namely children, as test subjects. The friends have heard of a resistance movement fighting WICKED, and it may be their only hope for survival.

All three of these initial books were made into faithful movie adaptations that were as enjoyable as the books themselves were. Despite finding myself embarrassed by some of the silly language the boys came up with while living in the Glade, I can find no fault with any of these stories. Standout characters were Newt, Thomas, and Chuck in the first book, Newt and Thomas in the second, and Brenda in the third.

The trilogy was followed with a book called The Kill Order, which was a prequel story, showing what happened in the world leading up to the Flare and how WICKED conceived its diabolical plans to discover a cure using their youth, morality be damned.

A fifth book was released later, and it was another prequel, set between the events of The Kill Order and The Maze Runner. The primary focus of the book is on the relations between the Gladers before Thomas was sent to them. I kind of got out of the series after the third book and so never read the two prequels, though I do plan to seek them out and read them sooner or later. However, when the novella "Crank Palace" was released, I did get back into it because Newt was a favorite character of mine, and this is his story, taking place during the events of The Death Cure. Within that story, Newt had contracted the Flare and had to leave his friends because it was the only way to protect them from himself. What happened to him after that as he tried to make amends for what he considered his sins is contained in this little book. I'd like to tell you I loved it, but honestly it just didn't quite have the same intrigue as the previous three books, not even with Newt as the lead character. It was good, just not great, and I'm not sure the story really needed to be told. Even without the novella, I'd already assumed everything he did with these pages was what he intended to do when he left the group.

In the process of researching for this review, I found out that the author wrote what might be deemed a spin-off series called Maze Cutter. The first book with the same name is set 73 years after the events of The Death Cure. Thomas and the others immune to the Flare are sent to an island, where they and their descendants find a new life. Then one day a woman shows up in a boat and tells them the rest of civilization hasn't fared so well. The opposite, in fact. Another corporation with crazy scientists and hidden agendas has risen and threatens the future. The islanders feel compelled to help. There are two books available with a third (and final) on the way soon. I intend to pick them up at the first available opportunity and see what's happening in this intriguing world.


Ultimately, I recommend this series as some of the best young adult dystopian fiction available, especially when it comes to zombie and apocalypse stories. The twists and turns are constant, and you never know what the next surprise might be from one page to the next. Each story is filled with characters worth rooting for--and worth allowing them the chance to explain the decisions they've made. Given that I had such trouble putting the first three books down, I think it's time to get back into the series and catch up with the new offerings.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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