Thomas wakes up in a dark lift with no memory of what came before and only his wits to guide him. When the box finally opens, he finds himself in the glade; a camp of about 50 boys (known as gladers) living at the heart of an enormous maze. Every day, runners enter the maze to try and find away out, and every night the doors to the maze close and the horrific Grievers come out. The terrifying slug-like monsters, half animal and half machine, are deadly and dangerous, but barely come out in the day. The day after Thomas enters the glade, something unprecedented happens; another glader is sent up, this time a vaguely familiar girl who brings a message; everything is going to change. Boy is she right.
It's no wonder that this YA dystopia has been turned into a film; from the very start it seems like the action and emotion doesn't let up. The gladers are a harsh lot, and their language and demeanour take a lot of getting used to, especially for our protagonist. The reader is with Thomas all the way, finding out everything about the maze and he does. Seriously, you can't fault James Dashner for his ability to keep you guessing. He will give you clues as to the bigger picture, but you're so wrapped up in Thomas's story that you barely register them as clues until their meaning is made clear.
As for characters, although there is a massive number of boys in the glade, the author keeps it simple by allowing about 10 of them to crop up more than others. The keepers, the boys who are in charge of their sections for work (this includes looking after animals, cleaning, cooking, running, it's very well organised) are the ones who really speak for the entire glade inhabitants, but you also get their personalities slightly developed, which is a nice touch. However, overall I didn't feel that there was too much in the way of character arcs or development, especially in Thomas's case. He really stayed the same throughout.
Thomas is an incredibly stable character, considering the situation he finds himself in. Yes, he panics a bit, but never really shows it properly. Instead he tends to look around and try to work things out, which makes for a very reliable narrative; something I quite liked. A few of the boys, like Chuck, Newt and Minho, had fairly well-developed personality traits and flaws, and as time went on, I found I liked Minho more and more. Gally was a stroke of inspiration, a character you could really hate but at the same time kind of feel for. His inclusion made everything more confusing, because he actually made a fair bit of sense, and Thomas really doesn't know who he was or what he has done before. Theresa was someone I really wasn't sure about though, to me she seemed too much like a vehicle to move the plot forward. It makes you wonder whether she could have been left out of this book and inserted in at a later date, and maybe Thomas could have triggered events and had his memories slowly come to him. it is very clear that she will be a love interest at some stage, but here she was only needed for relaying information and as the trigger; a small variant to take away from a rather boy-heavy text.
This actually leads me on to the next issue (which, if I'm reading the epilogue correctly, will be answered in the next book, or the third), where are all the girls? As you can tell, I have a few theories, but sharing those would give the plot and the twists away entirely. Since the twists are really rather spectacular, I'd rather not. I'll only say that in true dystopian fashion, once you get past one problem, another bigger one always presents its-self.
A fast-paced, thrilling ride, 8 out of 10 because I really enjoyed reading it but the characters could do with some work. Needless to say, I can't wait to get started on The Scorch Trials, and to watch the upcoming film.
The Maze Runner on Goodreads