The Burning World by Isaac Marion
“The Burning World,” the third installment of the Warm Bodies zombie series, delivers a spate of sharp critiques from the future that are likely to induce pangs of apprehension in the present.
As Seattle-based author Isaac Marion writes in this novel, “The apocalypse didn’t happen overnight. ... It was one little thing at a time. One moral compromise, one abandoned ideal, one more justified injustice. No dramatic wave of destruction sweeping across the world, just scattered spots of rot forming throughout the decades, seemingly isolated incidents until the moment they all merged.”
In “The Burning World,” protagonist R is a recovering zombie, coming back from the Dead with the help of his girlfriend Julie, a living human. They’ve set up a household just outside of a heavily fortified stadium that is apparently one of the last remaining enclaves of humanity in a world overrun by zombies and uncertainty.
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R’s ability to regain his humanity – albeit slowly – suggests a healing procedure that can be replicated – and the enlightened leadership within the stadium has approved an effort to extend this cure to other zombies.
Implementation requires patience, tolerance, education and courage – the patients, after all, do have an appetite for their human caregivers. But the cure is beginning to show promising results, and now newly classified “Nearly Living” individuals are allowed to shamble freely inside the stadium walls once they have completed a rigorous probationary period.
But then the stadium settlement is visited by a delegation of representatives from the Axiom Group, who come warning of dangerous times: “The world is full of rapists, serial killers, pedophiles, terrorists, and inhuman monsters who want to eat your family.”
These clean-cut reps promise that alliance with the Axiom Group will offer “safety from everything” – just before they attack and overrun the stadium.
That’s the set-up. The bulk of this tale follows the odyssey of a small, contentious band of humans, Nearlies, and zombies, who have to figure out a way to work together as they search for a place somewhere on Earth – is it Montana? Pittsburgh? Iceland? – where they can rebuild their lives. But – as the title suggests – much of what they find lies in ruin.
If I were to find complaint with this installment, it would be that the author allows conveniently coincidental meet-ups perhaps too often.
Nonetheless, “The Burning World” is both a tale of action and harrowing adventure, and a richly imagined philosophical exploration. Who are our mentors? How do they shape us? How do we develop identities of our own? How do we form alliances? What does security really look like? How do we wish to define humanity?
To stoke your nightmares, read this before bedtime. To fuel your dreams, read this by day.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.