The Scorch Trials
by James Dashner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Scorch Trials / 978-0-385-73875-0
As full disclosure, I wasn't a huge fan of "The Maze Runner" - gave it 3 stars, if I recall correctly - but I really love dystopia fiction and I really hate not finishing a series, so my curiosity got the best of me and I picked up The Scorch Trials at my local library, prepared to dive back down into the futuristic mind games perpetuated by W.I.C.K.E.D.
First impressions were initially good - the book starts off a lot faster than "The Maze Runner", with disaster setting in almost immediately after the daring rescue of the first novel. It's nice to see a dystopian future come up with a creative merge of massive global climate change and zombies, and it's especially good that we start the first chapters off with a strong and steady dose of creepy-bordering-on-terrifying.
After the first few chapters, though, the paces slows drastically, and the novel starts to suffer from "middle series syndrome". Despite being out of the Maze and immersed in the "real" world, we actually learn very little of the details of this dystopian future, which makes it very difficult for the reader to connect to the global problems that W.I.C.K.E.D. is supposedly trying to solve, which makes it hard to get attached to these increasingly nebulous "experiments" that are somehow supposed to come up with some kind of cure...for something. Around the halfway mark, it starts to feel like we're killing time to get to the end of the book so that we can then get the THIRD book and find out some actual answers, and after awhile one starts to wonder if the ending will be worth it. And then the reader actually does get to the ending, only to find that really one could skip over this second novel entirely and be none the worse for wear - just like the first book: nothing is explained, everything is a mystery, please buy the next book, kthxbye.
Some of the things I didn't like about "The Maze Runner" the first time around crop up again here. Thomas continues to have more than a whiff of Mary Sue about him; way too much angst is expended on the designated love interests (and, really, I think Thomas has more romantic chemistry with Newt than with either of the two girls provided here); and almost the entire "cast" of Gladers are anonymous red-shirts - in fact, whenever anyone other than Minho, Newt, or Thomas is suddenly granted a name and/or minor personality, it's pretty much a given that they're about to die horribly for insta-angst. I understand that it's difficult to write a group of 20+ well-rounded individuals, but Thomas' continued insistence on not learning the names or personalities of the people fighting and dying around him starts to inadvertently make him seem like a psychopath or - immersion-breakingly - the only important character in a story.
I guess a recommendation for The Scorch Trials depends on your reaction to The Maze Runner; if you loved the first book and want more of the same, this sequel delivers. If you were less than completely enthralled with the first novel, however, and are more interested in answers than in dragging out the Thomas/Theresa love shipping, I'd recommend giving this book a pass and skipping over to the third book entirely. I didn't feel like it was a waste of time reading this novel, and there were definitely several high notes in the first half, but I just can't help but feel that it could be a lot better with a little less ham-handed "mystery" and a little more character development.
A word about the audiobook for this novel: The audiobook is fairly well-narrated. The reader paces and pauses well, although his voice could perhaps be a little more animated during the "action" scenes. My favorite parts are when he speaks as Newt, because he brings out this wonderfully outrageous accent that I suppose is meant to be Scottish. Overall, though, the audio is well done and worth listening to.
~ Ana Mardoll
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