This sequel to the dystopian YA novel The Maze Runner is difficult to evaluate as a “story” because it lacks the character development and attention to literary qualities that you might expect. It is strictly one survival battle after another, each one more improbable and bizarre than the last.
If you have not read The Maze Runner and you intend to, you might want to skip to the Discussion in order to avoid spoilers.
In The Scorch Trials, Thomas, Minho, Newt, and the other Gladers have escaped The Maze only to find they face a new series of obstacles. This time, however, they have been briefed by a representative of WICKED, or “World In Catastrophe – Killzone Experiment Department.” The WICKED person [double entendre, perhaps] tells them that the earth has been ravaged by solar flares, and that a gruesome disease called The Flare has also spread to most survivors. World governments have combined forces to establish WICKED in the hope of coming up with solutions to the scorched environment and the medical catastrophe.
The Gladers (mostly boys, who discover they are only “Group A”), meet a surprise set of young people – “Group B” – mostly girls – who have been though the same maze trial. They now get sent on a new trial as one group. Whoever survives will allegedly have access to a cure for The Flare (which turns victims into zombie-like creatures).
We follow the original Gladers and Group B out onto the scorched earth and across the country with the goal of getting to a “safe haven.” Each obstacle they encounter seems even more off the charts than the last, with some not making sense even given the fantastical premises of the dystopia.
We not only meet new characters but discover that one we thought we knew, Theresa – from Group A – is maybe not who we thought we knew and maybe is. Thomas is confused, and so are we.
However, it will all become clear, one presumes, in another year, when book three is available.
Discussion: Are zombies the new zeitgeist or something? They’re everywhere! In my opinion, they bespeak a kind of laziness on the part of an author: you don’t have to define evil; you don’t have to ensure that it’s subtle or not stereotypical; you just have to have your characters fester and ooze, and bam! (as Emeril would say), you’ve cooked up iniquity!
But “evil” really deserves better treatment than a facile representation by an ulcerated bag of blood and guts. There’s a lot to think about, such as: What exactly is evil? Who gets to define it? Do “moral” ends justify “immoral” means? Why is indiscriminate killing okay in wars, but not in peacetime settings? Are there “white” lies and “gray” areas of morality? And why should “good” be white and “bad” be black, and what are the subconscious consequences of such a thought pattern? To be fair, the main character, Thomas, does try to think about what constitutes evil, but he is not given much to work with by the author.
Thankfully, the zombies don’t appear too often, because we spend a lot of book-time watching Theresa change personalities, supposedly because of intervention by WICKED.
Evaluation: There are some good aspects to the book: the description of the condition of the planet – particularly in the scorched zone; the comraderie among Thomas, Minho, and Newt; and some page-turning action sequences. But personally, I prefer my dystopias with a lot more characterization, a lot more social commentary, and no zombies whatsoever.
Published by Delacorte Press, 2010