The Kill Order, by James Dashner
This book is the prequel to the rest of the Maze Runner series , and it provides the context of how Teresa (whose real name is Deedee) became an experimental test subject as a young girl immune to the disease that had been used on people as a way of preventing resource shortages after the sun flares had already killed off millions. This particular novel focuses mainly on the bad luck that several people have in managing to escape from the flares in New York down the Appalachian Trail into North Carolina, only to run afoul of the flare being intentionally shot at the various poor people who have struggled to live in settlements. Even with some military training and cohesion and immense resourcefulness, the sense of impending doom and the struggle of not having the resources to do more than grimly survive and endlessly improvise makes this a rather dark novel.
There are other aspects of this novel that are somewhat chilling. Both The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure managed to look at the effects of the disease largely from the outside, but this novel explores them from the inside, with frequent resources to the disease being like demons in one’s head that are making one insane and where there is often the awareness that one is insane but not the ability to do anything about it before the brain (and parts of the body) are eaten away. How anyone could intentionally inflict that kind of torment on others is something that is entirely beyond my comprehension. Additionally, the novel presents one other rather disturbing element that is impossible to ignore because it is brought up over and over again–the main character, Mark, is portrayed as a widower whose wife and children die in the initial sun flares in New York City, and yet during the course of the novel, despite his memories and PTSD, the novel presents him as finding a lover within weeks of the death of his family, a relationship that continues through the novel.
It is hard to tell what would have made this novel less grim. In capturing the feel of people trapped in the South in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, this novel had a similar feel to the Walking Dead series. The fact that the reader already knows that there is no cure for the disease, nor likely any treatment at all at the early stage of the events of the novel make it even more grim than it would have been with at least the possibility of false hope that gets taken away. The tenuous link between the novel and the rest of the series also makes this a slightly less enjoyable read than the rest of the series, especially since Mark is a particularly incompetent hero who keeps on losing high powered weapons to mentally-impaired cranks, which does not speak highly of his focus. And when so much of the novel is focused on his actions, along with an older and somewhat embittered soldier named Alec, his incompetence in the face of serious peril is a bit distracting and even frustrating, even if his humanity is encouraging. Still, this novel definitely comes up short when compared against the other three of the series, even if it does provide fitting closure by taking us back to the start.
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