The Maze Runner was an adrenaline filled mysterious adventure. While the book ended with significant resolution, it also opened up a huge batch of new and intriguing questions and left the book's protagonists poised for another adventure certain to outdo the last. So it's no wonder that immediately after reading The Maze Runner I had a desire to pick up Book 2 in the series and dive into it.
The Scorch Trials starts out immediately where Maze Runner left off and immediately raises the bar for intrigue and anxiety. The kids who escaped the Maze are hopeful that they can move to a "normal" life and adjust to the "real world" and all the comforts and pleasures that would afford them. Instead, they are immediately tossed into a mysterious, intriguing, and anxiety producing scenario where they quickly find themselves unsure of what to believe, what to expect and who to trust.
The first few chapters are packed full of information to whet the reader's (and the "Glader's") appetite. Unfortunately, what little bit of helpful information these chapters provide are supplemented by a lot of vague suggestions and instructions that shed some light on the horrible state of the world and of the Trials these kids will have to undergo, while at the same time withholding enough information to adequately evaluate and judge the situation.
The kids, the Gladers, are set face to face with a number of intriguing characters to spark thoughts and conflict within their group. One of the primary characters they meet turns out to be an escapee from ANOTHER MAZE. That revelation in itself is horrifying in terms of expanding on the sense of scale and nature of things, even if not expounding on the overall goal. Shortly after meeting the boy from the other group, the kids receive instructions from a mysterious man communicating to them through (and protected by) some strange technological means. He outlines a set of instructions to them. They basically have a set period of time to escape their current situation, travel a hundred miles north and reach a safe haven. Those who arrive will live. The rest will die. And it's likely that many will die along the way. With very little else in terms of instruction or information, the kids are left to another life-or-death race.
A number of the elements threatening the kids were truly horrifying and a couple seemed straight out of a master horror/thriller novel (I won't spoil it…but the threat within the tunnel they take to reach the surface…that threat literally made me shudder). The new state of the world they discover is also very stark and terrible. So even knowing that they must survive the Trials in order to become a part of the World again, looking at the world around them, it's difficult to know if it's even a desirable end goal.
This second book had a lot of thought provoking elements, especially as some of Thomas' memories return to him and as he and the other kids are faced with information from WICKED and others. The nature of the world, of WICKED and of the Trials are laid out in such a way that it's difficult to truly know what to make of everything. It's easy to hate WICKED and what is going on. At the same time, it's easy to see how "their hand was forced" to do what they're doing (although "humanely" speaking, I still argue against it).
This novel takes some of the themes from the first and pushes them to the extreme. We're constantly ramming up against questions of who to trust, what to believe and what is right or wrong. There's a strong theme of loyalty and humanity versus self-preservation and survival. Treachery and betrayal take on a key role and add to the ambiguity.
In the end, we are once again left with a novel that answers a handful of questions while opening up a flood of new questions and ideas. We're presented with a number of contradictory propositions and left, along with the amnesiac Thomas and others, to try and sort through the details and make a judgment based on limited information.
Once again, I really enjoyed this novel and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next. Scorch Trials ended with a promise of a lot of new information and hope to come, so I'm interested to see just how that promise plays out and what we can expect next.
I would warn that this book is intense not only in terms of action, but also in terms of themes and emotion. While the violence isn't highly graphic per se, it is enough to make more squeamish readers wary. If you had any qualms about the nature of the horrible experiences of Maze Runner, I would warn you that Scorch Trials takes some of those experiences to the next level of intensity. So if Maze Runner was already pushing your limits, you may want to avoid the Scorch. By the same token I want to add that I didn't feel that the violence or intensity were so over-the-top as to be extraneous or unnecessary to the story. I felt like, for the message and tone the book needed to portray, these elements were at just the right level…not so over the top as to be disgustingly gruesome, but intense enough to make the reader uneasy about the state of things.
From a high level, I enjoyed Maze Runner better as an individual book. I suspect that as the series plays out, I'll find Scorch all the more enjoyable. While it's certainly a satisfying adventure on its own and is very well constructed, in many ways it is certainly a "bridge" novel with a number of elements that don't wholly stand on their own but rather expound on the previous novel and prepare for the following novel. As such, once I have a more complete story, I think the unsettling elements of Scorch will make it more appealing overall.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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