By James Dashner
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 906427 50 4
Since Alice fell down that rabbit hole into Wonderland, writers of youth fiction have had teenagers pass through the back of wardrobes, fall down ventilation shafts, vanish into tunnels, step through windows in the air and walk through mirrors - just to get them into a weird world where a new story can begin.
The idea of a poor teen passing through something in the real world into a strange place is a device that has been used many times by good and bad writers. Now it's the turn of James Dashner to get character A into world Z. What hasn't been done? Ah yes, drop the main teen character down a lift shaft in a dark lift! This is one of the modern answers to Alice's rabbit hole, and it has the required urgency and velocity to grab the reader's attention.
When he wakes up in a strange metal box falling through the air, all Thomas can remember is his first name. He knows he is Thomas, but not who he is, why he is trapped in a metal crate or what is going to happen to him.
The beginning of The Maze Runner is a breathtaking start to Dashner's story. There is nothing at all in this superb opening chapter to distract from the suspense of Thomas' situation.
Things slow down when the metal crate hits the ground and the lift door opens. There is bound to be a strange world waiting for Thomas, and Dashner doesn't disappoint his readers.
When Thomas takes his first cautious steps outside the lift, he is immediately surrounded by a gang of teenage boys. They explain that he is in a dismal place called The Glade, an empty space enclosed by stone walls. They don't know how they got there either, but the boys have created a sort of society to help them survive. The Glade is in the centre of a maze. Every morning, someone opens a door into the maze. But is this a way out or is it a trap?
The Maze Runner is a tightly plotted and very vivid read. The characters are real and the images, settings and situations that Dashner packs into his story are darkly exciting.
At the centre of the novel is the mystery of the maze. Is there any way out? And who has put the helpless teenagers there in the first place?
This is the first book in a promised trilogy, and that is where the problem lies. The Maze Runner does have an exciting climax, but it isn't an ending, and readers will have to wait for two more books before some vital questions are answered. Whether or not Dashner has enough material to spin his story out into three books remains to be seen. There is nothing readers can do but wait and see.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com