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The Burning World by Isaac Marion
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The Burning World

by Isaac Marion

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(Originally reviewed at thelibraryladies.com.)

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! ( )
  thelibraryladies | Sep 15, 2017 |
R and Julie are building their life together and living outside of the walls of their sanctuary to show that the healing dead are not to be feared. They have their problems and R seems to be stuck in his healing. He remains numb and fears intimacy with Julie. While all this is going on, the Axiom, a company represented by almost identical unnerving people in suits and ties, arrives at their home and destroys it with their leader. Homeless and stranded, R, Julie, and other survivors traverse the post-apocalyptic world in search of answers.

R and Julie aren't living their happily every after after the end of Warm Bodies. R in particular seems to be stuck. While other zombies are returning to fully to humanity, R remains numb and only half living even though he was the first and the catalyst for the others. None of his memories have come back and he still can't remember his own name. He wants to blend in and simply can't because of his state. This is also the complete opposite of what triggered the change in the first book, so it's a little weird to see this fearful and worried version of R. Through the book, R follows Julie and their group, realizing that he's resisting looking at his past which has frozen his progress. It's not a pretty picture, but he must look at his past to move forward.

There are still mindless zombies in this world that are still dangerous. It's interesting how the perspective of them is different since they all could become human if they had the right interaction. Nora runs a hospital for the undead and helps them transfer over to human. She discovers the Gleam, which appears in her patients eyes once in a while and heals them little by little. This power that healed so many only heals the rot from being undead. Any injuries or wounds are still there and are often fatal, letting the person have a few moments of humanity before they die for good. While Nora works to make sure as many people as possible are saved, others want to keep zombies as mindless shamblers.

The Axiom group is one of my favorite parts of the novel. They are a company populated with interchangeable people only recognizable by the color of tie they wear. Their faces, smiles, words, and demeanor are exactly the same, an apt parody of corporate America. They come into large groups of people, kill off their leaders, and move in purporting to peddle security when they simply want control. The newly living or people transitioning in the middle of living and dead are considered variables and threats to be destroyed or commodities to be used instead of hope for a new world.

The Burning World is a solid and unexpected follow up to Warm Bodies. Some chapters were narrated by "We" and seemed a bit too out there and esoteric compared to the rest of the story. These also feature the adventures of a boy between living and dead with golden Gleaming eyes. I hope he fits into the story better in the next book because it seemed to belong to a different book entirely. The only criticism I have for the book is that, as the second installment, sets up a lot of things for the finale that won't be resolved just yet. I eagerly await the last book in this enjoyable series. ( )
  titania86 | Sep 13, 2017 |
Isaac Marion's anticipated (at least by me) sequel to Warm Bodies is out now. Finally. The Burning World chronicles the continuing adventures of our favorite zombie-turned-real boy R and the love of his new life, Julie. The characters introduced in Marion's last novel make a comeback and we watch them as they travel away from all that they know and into a world of terror, Nearly Living, and gun toting baddies in beige jackets. (I think Nearly Living would make a great band name by the way.) Marion continues to build his world and his zombie mythology. We learn that as the Dead turn into the Living (and through the phase of Nearly Living) they go through a process of remembering their prior lives. For most, this is such an overwhelming and upsetting process that they take drastic measures to make the memories stop. (You don't want to know...but you will.) R has decided that he can ignore the memories trying to resurface and focus on building his new life...but of course that's not a real possibility. Their adventure/escape across the landscape of America is fraught with peril, new traveling companions, and R's increasing sense of unease as he remembers his "first life". If you're looking for a closing chapter to this series then you're going to end up disappointed. If anything, The Burning World raises more questions than it ultimately answers. It's very much a 'setup' kind of novel wherein it seems like a lot happens but actually nothing in point of fact does happen. Marion is clearly using this as a bridge to set up his conclusion (titled Living if you're curious). For someone who has been waiting for this novel for years this book was a bit of a letdown. I wanted the questions raised from the first novel (and the prequel) answered in this book. Also, there's a weird second "voice" in this book that appears to be the earth (?) and I'm not really a big fan of the way that took away from the flow of the book. It was more of a distraction than an addition to the storyline in my opinion and I have a sinking feeling it's going to play a role in Living as well. However, if you want to continue following R and his comrades you need to read The Burning World because without it you're liable to wind up very confused. Skipping to the last book which will probably be out in the next decade (I hope I'm being facetious here) would not be advisable. This is a 7/10 for me which is the lowest score I've given Marion thus far. I had much higher hopes for this book especially after the long wait. :-/

You can read my review of Warm Bodies which was originally posted back in April 2013. There's also my review of The New Hunger which was the prequel novella...and which I reviewed 4 days after I read Warm Bodies. Guess you could say I was a fan of the series. lol What's especially funny is that in the review of The New Hunger I mentioned how excited I was for the sequel and that it was due out in in 2014...and it's just come out this month. Go figure, eh? ( )
  AliceaP | Feb 24, 2017 |
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"The New York Times bestseller Warm Bodies captured hearts worldwide in twenty-five languages, inspiring a major film and a cult fandom. Now R the reluctant zombie continues his journey in this much-anticipated sequel. Being alive is hard. Being human is harder. But since his recent recovery from death, R is making progress. He's learning how to read, how to speak, maybe even how to love, and the city's undead population is showing signs of life. R can almost imagine a future with Julie, this girl who restarted his heart--building a new world from the ashes of the old one. And then helicopters appear on the horizon. Someone is coming to restore order. To silence all this noise. To return things to the way they were, the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak. The plague is ancient and ambitious, and the Dead were never its only weapon. How do you fight an enemy that's in everyone? Can the world ever really change? With their home overrun by madmen, R, Julie, and their ragged group of refugees plunge into the otherworldly wastelands of America in search of answers. But there are some answers R doesn't want to find. A past life, an old shadow, crawling up from the basement"--… (more)

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