There are things I liked and things I didn't like about this book, but overall, I liked that it filled in some gaps about the Flare, how it came about, how it progressed, and the truth of how the infection first came about. Still, in the end, it's my least favourite of the series and it felt like a hard slog to get it finished, which wasn't a problem with the other books.
* bookending with Teresa and Thomas. The Prologue was Teresa's first POV, while the Epilogue was in Thomas' mother's POV, but all about him being taken by WICKED.
* Mark. He was a great character to provide POV, and he had a similar goal, aim, mindset to Thomas. He was familiar enough, being the same age and thought process as the Gladers.
* that it took us back to the very beginning. I loved seeing how it all started, the truth of the Flare, the truth of the infection, the apocalyptic events, the struggle, and that WICKED weren't even fully formed at the time.
* the lack of a cohesive arc and goal for the end of the story. At times it felt like it floundered because there was no "end" goal, such as Thomas' adamant to get out of the Maze, survive the Scorch Trials, and take down WICKED.
* the lack of timeline. It took until 32% before we found out any strong indicator of Mark's age. The previous note was that he had time off "school" - which could have been high school, college, university, anything. Then it took 50% before you had an idea of how long had passed between the start of the Flare, and the present events of Mark's POV.
* there was a lot of repetition, mostly between briefly describing events of the past, then slipping into a fully detailed flashback, making the descriptive part obsolete. Then there were the parts where Mark and Alec kept getting into the same dangerous situation, facing off against multiple Cranks, all because they kept making the same mistakes over and over again.
* there were some editing issues, with odd word choices, etc, that jolted me out of the flow of the story.
* it felt FAR too long! I could easily have enjoyed this more had it been half the length.
* there were some stupid decisions made - such as taking 20% between the discovery of "important" and possibly information-providing workpads and Mark actually doing anything about using them. Why mention their discovery if they weren't going to get used until later?
* too many fight scenes. It felt like there was a huge fight scent of Mark/Alec against Cranks at least once every chapter, if not more than that. It became a little too much after a while.
So, there was a lot going on in this book, and it became a bit of a mish-mash of stuff I loved and stuff that irritated me, but in the end I could see how it fit into the series, what purpose it had, and appreciate the intricacies of the plot that all eventually came together. Even if it took forever.
Similar to the original trilogy, there was a hint of a teen romance going on, but it was never the main part of the plot, just a side story that didn't take too much time or make a show of itself.
Truthfully, I might have enjoyed it more had it started with the events of the flashback - showing in real time how the Flare began, how Mark and Alec came together, how it all developed, and then did a timeline jump to a few months/weeks ahead, to show them in the camp, and the infection beginning. Mostly, this is because of the tense used. As with the original trilogy, present tense is used for flashbacks, while past tense is used for the main text. But this wasn't a problem before, because in the original trilogy, the flashbacks were short, few and far between, and didn't take up pages at a time. This time, they do. I ended up getting settled into the past tense, then having to switch to present, getting comfortable there, and then having to switch back. It was jarring and frustrating.
Even after finishing the book, I'm struggling to figure out how it was possible that not one person survived the dart-attacks on the villages (and that little Deedee didn't spill the beans to anyone) long enough to reveal that the attacks were on purpose. How did no one ever find out that it was a deliberate infection? That still doesn't make sense to me.
I also found Baxter's death kind of stupid. Only because, irregardless of their plans, Alec and Lana stood by, doing nothing, not arming themselves, while a boat approached their safe place. They had plenty of warning. They could have armed themselves. They could have protected themselves. They could have hidden. Anything! But, instead, they chose to stand there, wait for the boat to approach, and let this stranger boss them around. They were directly responsible for Baxter's death, because it was so pointless and needless, if they'd only gotten their act together and done what they were trained to do, and what their instincts - in every other scene in the book - would demand. It could have been anyone in their group killed, instead of Baxter, so why do nothing?
I have one more issue that, it's possible I just missed during a moment where it all got a little too much and I zoned out of paying attention. The timeline.
This is where I get stuck.
The story takes place 13 years before the Maze Runner. So, Thomas would have been about 4, which is when we're pretty sure he was taken by WICKED. Fine. That makes sense. Except, his memories showed that he was living at home, his father only slowly going crazy until his mother had to call the authorities to take him in, because he was "sick" and they knew what it meant, what it was called, and everything.
That's my problem.
According to this book, NONE of that would have been possible. The infection had only just been sent out into the world, into the lone camps living in the wilderness and it took a good month for it to spread to places where people lived. It didn't get a name until halfway through this novel, and the people who released it didn't know what the infection did at that point. They had only just found out that it had mutated and done the opposite of what they wanted - which was spreading quicker and taking a longer gestation period, instead of fizzling out the longer it spread.
After all of that, it would make it impossible for Thomas' memories to fit into the timeline this book has placed, unless we somehow accept that Thomas' memories take place AFTER the events of this book, by just a month or two. Even still, that makes the timeline very thin, and very strained.
Overall, I had some issues with the plot and the story arc. The writing was still the same quality, but the execution of the plot, the planning and the slow reveal, would have worked far better in a much shorter book, and without relying so heavily on flashbacks. A clearer timeline would have been great, too.
It took half the world being wiped out for you to finally notice me.