You know how Star Wars fans like to pretend that certain prequel movies never happened? That’s kind of how I feel about sections of The Scorch Trials by James Dashner.
I really liked the first book, The Maze Runner. I thought the movie was pretty awesome, too. Needless to say, The Scorch Trials didn’t quite measure up. It had a lot of good aspects, but then there were other parts that I just try to block from my memory.
I did, however, enjoy this book enough to want to review it. I also liked it enough to go see the movie, which is now on my official list called “Things I’d like to pretend never happened in The Maze Runner Fandom.”
But, before I get into that, here’s the plot of the book:
Safe. That’s what Thomas and his friends think when they are rescued from the Maze. But soon they discover that “safe” is a word that will probably never be in any way attached to them or their surroundings. Not if WICKED has their way.
Turns out, the Maze was just phase one of WICKED’s mysterious candidate selection. Phase two, the Scorch Trials, are only just beginning. There are no rules. They will be given no help. Either the Gladers make it to the Safe Haven in two weeks or they die.
But Thomas, Minho, Newt, Teresa and Co survived the Maze. How hard can the scorch really be?
Well, apparently crossing 100 miles of the most dead, burnt-out section of the world is pretty difficult. Especially with WICKED throwing endless variables at them to test their physical and mental abilities. Oh, and then there’s that whole thing about Cranks.
What are Cranks? People who have caught the Flare. An air-borne virus, it slowly drives people insane, first starting with increased signs of aggression and then turning into complete depravity, known as “past the Gone.” A lot of people are past the Gone, and even the ones who aren’t are sick enough to want to eat Thomas and his friends alive.
But the worst part of it is when the group gets split up. Thomas is thrown into company with Brenda, a girl who isn’t immune but who also hasn’t shown symptoms of the Flare. At least not yet, anyway.
As Thomas fights to reunite with his fellow Gladers, he must learn to discern between what is real and what is just another variable thrown at him by WICKED. He must decide who his friends are and where his loyalties lie. But with the betrayal of a close friend and the deaths of a few others, he begins to wonder: If this is the world he lives in and the life he’s being forced to lead, wouldn’t being dead be a whole lot easier?
Many people really disliked The Maze Runner and the following books because they thought Dashner’s writing sucked. It is true that his style is rather choppy and his writing completely void of any symbolism or deeper meanings. However, for the dystopian action thriller genre, his writing is very effective and does a good job of propelling the story along, so I don’t see it as a problem.
Also, Dashner gets major points for his imagination and world-building when it comes to Cranks. Cranks are the most interesting and creative versions of zombies that I have ever seen. They have the ability to speak and think. They work together in groups and even have social spheres. This leads to some interesting, not to mention scary, scenes throughout the book.
I was extremely impressed with amount of creepiness Dashner instilled into this story. The “Rose took my nose” scene was especially good. Thomas and Brenda are stuck in a dark tunnel underground where they encounter a crank that’s missing his nose. This crank is clearly passed the Gone, giggling as he explains that Rose took his nose, and that he wants one of theirs to replace it.
Now, I don’t know who this Rose is or why she likes taking people’s noses, but I’m pretty sure I never want to meet her. This scene was an odd mixture of funny and horrifying and, consequently, my favorite part of the book.
Yes, I’m aware that saying that makes me sound like a disturbed human being. Honestly, all I can say is that The Scorch Trials is worth reading just so that you can see how scary should be handled in YA novels. I will forever be upset that “Rose took my nose” didn’t make it into the movie.
As for the things that I didn’t like, well, Brenda is on the top of my list. Her character doesn’t make any sense. One moment she’s kicking butt and the next moment she wants to cuddle in the middle of a crank-infested city. Sounds legit, right? I kept waiting for her to get eaten by a Crank, but, unfortunately, she survived to plague me with her absurdness throughout the entire novel.
“The betrayal” felt extremely unnecessary and the whole love triangle involving Thomas (who was annoyingly whiny throughout the book), Teresa, and Brenda was just plain annoying. I’m not sure what the deal is with YA novels and love triangles, but it needs to stop before it drives me to an early grave.
Thankfully, Newt and Minho make up for Thomas and Brenda’s lameness. Minho rocks. Simple as that. His sass gets on everyone’s nerves but everyone puts up with it because they know he’ll always get the job done. And Newt, well, he’s the only Brit among the Gladers and I’m pretty sure he was chosen to go through the Maze and the Scorch purely because WICKED thought his accent was awesome. Plus, he’s just a nice, solid person.
The plot twists were just as numerous as in the first. However, by the second book, they start becoming more akin to tricks than plot twists. Dashner executes so many reversals and turns that you feel like you can no longer trust anything that happens in the book. By the time you’re through you’ll probably have developed a bad case of reading paranoia.
Overall, I thought this book was just decent. It wasn’t nearly as good as the first, but sequels rarely are. Actually, compared to the Scorch Trials movie, this book was pretty dang awesome.
I know, I know. Some people, I won’t name any names, actually liked the movie (*cough* Johnny *cough* *cough*). But, honestly, the movie didn’t seem to have a whole lot going for it from where I was sitting. The Cranks were just as mindless as any other zombie in any other zombie movie. Teresa was not only turned into an idiotic character, but an un-developed one. The storyline consisted largely of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
No, the movie wasn’t all bad. The filmscore was great, the gray areas regarding WICKED’s ethics was handled well, and some very clever foreshadowing took place for the character Janson. Unfortunately, I can’t explain the foreshadowing without spoiling the third book/movie, so I’ll just have to leave it at that.
Anyway, all that to say, if you didn’t enjoy the movie, don’t get the wrong idea about the book. It really isn’t as bad as you might think….It’s just not as awesome as the first.
So, should you read it? If you enjoyed the first novel, then yes. If you liked the movies, then yes. If you don’t have anything better on hand, then yes. Or, if you’re like me and have to finish every series you start and you already read The Maze Runner, then yes.
Have you read The Scorch Trials or seen the movie? I’d love to know what you thought!
Hannah Heath – bookworm and aspiring author
Author of the YA Christian dystopian "Skies of Dripping Gold," I'm a voracious bookworm and avid writer. I wince every time I hear the phrase "I don't like to read" and often wish someone would invent candles that smell like hardcovers. When I'm not being nerdy or fighting Lyme disease, I'm off seeking representation for my YA Christian Fantasy novel, The Stump of the Terebinth Tree. My writing tips blog full of sarcasm and geekiness can be found here: http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.com