After the sun flares decimated the earth, then came the plague known as the Flare. It wiped out large swaths of the remaining population and most of those who survived became mindless killing machines, turning on one another. Into this chaos came WICKED, a government organization searching for a cure, and they believe the key is held within the brains of a select few children who are immune to the virus. Thomas is one of the kids whom WICKED keeps under their thumb, running experiments on him daily. After years of hopefulness, but seemingly little progress, a decision is made to build an elaborate maze to test the kids, one that as the elite subjects of their group, Thomas and Teresa, a girl who became his best friend, are tasked with helping to construct. But when several more years of creating the Maze and then watching his friends enter it, one by one, still produce few results, Thomas slowly begins to learn the reality of what's actually going on behind the scenes at WICKED and becomes awakened to what really needs to happen. He forms a daring plan for escape, but can he accomplish his purpose before he, too, suffers the same fate as his friends?
The Fever Code is the second of two books that chronologically pre-date James Dashner's main Maze Runner trilogy. Most online book sites now have these two books listed as prequels, but IMHO, this one should be read as book #5 as ordered on the author's website. The reason for this is that both prequels - but The Fever Code especially - give away major spoilers about the main trilogy. A large part of the fun of reading The Maze Runner and it's sequels is the air of mystery and suspense surrounding what the Maze is, why the kids are in it, and what's going to happen to them in the future. Well, The Fever Code basically gives away nearly all the answers to those questions. If you're a reader who doesn't really care about spoilers, then it may be easier to read the books in chronological order, but if like me, you'd much prefer to figure out the answers to all the mysteries as the characters reveal them, then you should definitely read the prequels after reading the original trilogy. I for one am extremely happy that I did.
Unlike The Kill Order, the first prequel, which had an entirely new cast of characters, The Fever Code simply takes readers back in time about a decade before The Maze Runner begins. Except for the prologue, which is from Newt's POV, showing what happened when he and his sister were taken by WICKED, the book is written entirely from Thomas's third-person perspective. It starts right after Thomas (originally named Stephen), who was only about five years old at the time, came to live at WICKED headquarters after his mother, who was suffering from the Flare, turned him over to them. From there it takes us through all of his years training with WICKED, some of which were spent in near-total isolation, until he, Teresa, Aris, and Rachel were chosen as the "elites." This meant that they were WICKED's top candidates from among all the immunes they were training, and as such, they were tasked with working on the building of the Mazes and the implementation of the experiments that would take place inside them, as well as helping to oversee the projects once subjects were inserted. I very much enjoyed seeing Thomas's evolution over this time and his thought processes about everything that was happening around him and the things he was working on. From the very first days at WICKED, he proved to be someone with a strong will and an independent streak, as well as a well-developed sense of right and wrong. While he wants to believe that what WICKED is doing is a good thing that will help mankind, as he uncovers more and more secrets and realizes more things about the organization and what they're doing, the less he's on board with it. Seeing how he was before having his memories wiped and being inserted into the Maze shed a lot of light on how he ended up becoming the savior of the story.
The Fever Code doesn't have the relentless pace or constant sense of danger that most of the other books in the series have, but as a YA book, it does still contain some mature content that could be objectionable for some readers. There's no sexual content, not even kissing. There are occasionally a few mild bad words, but nothing too bothersome. However, there are various forms of violence throughout. WICKED took all the characters when they were just children, some by force, and they're essentially using them as guinea pigs in an experiment to find a cure for a disease that they, themselves, created. A couple of times the kids are tortured. Deliberate physical pain is inflicted on Thomas when he's only five years old, and a Griever is used to psychologically torture another character who's probably just a young teen at the time, while Thomas is made to watch. There's a scene where all the kids are taken to the Crank (humans who've basically turned zombie after being infected with the Flare) pits as punishment. After some of the kids are inserted into the Maze, Thomas sometimes struggles with watching them on the monitors each day, especially when bad things start happening, including some of them dying. There's a somewhat bloody scene where Thomas must fight off and kill a scientist who's turned Crank. Probably the most potentially disturbing part, though, is when Thomas and the other elites are sent to kill a number of WICKED officials and employees who've been infected. Most of the people are past the Gone and are more Crank than human at that point, but it still disturbs Thomas to have to do it. However, most of it is done without a great deal in the way of blood and gore. Since some of these things could potentially distress younger readers, I would probably only recommended the book for kids about fourteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by the things I mentioned.
Overall, I thought that The Fever Code was a really good book that gave me some valuable insights into the characters and their motivations, particularly Thomas and Teresa. I feel like I understand them better after reading this story, which makes their later actions in the main trilogy even more understandable. I also very much enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom, as well as their connections with all the other characters like Alby, Newt, Minho, and especially Chuck. Seeing how close they were before being sent into the Maze makes their friendships inside the Maze even stronger, but it did sadden me a bit knowing the outcome for some of them already. There were perhaps a couple of things I took issue with from a logical standpoint and one scene that was pretty predictable, but for the most part, I was able to overlook those things. I also have to give the author credit for throwing in a zinger during the final pages, something we didn't already know, but that will make re-reading the original trilogy even more interesting the next time around. It was kind of a jaw-dropping moment that made the entire book worth it just for reveal. So for me, The Fever Code was every bit as good as the other books in the series.
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