Let me start by saying the first book in Isaac Marion’s zombie series, Warm Bodies, was a pleasant surprise I picked up several years ago after seeing the movie. I’d expected, much like the movie, a fun twist on Romeo & Juliet. Warm Bodies is that, but I was impressed by how much deeper the book goes, and the commentary it made on what it means to be human vs. a monster. I wasn’t sure what to expect with its sequel, The Burning World.
The Burning World picks up several weeks after the conclusion of Warm Bodies. Julie and the “nearly living” R are trying to start a life for themselves, spreading hope of the “cure” to the “mostly dead” zombies in the area, or at least encouraging them to try to claw their way back to humanity, inch by inch. It’s slow progress, as most zombie movement is, and you can tell right away that R and Julie’s optimism has been tempered. But when a new presence descends on the stadium with sinister smiles and promises of a new order that may not include the “nearly living” and “mostly dead” like R, he and Julie end up on the run, along with a few friends.
While I appreciated the expansion on the ending of Warm Bodies, because it makes more sense that the transition to a post-cure world wouldn’t come easy or solve everything at once, this was a different direction than the first book. Warm Bodies, while commenting on the human experience, was fairly narrow in scope, keeping the story on a personal level between R and Julie. Their story felt like it could have belonged to anyone in their world, it just happened to happen to them. I felt like we lost some of that in The Burning World, with Marion expanding not just the world and mythology, but the scale of the story, as R’s memories reveal that he wasn’t just anyone in the pre-apocalypse, and his and Julie’s journey becomes a fight against a shady corporation possibly bent on world domination.
This turn of the story is interesting though, and I think I would be a little more excited about it if the book hadn’t been so long. I can’t say that nothing happens in this book, because there actually is a lot, but there’s also a lot of questioning and introspection in between events that makes the book feel slower than it is. This worked for Warm Bodies because it was a shorter story and because it was about R, but The Burning World isn’t just R’s story anymore. There were also some filler chapters from the perspective of an unnamed “We,” which may have provided some information we wouldn’t have gotten from R’s perspective, but I think the book would have been fine without it. Maybe the third book will flesh out exactly who “We” is supposed to be and why they’re important, but at this point, it feels more like a poetic indulgence to me that zaps even more urgency from the story.
I’m not in a big hurry now to read the third book, The Living. I’m still curious as to where R and Julie’s story ends up, but there just wasn’t enough urgency in The Burning World to make me have to find out. Maybe I’ll get to it eventually, but there are other things I’d rather read first. Warm Bodies stands on it’s own, and I’d definitely recommend reading it, but taking on the full series feels like it’s for someone who wants a slower, more philosophical reading experience. All in all, I’m giving The Burning World 3 stars out of 5.