Book review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

See? Doesn't look too bad, does it? IT LIES.
See? Doesn’t look too bad, does it?             IT LIES.

I spotted the film trailer for The Maze Runner, another dystopian YA fiction series on IMDB and thought it looked intriguing. It’s out this October, so I decided to get the books read first.

Big mistake. Despite average ratings of 4-5* across Amazon and GoodReads, The Maze Runner is one of the worse books I’ve read in living memory, and I feel compelled to share my review and warn any hapless readers who might – like I – get sucked in by the hype…

As I say, I bought the Maze Runner series after finding the concept interesting – the protagonist wakes up in a metal box with no memory of anything other than his name. He soon finds that he has joined a large number of other boys who are trapped at the centre of a maze filled with unknown terror. So far, so good.

From chapter one of The Maze Runner, I could sense something was amiss. By the end of the book, I was ready to kill someone – preferably James Dashner for inflicting this monstrosity on the world, but possibly myself, if only to make the pain stop.

It’s hard to even know where to begin with criticising this book, but some of the major bugbears are as follow:

The plot…

Clunky, slow, so contrived it’s untrue. Instead of genuine suspense and clear plot arcs, the book is just a long line of events that never really succeed in building up any suspense.

Dashner seems incapable of showing the reader anything, instead choosing to describe *everything* in painstaking (and often painfully boring) detail, which results in the plot melting into one big sloppy river of words. I was never able to lose myself in the story because the omnniscient narrator and the annoying protagonist (whose voices often get mixed up, annoyingly) are always there, explicitly stating which emotions/reactions are appropriate at any given time. We don’t *feel* suspense; we get told that things are Super Tense.

The characters…

The protagonist, Thomas, is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve had the misfortune of encountering. And that’d be fine if he was supposed to be unlikeable, but he isn’t.

Thomas is a textbook Gary Stu, and we’re supposed to find him admirable/heroic/impressive/all things marvellous when he is, in fact, erratic, unpleasant, obtuse and ridiculously entitled. Oh, and unbelievably dense, a lot of the time, although this seems to be more of a plot driver than anything; he does a lot of daft things and asks a lot of very daft questions simply so the reader can be privy to information that was obvious already:

“‘Where was he bitten?’ Thomas asked. ‘Can you see it?’
‘They don’t freaking bite you. They prick you….’
For some reason, Thomas thought the word prick sounded a lot worse than bite. ‘Prick you? What does that mean?’”

This guy is supposed to be 16-17 years old, and hyper-intelligent, and he doesn’t understand what the word ‘prick’ means. So many interactions like this read like word-count fillers.

Sexism / objectification…

The only female character for the vast majority of the book – Teresa – is supposed to be around 15-16 years old. And yet, she’s incessantly described by the author/Thomas in nauseatingly clichéd terms relating to her physical appearance – Thomas can’t even think about her without including something about how girly/feminine/pretty she is.

She conveniently stays in a coma until needed, when she wakes up, magically realises that she’s meant to be with Thomas (I won’t tell you how, but it’s vomit-inducing) and spends the rest of the book clinging to him and making acceptably non-threatening and vaguely ‘spunky female’ comments, mostly in response to the male characters’ naff gender stereotyping about ‘girls’.

Tereas is a plot device, pure and simple, and a prop for showing what a big, amazing dudebro Thomas is, very much in the same way that the character of Chuck is used.

Language and style…

Utterly heinous. I genuinely cannot understand how this book is being described as well written. While quite a lot of people defending the book are excusing the language due to the series being YA fiction, I don’t buy it. His Dark Materials, by Philip PullmanThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden are some of my (widely varied) favourite YA fiction books/series and they’re all wonderfully well written.

The same cannot be said for The Maze Runner, which features gems such as:

“Burning blue eyes darted back and forth as she took deep breaths. Her pink lips trembled as she muttered something over and over, indecipherable…Thomas stared in wonder as her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell back to the ground.”

So…many…adjectives…and…stereotypes…

“He guzzled his water, relishing the wet coolness as it washed down his dry throat.”

OhmyGodplease. Other foodstuffs are described in the same excruciating detail.

“Thomas stood up to pace around the little room, fuming with an intense desire to keep his promise. “I swear, Chuck,” he whispered to no one. “I swear I’ll get you back home.”

SirPatStew_headdesk
Yes, Sir Patrick Stewart agrees.

 

And my personal favourite: a hunk of cliché, gender stereotyping, bad grammar and poor writing all rolled into one:

“He was somewhere very close to sleep when a voice spoke in his head, a pretty, feminine voice that sounded as if it came from a fairy goddess trapped in his skull.”

I can only beg for mercy at this point. And what in the name of all that is holy is a ‘fairy goddess’? Ohhhh, of course, it’s a made-up thing that brings together everything pretty and nice and girly and lovely because that’s what the only female character has to be.

Idiolect…

I’m pretty sure that when Dashner wrote this book, he filled it will swear-words and then went through with CTRL + F and replaced them all with the infuriating made-up, faux-swears that the characters use. “shuck-face”, “klunk” etc.

And is though that weren’t enough, he even has Thomas’s sidekick/adoring fan, Chuck explain why they use the word “klunk” and what it means (sh*t). So the characters themselves are aware that they’re using ridiculous, invented words, but it’s never explained why. It’s like Dashner expects us to accept that this is a world where the swear-words we know don’t exist; otherwise, why would a group of teen boys self-censor? It would have been infinitely better to just leave the swearing out entirely.

**Special mention…**

Why Does Dashner Have To Capitalise Every Made-Up Word In The Book?

So yes. That about sums up my most basic feelings about this book.  I’m an avid reader of both adult and YA fiction, and I’m not one for leaving a book unfinished, but The Maze Runner just about did me in. It’s an incredibly bad book, and I’m considering taking the (brand new!) other books in the series down to the charity shop rather than actually putting myself through the torture of reading them.

I can only hope my suffering serves as a warning to anyone tempted to pick up this dreadful series.

Need more convincing? This book review by Kiss My Wonder Woman sums up my views pretty nicely!

Long Nights

“What I needed,” said Jordan, hanging upside down from the railings, “What I actually really needed was just a minute, you know?”

I did know.  Sometimes it just felt like the days swept along like a river, dragging you along with them in a rush, not letting you think. I handled it better than Jordan, I thought, but it was still hard sometimes, feeling like you might snap if you didn’t just get a minute.

Next to me, Jordan swung gently, his hair brushing the asphalt, his eyes focused on nothing. It made me dizzy seeing him hang there upside down, but he could do it for what felt like hours.

“Night’s different, you know?”

And I did. Even in the height of summer – or especially then - with just a few hours of darkness between around ten and three, the nights seemed to go on forever. The strange, long evenings held an echo of the heat and light of the day. Not for our parents, though, who wrapped up their days like usual, oblivious to what was going on outside, and inside, their windows.

Those summer nights were a gift to us – the whole city emptying for hours on end, the streets filled with a hollow twilight that seemed to cling on for hours. There were times when we were sure the sun wouldn’t come up at all – that this strange grey world would just go on and on, and that we’d be the only ones left in it. But of course it did, first thing next morning, and we, fools that we were, got swept along with the normal folks.

I looked down at Jordan’s face, misshapen by gravity and streetlight.

“What d’you think they’ll do? You know, when they find out?”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment, just kept rocking gently, his bony knees hooked over the railing, his hair scraping the gravel. And for a second, I wondered if this was the moment it all stopped. The tipping point between it all starting over again tomorrow, and it never starting again.

Jordan fogged out a breath in the cool air.

“I don’t know. But who says they have to?”

Beneath us, one car, then another, swept by, their tail-lights scarlet in the late dusk.

One week left! Myslexia’s 2014 Short Story Competition

Women fiction writers, listen up: Myslexia’s 2014 Short Story Competition is open for one more week!

You’ve got until March 17th to get your inspiration flowing, your ideas written up and your entries in.  With prizes of £2,500, £500 and £250 for the three top entries, it’s definitely worth a nosy if you have time.

Go, go, go!

From a work in progress…

I’m having a go at writing something longer and in a slightly different style to usual. So, in the spirit of getting this blog up-and-running again for the New Year, I thought I’d share some of it here…

*    *     *

Five days after the fox was first sighted on the island, I awoke to a dreadful clamour coming from downstairs. I heard the voices of the children crying loudly, and that of the master – his usually restrained tones raised in anger.

Throwing on my day dress and tugging my shawl about my shoulders, I hurried down and was surprised to find the family, as well as a number of the villagers, crowded in the kitchen. In front of the hearth, slumped in the wooden ease chair near the hearth, was Mabel Cowden, her hair filthy, and her pale face covered with a sheen of sweat.

Her dry lips moved against one another, shivering and humming but making no sense as the master paced back and forth and Anna, who stood closest to Mabel, tried to coax her into taking a few swallows of water.

“I saw it.”

For a moment, none of us realised it was Mabel who had spoken. We looked around, each of us staring at another. My eyes met with those of the master, whose dark brow was furrowed with tiredness and frustration.

“I saw it,” Mabel whispered again, lifting a pale, crab-like hand towards Anna, who took it in her own ruddy palms and chafed it gently for warmth. “It came to me in the night; it brought me such terrible dreams.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Margaret usher the children quietly and firmly from the room. Mabel’s papery eyelids fluttered closed against her cheek and, for a moment, I thought she had fainted. But, after a moment, she opened her eyes once more and continued with a story that trickled into the room like foetid water.

She had been asleep, she said, tucked up in the small room at the back of her son’s cottage, when a strange noise woke her. She couldn’t explain why, but it frightened her, this sound, summoning up nebulous, half-buried memories. It wasn’t anything she could put her finger on; all she knew was that it unlocked parts of her memory that would have been better off staying tucked away.

Seized with fear, she lay in her bed, trying to decide whether to stay there or to get up and investigate. Finally, overcome with fear for the safety of her son and his wife, she crept out from her bed and across the floor of the main room.

Lit by the dying embers of the fire, she saw the shapes of her son and his wife in their bed against the wall, sleeping soundly and apparently undisturbed by the sound that had wakened her.

Outside the door of the cottage, with only blankets and a nightgown to cover her, Mabel had stood in the buffeting wind and listened again for the sounds. Minutes passed but they did not recur; only the thunder of the sea and wind could be heard.

But just as she was on the verge of going back to bed, and attributing the strange noises to old age and an over-active imagination, she heard the sound again – a faint wailing sound that trembled and rose over the wind, as though an infant were being shaken, its cries distorted. The sound was coming from the coastal path.

By this point in her story, Mabel’s face had become reddened – whether from the strain of remembering or her proximity to the hearth. But when Anna stepped forward, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder to move her back, Mabel tore herself away and huddled over in what I realised must be the same blankets from the previous night. Clutching her hands tightly around her, she continued with her tale.

She had walked away from the door of the cottage, she said, feeling as though she were in a dream. And as she neared the path, from the long grass at the top of the coastal path there emerged a shape – that of a slender fox, which curled back on itself to look at her, its eyes flashing with a reddish glow.

Like an eel, it slipped soundlessly down over the edge of the cliff toward the beach. And without knowing why, she followed it. The cold air and the rough stones underfoot hadn’t bothered her, she said, and she soon found herself picking her way down the cliff in a way she hadn’t dared for many a year.

At first, when she reached the sand, she couldn’t see a thing. The moon had shifted behind the clouds and she stood there in the dark, the sea growling and hissing on the sand far to her left. But as the moon emerged once more, and the beach was lit up, she saw that the fox was there, not five feet in front of her, its red eyes staring at her with something akin to malice.

Extending one dark, slender paw, it dipped its head and made to creep towards her. Weak with a sudden and inexplicable terror, she had turned to run only to feel a tearing pain on the back of her calf, then again on her thighs and buttocks. Wheezing out only the barest of screams in the frozen air, she had lost her balance and fallen headlong on to the sand as the snapping, tearing pains continued and, finally, she had lost consciousness.

When she awoke, it was to the feel of soft rain on her face. Opening her eyes, she found herself looking up at the vast, dove grey skies of early morning, her body rigid and half-buried in the sand as though she had burrowed down into it. At first, she thought she must have wandered in her sleep, though she had no history of sleepwalks. But as she struggled to lift herself from the damp cradle in which she lay, she had felt terrible burning stings all over her skin.

Lifting the blanket, which was twisted around her, she had looked down at herself to see where such terrible pains could be coming from.  And there, all over her arms, legs, and God help her, her body, beneath the wet sand that clung to her skin, were the wide and unmistakable bite marks of a man.

2013: A Year in Books…

Colourful books on shelves
Not literally these books, though.

Can you imagine? A whole year in books. Bathing in them, swimming through them, sinking into them and generally having a very happy time of it. You can’t do that with a Kindle.

I set myself the target of reading 50 new novels in 2013. Sadly, I reached a grand total of 49, primarily because I couldn’t resist re-reading a few of my old (and new) favourites. A few times each.

But, never mind. I had a lovely, book-filled year and read 49 novels I hadn’t read before. Some were excellent; others were atrocious. Some were basically quick wins when my deadline was getting close, but the less said about those the better.

None was what you’d call serious reading but I didn’t really find myself in the mood for anything too heavy, which probably explains the categories I’ve had to resort to.

Anyway, in the spirit of the New Year, I’ve  done a little round up of the novels that crossed my path in the last 12 months…

The Best and Worst Books of (my!) 2013…

The Good

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I can’t believe that I left it this late to read Jane Eyre for the first time but there we are.

Jane EyreThe novel follows the orphaned Jane Eyre, who is raised on the cold charity of her Aunt Reed before being cast off to Lowood charity school where she survives bitter hardship to become a teacher. Yearning for more, she takes the bold step of advertising for a private position, which she secures; she becomes governess at Thornfield Hall – home of the dark and mercurial Mr Rochester.

Jane Eyre is melodrama at its best – the heroine is innovative and full of integrity even in the cruellest circumstances, and there’s plenty of deus ex machina to sweep her  - and her readers – from one dramatic event to the next.

And while the  novel is certainly not free of problems when it comes to the treatment of issues like race and mental illness, its strong female protagonist, who never stops searching for something more in life  even as she gives up the one thing she wants most for the sake of her principles, is one of the best I’ve encountered. Gorgeous book.

Florence & Giles by John Harding

florence and gilesInspired by Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles by John Harding tells the story of the eponymous orphans, who live alone with servants in their guardian uncle’s crumbling New England mansion.

Forbidden to educate herself, 12-year-old Florence spends hours hiding in the library, reading and talking to herself in a bid to develop her mind.

Strange events begin to occur when a mysterious new governess arrives at the mansion to teach Giles.  Convinced that her little brother is in grave danger, Florence must use all her wits to protect him from a dark and terrifying foe.

I couldn’t put this book down. The story, narrated in Florence’s strange prose, traps the reader inside her mind, resulting in a kind of claustrophobia as you struggle to distinguish reality from confusion – or even invention.

The story twists and builds with grim inevitability, until all the pieces are in place and the reader is left waiting for the fall. A tense and sinister read.

Other goodies:
The Dog Stars by Peter HellerStrangely sweet story about the world post-apocalypse, The Dog Stars combines bitter-sweet humour, adventure and characters that you really root for.
Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen 
- Stunning collection of short stories by one of my favourite short-fiction authors. Beneath the Liquid Skin is tantalising, strange and beautiful.
Small Island by Andrea Levy -
While not the kind of novel I’d normally pick up (there were a lot of those in 2013),  Small Island is a  vivid and beautifully nuanced story of life in post-war Britain.

The Bad

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Initially, the hype around this first novel by 22-year-old Samantha Shannon put me off reading it. Billed as the next Harry Potter/Hunger /goodness knows what else, it had a lot to live up to.

the bone seasonSet in a dystopian, alternative history world, The Bone Season follows 19-year-old clairvoyant Paige Mahoney as she is kidnapped from her life in London’s criminal underground and taken to Oxford, a prison that has been kept secret for two hundred years. There, she becomes the “tenant” of the handsome and aloof Rephaite Warden, to whom there is more (of course) than meets the eye.

I really did want to like this novel, for a couple of reasons: firstly, the author is so young and it’s undoubtedly a brilliant achievement to have published such a huge novel at that age. Secondly – and quite simply – it’s always nice to catch something brilliant when it’s new.

Sadly, though, “brilliant” isn’t the word I’d use for The Bone Season. Simultaneously overwrought and under-thought, the book left me pondering giant plot holes and snorting over clichéd characters. And while the world-building was ambitious, it was under-researched; it seemed that very little thought had gone into why things might be the way they were.

The combination of really poor editing and cruelly over-hyped marketing put this novel at an unfair disadvantage, I think.  It’s an imaginative but not-very-well executed novel that should’ve been worked on for another year or announced into the world a little more quietly.

Other baddies:
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - I’d heard really good things about The Little Stranger but, in the end, I found the build-up too slow and the characters impossible to relate to. Basically, I got bored.
1984 by George Orwell - clearly a ground-breaking novel with some fascinating themes, but reading it felt like wading through treacle; it felt like it needed a really good edit.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón - this is it: I’ve given up on Zafón. Plot-holes big enough to lose an ocean-liner in, boring characters and no idea of when to wrap things up.

The Downright Ugly

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer is no stranger to criticism, with her best-selling Twilight series splitting readers down the middle and creating a rift between those who found the books incredible romantic and those who felt like they needed to wash in bleach after reading them.

The_Host_book_coverI’ve read the Twilight books and, while I find them creepy, misogynist and hilariously badly written, I’m surprised that Meyer’s later novel, The Host, has managed to slurp its slimy way under the radar.

The Host is a whopping 619-page body-snatcher novel, in which weirdly moralistic alien centipedes (or “Souls”) take over entire planets, ridding them of nasties like poverty, cancer, war, free will and sentience.

Melanie Stryder is part of a human resistance but is eventually captured and taken over by a Soul named Wanderer. However, Melanie’s mind is stronger than most and she manages to stay conscious in a little corner of her mind, while Wanderer controls her body.

Without wanting to give too much away, much of the “romance” action in this novel centres around the fact that Melanie is in love with one man while Wanderer begins to fall for another.

This leads to a large number of frankly horrifying scenes in which Wanderer’s love interest engages in sexual activity with Melanie’s body, despite knowing that 1) she is aware of it and 2) she hates him and doesn’t want to have sex with him. While I’ve tried to be fair and light-hearted with the other books I didn’t enjoy, I can’t overstate how vile and disgusting this novel is.  Read at your peril.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

the-ritual-adam-nevill-coverSo there I was again, looking for a serious scare. I picked up The Ritual after spotting its positive reviews on GoodReads – Perfect, thought I, for a bit of Hallowe’en reading.

The story follows four old University friends who have come together to hike through the Scandinavian forests in some kind of inexplicable male-bonding holiday. Given that two of them are hugely unfit and can barely walk without falling over/getting blisters, I was cynical from the start.

It soon becomes clear that our band of clichés are being hunted by something terrible in the woods. An ill-advised short-cut leads them to an ancient dwelling, where they find evidence of sacrificial rituals. After a night of terror, they set off once more into the forest in search of escape.

There’s barely anything I enjoyed in this novel. I found the characters offensively hackneyed and totally unlikeable. I wasn’t frightened at any point, and what was supposed to be a gradual and terrifying build-up became nothing more than three hours of me lolling on a sofa, half-dead from tedium and sighing, “Oh for God’s sake, come on.”

And then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any more underwhelming, the second half of the book happened. I don’t know why I was surprised – there were still so many pages to go – and yet I was. It’s like the author got bored of his foresty Gothic horror attempts and decided to tack on some machismo to liven things up.  I wouldn’t touch another Adam Nevill novel with a barge pole, despite his good reviews.

…And the LOLs:

Child of the Mist by Kathleen Morgan
I have no one to blame but myself for this – I read Child of the Mist by Kathleen Morgan at the start of November, as my year-end deadline was beginning to loom.

Child of the Mist CoverI read it in just under two hours, and lay stunned for approximately another three as I struggled to comprehend what had just happened – to me, to my brain, to literature.

Child of the Mist tells the story of raging gender stereotypes Anne MacGregor and Niall Campbell – heirs to two feuding Highland tribes, brought together by their tribal elders in a hand-fasting ceremony that neither desires in a bid to end years of conflict.

Long story short: flaky accusations of witchcraft abound and Anne finds herself in predictable and incessant peril. Niall takes time out from his manly tribal politics to rescue her from some verra verra bad situations, while she cries “Och!” and “Wheesht!” a lot.

The Feaster from the Stars by Alan K. Baker

feaster from the stars coverI want to recommend this, just because it had me genuinely laughing out loud. It’s supposed to be somewhere between fantasy/sci-fi/horror (basically a paranormal Steam Punk novel) but it’s side-splittingly funny. What shocks me is that it was published traditionally; a publishing house actually spent money on it.

The Feaster from the Stars joins Special Investigator Thomas Blackwood and Lady Sophia Harrington, Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research as they race to discover the secret behind strange occurrences on the London Underground.

Both the living and the dead who frequent the Underground are terrified of something haunting its dank tunnels, and Blackwood and Harrington must journey from London to the edges of space to discover the terrible secret.

The premise of this book intrigued me, which is why I stepped out of my comfort zone and picked it up (that and the fact that I was in a small library with one book left to choose). By the time that Oberon, King of the Faeries, had appeared in a puff of lilac smoke and leprechaun-esque dialogue, I knew exactly what the terrible secret was: that this book had not been burnt to ashes.

Take a look at the rest of the books I read in 2013 for the first time.

Your best books of 2013…?

I’m already up-and-running with my search for novels to read this year. I’ve got a few on my shelf already but I’d love some recommendations. Which books did you love in 2013? Which did you hate? Share your recommendations in the comments!

Original image credit

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year 2014_CUS

It’s been a bit of a quiet few months but with 2014 just around the corner, I want to wish everyone who’s stopped by this year a very Happy New Year!

I’ve ‘met’ some fabulous people through this blog, multiplied my reading material by a hundred and found some fantastic flash fiction fanatics.

Thank you to everyone who’s chatted, commented, read or followed this year – I might have been quiet, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy 2014!
CUS_sig

Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail

Been in bed since Thursday night with some of the worst food poisoning I’ve had in years. Finally getting better so I decided to use one of my graphic fever dreams for this week’s DP Challenge…

Fever dreams

The room is thick with a terracotta dust that never leaves, only twists and rises in the low, orange sun before settling back down in a gentle ballet.

Right now, as you scrabble and snatch at anything you can reach – books with tattered covers, t-shirts, sanitary towels from your underwear drawer – shoving it all into a canvas bag, choosing and not choosing what to take and leave, there’s no time for settling.

The dust streams upwards in the light from the window as a sick weight crawls up the back of your legs and climbs into your belly from behind – a freezing mass that will cling to your spine and keep you cold inside now, even on the hottest days.

The sun is tumbling slowly toward the horizon – just more dust, as far as you can see – and as the hollow twitter of a bird sounds in the bare branches outside, you thrill with fear, knowing that you need to go now but that it’s already too late.

And then it tips, that huge and heavy sun, over the horizon and it’s dark and too hot, and you’re awake, maybe half-awake, tangled in a heavy fleece blanket, the back of your neck soaked with sweat and your stomach tight with dark red knots.

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