BOOK REVIEW: The Burning World
Written by Isaac Marion
Published by Atria Books
The Burning World by Isaac Marion is the much-anticipated sequel to the critically acclaimed Warm Bodies. Despite the fact that it’s a sequel, it’s actually the third book in the series, following the original and a prequel, The New Hunger.
Although Warm Bodies is a much-loved novel-turned-hit movie, I had little knowledge of Marion prior to this book. Its advertisement as a “zom-rom-com” meant I never got around to picking up a copy. I’m a huge zombie fan but prefer mine to be of the disgusting rotting corpse kind that tracks down the living and feasts upon their brains. Warm Bodies seemed to be the opposite of what I was looking for.
As such, I was dubious when The Burning World came across my desk. The premise of a zombie turned lover boy seemed too goofy of an idea for me to get behind. Especially because I remember seeing the Warm Bodies movie trailers years ago and not being particularly intrigued back then. I couldn’t imagine the sequel would be my style either. In addition to that, I wasn’t invested in the characters and world from the first book so doubted my ability to jump in feet first.
Still, I took the plunge, and at first I floundered a bit, wondering what I was missing. I worried there was vital information in the previous two books that I didn’t possess. Marion seems conscious of this potential problem though, and he introduces the reader to the characters and world at a gentle pace. For someone starting in the middle of the Warm Bodies series, I quickly found my fears were unfounded and had no problem becoming engaged.
This isn’t to say that Marion rehashes Warm Bodies. He gives just enough sense of what happened in the previous books to give context to the events and characters in this one. New readers can enjoy the story without any previous understanding of the Warm Bodies world, and the knowledge of established fans will add another layer and deeper level of appreciation for what happens.
What I really enjoyed about this book was its fresh take on the zombie apocalypse. Although Romero-like brain-eating action is often referenced, these “zombies” are for the most part no longer zombies. The Burning World is set in some fifteen years or more after the end of times; and a cure, instigated in Warm Bodies, has been spreading the world over. Zombies are slowly coming back to “life” by a magical seeming, and as yet unexplained, phenomenon called “The Gleam.”
These no longer dead “zombies” struggle to become human once again. It’s not an easy process. If they’re intact enough to physically survive, they often become “stuck” between worlds or go crazy and commit suicide, unable to cope with deeds committed as one of the dead.
Our main character, “R,” is no different, although as the first to be “cured,” he struggles to be more human every moment of his newly found life. He barely sleeps, barely eats, and can’t make love to his girlfriend, Julie. He wrestles to suppress the memories of who he was before he was a zombie and those of the victims whose brains he ate. Because of what he once was, and what he’s done, he faces bigotry and persecution from members of his own community.
Despite all this, R’s girlfriend wants to make the world a better place with him by her side. When a nearby community falls under “new management” and the nefarious Axiom Corporation shows up at their doorstep, their optimism does a belly-flop in the gutter.
R, Julie, and their friend Nora are swept away to an interrogation center to face torture and possible death, but with some help from an unlikely source and some good luck, the group is able to escape, collecting more members along their way.
The action in this book is fast-paced, and the world is vivid. Although the novel is a 500-page doorstop of a book, I found it to be tight for the most part, and there was never a time when I ran into large swaths of boring writing. The story kept me interested and wondering what would happen next. I’m happy to say there are quite a few unpredictable twists and turns along the way.
The Burning World does not serve the usual fare of smash-n-dash, all-you-can-eat brain-fests that many zombie books bring to the table. There’s action and death in every corner, but the gore is tame and the story shines though every chance it gets. It’s a great book for those that are looking for a new menu item within the zombie flavor palate. It’s well written, and Marion is a master of metaphors, painting beautiful pictures where many would think it impossible. Don’t expect loose ends to be tied in a neat little bow at the end of this book. It’s a setup for the final book in the series, which I believe Marion is currently working on.
I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and think I’m going to have to revisit my stance on the original Warm Bodies. The Burning World is a far cry from the schlocky, romantic garbage I imagined the first was, and if the rest of the series is anything like this book, I think I’ll have to read them all. Four stars.
I wrote and published this review originally for Dread Central. See the original post here.