Help is on the way for The Maze Runner fans curious to learn the series’ backstory – including how Thomas came to build the Maze. James Dashner comes to the rescue with The Fever Code, a prequel due out from Delacorte on September 27 with a 750,000-copy first print run. The publisher is building buzz for the fifth Maze Runner book with a campaign, dubbed #DashnerDash Binge Read, to encourage readers to reread the previous books in the series, chat about them on social media, and participate in four monthly Google Hangouts.

Kicking off on May 27, the campaign – whose online hub is the Maze Runner Facebook page – invites fans to reread (or, in the case of newcomers to the series, read for the first time) the books in the series, beginning with The Maze Runner. When discussing the novels and their experiences rereading them on social media, readers and bloggers are urged to use the hashtag #DashnerDash.

On the debut Google Hangout on June 30, Dashner and his editor, Krista Marino, will discuss the book and answer selected questions submitted online by readers. Subsequent Hangouts, which will take place during the last weeks of July, August, and September, will focus on The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, and The Kill Order, respectively.

Dashner reported that he knew, even before Delacorte published The Maze Runner in 2009, that he wanted to write a prequel. “There are so many elements in the novel – mystery, intrigue, memory loss – that I knew from the start that doing a prequel seemed right,” he said. “I figured that readers would wonder what had happened to the characters before they showed up at the Maze. I had the idea stuck in my head for a long time, and finally decided to pull the trigger.”

Fans’ sometimes strong reactions to the plot twists in his Maze Runner novels fueled Dashner’s interest in creating a prequel. “I have some extremely passionate fans who are especially devoted to certain characters,” he explained. “And they gave me a very hard time about the deaths of some of the characters in the novels. In the prequel, all the characters are alive and well – actually, ‘well’ may not be the right word to describe all of them! But The Fever Code leads up to the very moment the Maze begins – and lets readers see the characters one more time in a book.”

Journeying Back in Time

Though treading – more or less – on familiar turf, Dashner called the prequel “the most challenging book” he’s ever written. Since 20th Century Fox’s release of The Maze Runner in 2014 and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in 2015, the audience for his series has grown substantially, bringing the books’ North American sales total to 14 million copies across all formats.

“Writing The Fever Code, for the first time I really felt pressure, knowing I was dealing with a story and characters that so many readers care about so much,” the author said. “And of course I didn’t want to contradict myself from the earlier books. I made detailed outlines, scoured the earlier novels, and took lots of notes. I did my best – and I’m really proud of this prequel.”

Delacorte executive editor Krista Marino, who has edited Dashner’s YA books since the series’ debut novel, remarked that fans will enjoy getting reacquainted with beloved characters in The Fever Code, but will also encounter the unexpected, since “James is so good at surprising – even shocking – readers, just when they might think they know everything.”

“I feel as though with each book, James has answered some questions and then asked more, in a very entertaining way,” Marino added. “With this prequel, he has built a standalone page-turner that also lets fans hang out with old friends – and get some answers to things they’ve wondered about for a long time.”

Random House Children’s Books will promote The Fever Code and the #DashnerDash Binge Read extensively on social media, where readers using the dedicated hashtag can enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win various prizes, including signed first editions of the prequel and the grand prize of a trip for two to attend a launch event for The Fever Code (date and location to be announced). Additional marketing plans include a partnership with TheBookTube and cross-promotion with 20th Century Fox. In-store and library merchandising materials are also available.

Dashner, who will embark on a six-city tour for The Fever Code in late September, is meanwhile looking forward to participating in the #DashnerDash Binge Read. “I love the thought of reading the Maze Runner novels again at the same time as fans, chatting about the books, and answering questions,” he said. “It’s especially great to have this campaign on social media, where my readers love to hang out. A lot of them have made friends online with Maze Runner fans in other countries – all over the world. This will be another bonding experience for readers, which for me, as an author, is one of the most pleasant things to see.”

The Maze Runner: The Fever Code by James Dashner. Delacorte, $18.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-553-51309-7