SOUTH JORDAN — Take a deep breath before you start any James Dashner book.
There's not another chance to relax along the way as the characters run and crawl and climb from one harrowing predicament to the next.
In his new book "The Kill Order" (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99), is prequel to the Maze Runner series. In it, Mark and his girlfriend Trina, a grizzled bear of a soldier named Alec and a little girl named DeeDee are survivors trying to find their families and to make sense of an upside-down, dangerous world severely damaged by sun flares and disease.
They don't know who to trust or where to turn.
They only know they have to find each other and a safe place — if there is one.
It makes for a fast-paced, nerve-wracking read, one Dashner believes may be a little scarier than a vampire book because the scenario is not out of the realm of possibilities.
Climate change, political unrest, competition for food and water, unchecked viral madness, could turn the Earth and its people into savages. A government trying to cope with great disasters might try some unthinkable solutions.
"I think this adds another layer of depth and interest," Dashner said, in a phone interview with The Deseret News. "This could happen."
Dashner's trilogy of novels ("The Maze Runner," "The Scorch Trials," "The Death Cure") has already landed him consistently on the New York Best Seller list.
He's been approached about the stories being made into a movie and he has an on-line game and book series for younger audiences ready to debut, one commissioned by Publishers Weekly after the order of "The 39 Clues" series.
He starts a book tour for "The Kill Order" this next week with the launch party planned for Aug. 14.
From the start, the 39-year-old former accountant now full-time author, felt the stories lent themselves to a prequel to explain the memories of Thomas, the main character in "The Maze Runner" and to help readers understand those who created such demanding tests.
"One of my themes is that nothing's black and white," Dashner said. "I'm also asking the question ‘Does the end justify the means?’ throughout."
Dashner is pretty happy that his books are so popular in his own community, though not too many people realize he's the author of the books everyone is passing around.
"I am very blessed, very lucky," he said.
He recognizes that "The Kill Order" still doesn't answer every question. There's some confusion as to exactly how the main characters survive long enough for Thomas's mother to give birth to him and then turn him over for use in the government's experiments.
Dashner said he actually has written a lot of bonus material that includes a bonus chapter (that can be found in the Barnes and Noble edition of his book) which explains more of the mystery.
He also realizes many fans probably wanted more of the Thomas and Teresa story.
"I didn't really want to write about Thomas and Teresa again. This way I think we gave fans more," he said.
Dashner is conscious of the fact that his books draw a lot of younger readers. That's partly why his books have no profanity or sexual passages. (There is, however, plenty of bashing, smashing and crashing.)
In fact, the characters have their own language to a certain extent.
"I wanted this to be available to middle school kids and libraries," Dashner said. "So the made-up language serves two purposes. It's unique and it keeps the book clean."
If you go ...
What: James Dashner book signing and "The Kill Order" launch party
When: Tuesday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m.
Where: Barnes and Noble, Jordan Landing, 7157 Plaza Center Drive, West Jordan
What: James Dashner book signing
When: Friday, Aug. 17, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.