The Death Cure

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

The Death Cure was written by James Dashner and first published in 2011. It forms the final part of The Maze Runner Trilogy and is preceded by The Maze Runner (2009) and The Scorch Trials (2010). Dashner has also released two prequel novels set in the same universe: The Kill Order (2012) and The Fever Code (2016). As The Death Cure carries on precisely where The Scorch Trials left off, I would strongly advise reading these books in sequence to fully appreciate them.

WICKED promised a cure, yet Thomas has been betrayed again. Abandoned in solitary confinement, he is left to fear that he will succumb to the Flare. When the Rat Man finally comes for him, it is with an unexpected proposition. The scientist claims that WICKED is very close to discovering the cure, but for the final round of tests they will need to restore the memories of all of the survivors.

As Thomas is reunited with the surviving Gladers, he realises that he can’t stand to be used again. With the help of Minho, Newt, Brenda and Jorge, he escapes the facility and flees to the safe haven of Denver. It is there that they discover the Right Arm – a small band of rebels who share their hatred of WICKED. Finally, Thomas realises that they have a chance at toppling their enemies and ensuring that the trials are stopped forever.

However, it will not be easy. The Flare is spreading fast and not all of Thomas’s friends are immune. It’s not long before the Rat Man seeks Thomas out and reveals that he has been selected as the Final Candidate. If he complies with WICKED, the rest of the world could be saved from the terrible disease. Thomas needs to make a choice, and quickly. He could well be the key to saving the world, but is the Right Arm all that it seems and can WICKED be trusted?

The Death Cure is one of the most difficult novels that I’ve had to review in a long time. The problem I had was that I actually found myself pretty indifferent to this book. I enjoyed it a lot more than The Scorch Trials, but it never managed to hook me in the same way that The Maze Runner did. Let’s start by taking a look at the positives.

In this book, we finally get some answers. While the book is still clearly withholding some choice information regarding Thomas’s past (presumably to be explored in the prequels), The Death Cure marks the first time that someone from WICKED actually sits down and explains exactly what is going on. The early chapters of this novel clearly lay out how they are collecting their “variables” and what they are intending to do with them.

This was an immediate relief. I felt that I learned more about the WICKED in the first fifty pages of The Death Cure than I did in the entirety of The Scorch Trials. However, this reveal does require a heavy suspension of disbelief. If you like your science fiction to have one foot in reality, I would advise avoiding this franchise at all costs. To appreciate WICKED’s approach to the Flare, you really need to forget everything you know about scientific process. Seriously, the novel is a lot more enjoyable if you just roll with the Rat Man’s explanation and don’t question why a scientist would refer to the human brain as the “killzone”.

If you can do this, you will actually find that WICKED’s motivation is pretty satisfying. The best sorts of villains are the ones that are the heroes of their own story. WICKED’s goal – to save humanity from a deadly plague – is one that anyone could get behind. However, the way that they intend to achieve this goal is less altruistic. Spurred by the doctrine of the greater good, they do terribly unethical things for the best of reasons. This is what makes them terrifying.

However, there are many problems in The Death Cure’s execution. My biggest issue with this book was its pacing. It lacked both the tension of The Maze Runner and the non-stop action of The Scorch Trials. After Thomas and his friends escape from WICKED, the novel immediately slows to a crawl. They spend around a hundred pages in Denver, wandering aimlessly and having a couple of minor encounters with the Cranks. It’s not until about two hundred pages in that the pace finally starts to pick up, returning Thomas to WICKED for the final showdown.

This isn’t to say that the book is terrible. In fact, there were some sections that I really liked. The unexpected return of a character that I was certain had died, Thomas’s brief return to the Maze and a gruesome encounter with the Grievers all stand out as fantastically memorable scenes. However, as the final instalment of a trilogy, it was largely underwhelming.

Despite the massive amount of collateral damage over the last few chapters, it just all felt a bit too easy. Thomas is welcomed back to WICKED with open arms, despite the fact that he has been consistently vocal about how much he distrusts them. Following this, the climax is relatively straightforward. Like Katniss in Mockingjay, Thomas has a remarkable ability to be absent or unconscious during most of the action sequences. Even those that he partakes in felt rushed, lacking tension and boiling down to clumsy descriptions of fist fights.

I won’t spoil the conclusion for you here, but I will say that it was really disappointing. While there were a few twists in the tale, none of them caught me by surprise. In fact, I was expecting the final chapters to carry a nasty sting but it never came. I really felt that Dashner wrote himself into a corner, as he made it clear early on that there was no way to beat the Flare. Because of this, the ultimate “solution” to the Immunes’ problem just came across as forced and overly convenient.

In terms of characterisation, this book was unfortunately rather weak. While Thomas has never been the most emotional of protagonists, his attitude in this novel was just too clinical. Major characters die in this story, some at Thomas’s own hands, and yet he barely seems to register this. Occasionally, he comments on feeling heartbroken or numb but it’s generally forgotten after a couple of pages. Although he still waxes lyrical about Chuck’s death, he’s unable to shed a tear over the allies who have now fought through the Maze and the Scorch at his side.

Yet the supporting cast is no better. Minho and Newt are like shadows of their former selves in this story, and the female characters are weaker than ever. Teresa is a bit of a non-entity, only appearing a handful of times over the novel. Chancellor Paige is name-dropped as an ally within WICKED but never appears in person. Brenda is ever present, but her relationship with Thomas never develops. She just fails to make an impression, not showing any individuality or giving any real reason to like her. This is just terrible. As a female reader, I want to read about strong female characters. It’s not enough for them to just be present.

All in all, I did not hate The Death Cure. Regardless of my many gripes, it was an easy read and did a good job of tying up some of the loose ends. However, it was still a disappointing ending to the trilogy. I loved The Maze Runner, but the series has completely failed to maintain the sense of mystery and tension that made this book so great. I might read the prequels one day, but I’m certainly in no hurry to.

The Death Cure can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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