The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (The Maze Runner #2)
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.
Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim... and meal.
The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.
Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?
A lot of second books become nothing more than filler between books one and two, but The Scorch Trials is one of the best second books I've read. It starts off almost exactly where The Maze Runner left off; Dashner doesn't waste a second getting right back into the thick of things. There's barely a lull in the action for the rest of the book, and with every twist the story gets more exciting.
Ocassionally, Dashner throws character development to the wind in favor of action (there are a lot of "for some reason, Thomas felt..." sentences, etc), but not so much that it hurts the plot. The action itself is really, incredibly good; Thomas and the Gladers are constantly being thrown into imaginative and freaky situations. Each new danger is different enough to keep from being a repetition of the same old thing. The frequent, well-written action scenes made The Scorch Trials kind of thrilling.
The best and worst thing about this series is that I have absolutely no idea what's going on. Readers only know as much as Thomas does, which adds to the suspense and makes every new revelation that much more shocking - but it's also incredibly frustrating not to have any answers. Even though Dashner doesn't let much slip about WICKED's plan, the evidence he does provide doesn't just confuse readers, and his world-building is surprisingly well-executed. Knowing only as much as Thomas does makes it easier to sympathize with him, so readers who like feeling close to characters might like this series for that reason. Those who hate suspense might want to look elsewhere. I, for one, can't wait to see what all this has been building up to.
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