The Scorch Trials

mrstTitle: The Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

Summary: Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he would get his life back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to…

Burned and baked, the earth is a wasteland, its people driven mad by an infection known as the Flare.

Instead of freedom, Thomas must face another trial. He must cross the Scorch to once again save himself and his friends.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5

Review: I read The Maze Runner about a year ago, and it left with a lot to say. While i loved the story, setting and mystery of the book, the writing was atrocious. The writing in this sequel did not improve, and unfortunately the story, setting and mystery only went down hill. So much so, i couldn’t bring myself to finish the book.

I gave up a little over halfway through, when i realised there was nothing about the plot that was fascinating enough to keep me reading–to keep me reading a book written this badly. I disliked it so much, i don’t even think i can bring myself to write much about it. I’ll take it one aspect at a time:

The plot: This started well, with the safety the kids think they’ve found turning on them. Things changed quickly and so dramatically it was easy to stay interested, to want to keep reading. This lasted through their time in their limited dorm-type space, through the tunnel of molten head-eating machines and up to their exit into “the Scorch”. After that, things started to go downhill. A few days of the boys slogging through the heat, getting nowhere fast, nothing happening… it was dull, to say the least. When they finally made it to the city, to buildings, to other life forms, i thought things might pick up. But after that, it just seemed like action for the sake of action, rather than anything the was driving the plot. IDGAF about underground tunnels and cranks too far gone–i want to know more about WICKED and what the hell they’re doing to these kids. It was at that point i had to give up.

The characters: Minho was still my favourite. I think because he seems the most real. His emotions seem close to the surface, but he’s also pragmatic and wants to get shit done. Despite there being a smaller number of characters, we still don’t get to know many. In fact Thomas, our (still lack-luster) lead, comments a few times that he can’t even name a lot of them. Way to be a dick, Tommy. I guess that way you don’t have to emotionally develop when they die. Talking of Thomas, i hate him. A large part of that is because we’re experiencing this from his POV, and the writing of that POV is absolutely terrible. Some of that is because he lacks any kind of emotional depth. He doesn’t mention Teresa, the girl he shared such a deep and meaningful connection with who went missing, for several chapters, then suddenly claims she’s all he can think about. He’s sobbing and angry when he finds her but has to run and leave her behind, but as soon as a new girl shows up he’s eyeing her up and getting touchy feeling within minutes. There are a dozen male characters, they can’t get hooked up with the new girl? With each other? You can’t have a female character who isn’t a love interest?

Finally, the writing: It is bad. So bad i have to wonder if this was even edited. Did they accidentally print the first draft? Dashner can not write. It’s all tell, no show. Things stated plainly with no feeling or mood. Questions asked blatantly, outright leading the reader rather than enticing them along. Settings described in unnecessary detail, but the emotional states of the characters and evocative atmospheres are consistently absent. His pacing is off, he fails to use language to immerse the reader into the moment, instead dragging them along awkwardly. While i was reading this sequel, my partner attempted to read the first book–operative word: attempted. He didn’t get past the first chapter, and it took him so long because we were sitting together reading out the best examples of the appalling writing. It was fun for 20 minutes or so, but only when you have someone to share the cringe-worthiness with.

I’m throwing in the towel on this series. I officially don’t care how it ends. Call me when someone opens a kickstarter raising funds for a decent author to re-write the entire thing.

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The Maze Runner

mazerunnerTitle: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Summary: When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas can remember is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade, an encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there, or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything to find out.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: This book found its way onto my to-read list thanks to the film they made out of it and, of course, my desire to read the book first. A couple of year later and i finally got around to reading the book. Billed as “a must for fans of The Hunger Games”, the dystopian science fiction and the draw of the puzzling maze… all these things had me hopeful and excited.

The entirety of the 3.5 stars i am giving this book are based solely on its plot, genre and ideas. They are fascinating, original and left me eager to keep reading. I had so many thoughts and ideas and questions that i had to keep reading to explore and find out more. Where is the Glade? Why are all these teenagers being sent there? Where (if anywhere) does the maze lead? ETC, ETC. However. The 1.5 stars this book did not get, is mostly what i find myself needing to talk about.

Firstly, Thomas. Our lead character. I didn’t hate him, but neither did i like him. I wasn’t rooting for him, because ultimately i couldn’t get a genuine feel for him. He seemed like a non-character. He was wildly inconsistent; he would decide he liked someone, then in the next chapter they would do something he didn’t appreciate and he’d decide he didn’t like them. I specifically noticed this with Chuck, Minho, Newt and Alby–Thomas was constantly liking then disliking then liking them again. He was also a contradiction in himself; one example that sticks in my mind was one minute he wanted to avoid people, then the next he didn’t want to be alone. And the thing that bothered me most about these swift changes in attitude was how sudden and out of the blue they were. There was no plot-driven reason, or even situational reason, it just seemed like he needed to think and feel something, so it was just bunged in without thought.

Leading on from that was the fact that Thomas asked a lot of questions. And i don’t mean to the other Gladers, when he was trying to get information or figure things out, but i mean, in his head. He posed questions straightforwardly, prompting the reader to consider certain things–pushing them in a certain direction. Essentially, it’s a poor writing device. Instead of leading the way with action and description, Dashner decided to point the way with neon road signs.

There were a few things that felt forced, contrived and unnecessary. The first and most obvious thing was the slang language of the Gladers. Words like ‘klunk’, ‘shank’ and ‘shunk’ which to me had no specific definition and all seemed interchangeable with ‘shit’ and/or ‘fuck’. The other thing that felt unnecessary was, i’m sorry to say, Teresa. The token female, she brings nothing to the book for being a female other than a vague attempt at a romance and a few poor-taste rape jokes. Why not just make the entire group a mix of males and females? From what we learn towards the end of the book, am i to assume penises make a person more intelligent? Because if so, fuck you, James Dashner.

For all its mystery and world building and hooks and set up, at times this book was rather predictable. The large-scale plot and back story is almost impossible to figure out precisely, but the small plot points and the details were simple enough that i saw them coming immediately. And for a group of oh-so-intelligent teenagers, it leaves me highly unimpressed that they missed these things. Who set the fire was obvious before the fire was even mentioned, and WICKED was literally staring them in the face, to give but two examples.

Although i devoured the second half of this book in a couple of hours, it still had its issues. The action-packed climax was not smoothly written; i was never so caught up in what was happening that i forgot i was reading. There were even times when things were unclear and i was confused, which caused me to go back and re-read parts. I want to be immersed in the action, not stopping to figure things out or rearrange things in my head. Action scenes, particularly, need to be edited to hell in order to make them run smoothly and effortlessly for the readers. These ones weren’t.

The last few chapters and the last few reveals were… a little rushed. So much changes, but at the same time, so little is actually revealed, that i felt very unsatisfied by the non-answers to the entire book’s set up. Instead of a satisfying end to this book, i felt like i had read the first few chapters of the next. And that’s bad form, as far as i’m concerned. Screw the sequel, you need to give closure to this book–to this story, before you start writing a big ellipsis and thinking about all the money you’ll make from a sequel.

Saying that, i think i will read the sequel. I’m not overly optimistic about it, but there was enough interesting plot and world in this book that i’m still thinking about it; still, in some ways, want to be reading it. So, i will give Dashner one more chance. I’m pinning my hopes on him having taken a writing class and hired a better editor between writing The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials…

The biggest downfall of this book, 100%, is the writing. At best, it’s mediocre. It’s all tell no show, it’s so basic and straightforward. It lacks passion and atmosphere, it lacks interest and development. Although a few characters were interesting, i got the impression this was an accident, and they were never explored deeply enough. It’s one of those books i can so easily see being so much better, and that disappoints me more than anything–so much wasted potential. As i have read in other reviews, if this book and its premise and ideas had been in the hands of another author, it could have been incredible. Instead, it’s only halfway decent.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: An Asian main character.