Book: “The Burning World” by Isaac Marion
Publication Info: February 2017, Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: R is recovering from death.
He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.
But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind.
Review: This book came into the publishing world like a new Beyonce album: no word, and then suddenly it appears! I highlighted this book as one that I was looking forward to reading, but also with a bit of trepidation. “Warm Bodies” was such a beautiful, funny little book that opened and closed so neatly that the thought of a sequel had honestly never even crossed my mind. So, while I was excited to re-visit this world, especially in the aftermath of Julie and R’s discovery of re-animating (?) zombies back to humans, I was a bit concerned that it was going to succumb to sequel-itis and bring nothing new to the table while negatively impacting the brilliance of the original. And while there were a few rough patches, particularly in the beginning, I am pleased to report that Marion’s expansion to his world and series is well fleshed (ha!) out!.
“The Burning World” picks up a few months after the events of “Warm Bodies,” and things aren’t going as smoothly as Julie and R had hoped re: reintroducing the zombies into society. I mean, in the movie version of the first book, the zombies and humans are literally playing baseball together and sharing umbrellas in the end. This book quickly does away with any of these happy fantasies. Turns out people aren’t quite as easy to convince that beings that used to kill and eat their brains are really just uber repressed people who need to reconnect with their feelings if only they’d give them all a chance! Even R himself, the protege of this whole zombie-transformation-movement is struggling with the reality of this transition. When he was cured, mobility, language, and most especially, memory didn’t suddenly just reappear. They’ve all had to be tediously re-learned, and when the story begins, it is clear that he’s hit a bit of a wall.
When I made my admittedly very bad pun about fleshing out the world, that is probably the most notable aspect of this book. Marion takes his rather simplistic little zombie world and really goes crazy with it. Half the appeal of “Warm Bodies” was the complete lack of importance that was given to the history of the world. Something went wrong, zombies appeared, and this is the hell everyone is now living in. No explanation necessary. Doing away with this charm was a risky move, but a challenge that Marion proves to be up to meeting. Not only do we get details into R’s own history, but through his patchy and slowly returning memories (present in flashbacks interspersed throughout the story) we see how broken the world really was. If anything, the world of “Warm Bodies” was a step in the right direction from what had come before! Fractions and zealots fought for power, religion and business warred to control the minds of the people, and zombies were almost an after thought to the craziness.
One particularly, albeit smaller, detail that was brought to the table was the reality of what transforming from a zombie that can’t be killed by anything less than a shot to the head into a person entails. Nora’s story comes to the forefront as a nurse attempting to treat these re-emerging injuries. If you’re shot as a zombie, you don’t heal. Becoming human again doesn’t magically do away with life-ending injuries. This brought a level of seriousness to the procedure that I hadn’t expected, and one that is tied into a major plot line for Julie later in the book.
Most of the plot involves an airplane roadtrip across America. Julie’s home is invaded by a shadowy group with whom R is having strange kindlings of memories, forcing them to go on the run. Mixed in with the expanded world (which cities fell, which cities burned, which came up with their own rule of law), our heroes are faced with the constant question of what future they are running towards: one in which they fight or one in which they flee. I loved how these questions are never approached with an obvious answer. The characters on either side make valid arguments, and though as a reader I knew what the ultimate decision would be, I appreciated the fact that other survival techniques were not poo-pooed away.
So, I really did love much of the book. The expanded world, the added characters, R’s complicated history. However, there were a few setbacks. In the beginning especially, I felt as if the writing was a bit stilted and trying too hard as far as philosophical musings go. “Warm Bodies” hit just the right balance in this regard, and I felt like “The Burning World” suffered from the weight of expectations. Once the story really gets going, there’s enough of a structure to hang these existential musings upon, but in the beginning it just felt tedious and a bit forced.
Secondly, there was a strange “We” character that would show up between chapters. Even by the end of the book, I’m not sure what I was supposed to be getting from these chapters. And it’s not like there were only a few! There were pages of this stuff, and much of the same tedious philosophical ramblings would be crammed into this section with no character or story to really focus on. About midways through we meeting a zombie boy who becomes something of a character in these bits, but the whole thing still feels very strange and disconnected from the story. Presumably it’s building towards some sort of reveal in the final third book in this series, but in this one it felt like a distraction and an unwarranted break in the main plotline’s action.
And on that note, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. Nothing intolerable, in my opinion, but it does end in a manner that requires a follow up read to really reach any type of resolution to both the story and character arcs. But, luckily, this was a strong enough sequel that I’m all in for the next and last book!
Rating 8: A solid, surprise follow up to a story that, previously to this, I had been happy enough seeing as complete!
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