Book Review: The Kill Order

Author: James Dashner

ImageSeries: Yes, prequel

Publisher: Random House

Date Published: August 14, 2012

Number of Pages: 336

The much-anticipated prequel to James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy – The Kill Order – takes place before Thomas and the Gladers escape the maze and take on WICKED. After sun flares hit the earth, destroying civilization as we know it and what’s left of humanity falls victim to a virus unlike any ever seen before friends Mark and Trina band together with a group of fellow survivors to learn to stay alive in this new world and find a cure for the fast, mutating disease that turns those infected into rage filled lunatics.

Though set in the same world as the The Maze Runner trilogy The Kill Order works both as a prequel and a stand-alone novel. For those who have read the trilogy it’s nice to get a little more insight into what led the Gladers to the maze to begin with, but for someone not at all versed in this world The Kill Order still makes sense and entertains.

The story begins within a settlement of survivors who have banded together to create a makeshift community. This is where we are introduced to our cast of characters. After the initial set up we are led back in time to when the sun flares first hit as seen through our protagonist Mark’s memories.

As frustrating as it is I really like that Dashner never answers everything, or gives us complete insight into just how awful the sun flares were. We know they’re bad, we know that people have basically been melted and what not, but somehow Dashner manages to give us only a snippet of the devastation caused, which somehow makes it so much worse. Mark’s flashbacks to when this catastrophic event happens and being in the underground really helped to build the feelings of foreboding and dread that Dashner perfected in The Maze Runner trilogy.

As far as characters go I don’t know that I liked anyone in The Kill Order as much as I did the Gladers from the Maze. As the main protagonist Mark (especially when compared to Thomas) is a bit of – I don’t want to say a pansy – but he’s a little whiny. He doesn’t have the same sense of inner strength and know-how that Thomas seemed to possess – he lacks confidence. On the flip side Alec as the pseudo leader/father figure despite being gruff and kind of curmudgeonly was by far the most likeable character. He seemed to have the most feeling.

It doesn’t really matter that the characters weren’t as enthralling as those in the original series because this book is very story driven. The sequence of events and the race against time are what make The Kill Order enjoyable. Once the Flare hits and it’s a given the group will eventually lose their minds getting Deedee (as the only one seemingly immune to the disease) to safety heightens both character need and tension within the story.

However as suspenseful as the story is a lot of the events seemed crazy and in some weird ways unnecessarily dangerous and/or lacking insight – Mark and Alec leaving Trina, Lana and Deedee in the forest while they investigate the creepy singing – why? Clearly that was not going to end well. Breaking in to the underground bunker. Jumping on the Berg in the first place when you know that the people on it are currently shooting, at random, civilians with darts that seem to kill on impact.  But in retrospect I like to think the method behind the madness of these events was to offer a kind of duality – to demonstrate the subtlety of the diseases’ evolution and to really hammer home this idea that despite the initial reactions of immediate death or immediate crazy – then death, the truly scary element to this new world is the Flare’s quick progression to a slow and scary descent that begins with poor choice and ultimately ends with outright lunacy.

What really worked is the brutality of this world. The way people almost instantly revert to base, animal instincts. From the flashbacks to life in the Lincoln building and the marauding couple to the crazy cultist (who granted were in fact infected by the Flare but none-the-less demonstrated brutality that I’m going to go out on a limb here and just say was instinctual to begin with.) Even Mark demonstrates that brutality when fighting.  The progression to Crazy Town is steep and raw but makes you wonder, even without the Flare how cruel and evil this post sun flare world could have become.

I found the ending both poignant and distressing – when Mark and Alec finally reunite with Trina, Lana and Deedee the infection has taken over so fully that there really and very obviously is no hope left for anyone but Deedee. Lana’s execution style like death and the fact that Trina’s so far gone she can’t even remember Mark were truly sad moments in a book so packed with action that sometimes the human element of the story gets a little lost. I found it quite courageous that despite knowing the loss of his sanity is imminent Mark pushed himself to save a little girl and that in fact that last final act was the best demonstration of his character (and is why I can’t call him a pansy, even though I clearly want to.)

The Theresa Connection

Now if you’ve read my previous review on The Maze Runner series you’ll know that I absolutely hated the character of Theresa, and as evil as it makes me seem was glad when she met an untimely end. That being said I really enjoyed that Dashner placed that one small connection between the Gladers and this origin story by alluding to the fact that “Deedee” was in fact “Theresa”. What can I say? I love a good tie-in.

Overall as far as prequel’s go I really enjoyed The Kill Order, I like that it can act as a stand alone novel but that it also ties in to what is a great series. Dashner manages to answer questions that were left open in his original series while still maintaining a lot of the mystery and suspense he created in The Maze Runner trilogy.

 

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