Fantasy has always felt like the more entertaining genre for young adult fiction. There’s been several stories that have focused on the post-apocalyptic or dystopian narrative for teen/young adult fiction that have, for the most part, felt rather bland in my opinion. While The Maze Runner was a fantastic book that felt refreshing and unique, I can’t say the same for The Scorch Trials.
The main character throughout the story stays as Thomas, just as it was in The Maze Runner. However unlike The Maze Runner, it felt like the all of the development in The Scorch Trials was focused on Thomas. This isn’t to say it’s badly done, Thomas’ character development feels pretty natural for the duration of the story. This felt rather unfortunate considering how the previous story, while it still focused on Thomas, took the time to develop the side cast of characters. The other Gladers are loveable and it’s hard not to feel like it was a missed opportunity not to explore Newt or Minho’s perspective on the situation further. A lot of what made the Gladers fascinating was the societal structure and rules this group of teenage boys established to survive. To not see that in The Scorch Trials almost steps back the development of the side characters to keep them as nothing more than extras.
Teresa was another character where I felt there was a rather missed opportunity for an interesting character. Her development was all around her connection to WICKED and Thomas in The Maze Runner yet in The Scorch Trials it doesn’t change in any way. Again this feels like another missed opportunity considering all of the torment and questions that affect Thomas and his actions should influence her in the same way. Sadly in this story she just comes off as the tormented love interest and nothing more.
This is where The Scorch Trials feels disappointing in comparison to The Maze Runner. The Maze was this crazy mystery that was unique and twisted in a way that felt original and new. The enigma of the Maze and what was happening kept the interest alive and well. The Gladers and their society, while very reminiscent of Lord of the Flies in certain ways, had a really cool structure to it that felt like proper world building. The horror and mystery of the Grievers was disturbing and fascinating. All of this was great! However in The Scorch Trials the world doesn’t have that great worldbuilding care and attention given to it. It’s a fairly stereotypical post apocalyptic world with an infection/zombie problem with a type of people that are slowly becoming the zombie like creatures of this world. Again it’s another missed opportunity to explore a world where society broke down and the survivors are forced to do whatever they can to survive.
The best way to describe the plot is the hill-valley analogy where the valleys are not very deep at all. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, hills are where the story is building up tension and the top being the height of that tension and the valley being the falling action that takes place afterward. The bottom of the valleys, the low parts, is where we see a lot of character growth and development. These are where characters talk to each other and reflect on what has happened and where they’re going as characters. You can also look at it as a roller coaster if you want a more exciting analogy (I prefer my boring hills and valleys as the valleys are often my favorite parts). The Scorch Trials is more focused on the high pace action with very little time given to reflect on what had happened. There are some major plot moments that occur, like character deaths and revelations, but not enough time to really explore what the impact of those moments have. It makes the story come off as more plot driven than character driven as stuff just happens and the characters are just along for the ride.
The biggest issue with this story is how clearly it’s written to transition into the next story in Book 3. The resolution of the plot feels hollow as the character arc for Thomas doesn’t feel like it completed in a satisfying manner. A character, especially a main character in a character driven story, should have multiple arcs throughout the series. A good story will see a resolution to one or more of the character arcs within a book even if it is a series of books. If that isn’t the case, it makes for an unsatisfying end as the story just stops when it feels like more needs to happen.
Dashner does an amazing job keeping the reader’s attention. Between the chapter lengths and the narrative progression, it’s hard not to be invested in the story and keep reading to find out what happens next. It’s not to say the story is amazing, but in how it’s presented. It’s easy to pick up and read and the chapters are short and punchy which is very satisfying to finish. The fact that most chapters end on a hook makes the reader invested in continuing just to find out what happens next.
What Writers can learn from this book
There are several lessons I feel this book has for aspiring authors. However the most poignant lesson would be the focus on character arcs within a series. It can be difficult to write a main character within a series as you don’t want to resolve the main central focus of their story within a book that isn’t the final one. There needs to be at least one character arc for all of the important characters within the narrative. These would be your dynamic characters, the ones that grow within the story as the plot progresses. To establish a story where it feels like no character arc is resolved leaves a hollow feeling in the reader who wants more from what they’ve read. To not do this feels disrespectful to the reader who has invested so much time in the story only to have an unsatisfying ending.