A few months ago I entered a contest to win a signed copy of The Burning World by Isaac Marion. For those who don’t know, this is the sequel to the very successful novel Warm Bodies, which became a blockbuster hit that I adore. After forgetting that I even entered, I learned that I actually won the contest and just a few days ago received my copy! As I haven’t reviewed Warm Bodies yet, I figured I would do a general review of both of these novels and give them the love they deserve.
As a preface, it’s been a while since I read Warm Bodies. I first read it back in 2011 when Borders was going out of business. I stumbled upon Warm Bodies sitting alone on the shelf and thought the cover looked amazing. So I bought it and then spent 5-6 hours binge. It instantly became one of my favorite novels of all time.
That being said, I re-read back when I purchased the prequel, The New Hunger. That was a few months ago and my memory of these novels are fuzzy. However, I will do a brief review of both of these novels before diving into The Burning World, which is freshly in my brain.
Although technically the “second” book of the series, this was the first novel published and so I will start here. Overall, this novel was written beautifully despite its content. Marion does an excellent job of showing off his skill, which immediately drew me in as a reader. The first sentence of the novel smacks you across the face and makes you pay attention – it was the perfect hook. Marion’s writing is consistent and sharp, describing the gore just enough to paint an image without being grotesque. This is consistent through all of his novels.
His main character, a zombie named R, has an eloquent way of narrating his life despite being dead. While he can only say a word or two verbally, his thoughts read like music. Having the story told from his perspective, rather than that of a living human, also made for a unique twist on an over saturated genre. Not only that, but he is a sympathetic character who understands that his situation isn’t morally sound. This is what causes him to take in Julie and protect her after he and a group of zombies attack her troop and he eats her boyfriend’s brain. You can’t help but to fall in love with him.
Speaking of love, the romance between R and Julie (derived from Romeo and Juliet) isn’t forced. Instead of a love at first site (or love at first bite, haa?) we get to watch their relationship grow over the course of the story, up until the tumultuous moment where they kiss. And it is perfection. If you’ve seen the movie (which was handled brilliantly) you’ll understand what I mean when I say it was the most satisfying kiss after everything they went through.
As for the plot, it was a fresh zombie tale that didn’t feel stale or overdone. Each moment felt natural and no scene felt out of place. The tension grew naturally, and the trials and tribulations that R and Julie go through feel legitimate in the world that Marion describes.
The one moment where I had to really suspend my disbelief is actually during the kiss. I won’t spoil the magic, but this was the one point where I felt like that was a bit of a dues ex machina. This apocalyptic world is, for the most part, grounded in reality (save for the zombies.) The explanation of the cure is weak. However, even the characters in the book don’t understand the cure, so it’s easily forgivable in my eyes (haaa eyes; if you read the book you get it.)
The New Hunger
Now, The New Hunger is a very important and underrated prequel to Warm Bodies. I’ve discovered (directly from Marion’s Facebook) that many fans have skipped over this novella completely. However, it’s very important that you read it!
Unlike Warm Bodies, The New Hunger is told from the perspectives of three major characters: R, Julie, and Nora. Their stories take place many years before Warm Bodies. R has just recently died and is struggling to understand what happened to him, Julie is twelve years old and traveling with her parents trying to find refuge in Canada, and Nora is trying to protect herself and her little brother, Addis, after being abandoned by her family.
I’ve become very fond of stories that are told from multiple perspectives, and greatly appreciate authors who can both keep their writing style consistent while simultaneously conveying the plot from each unique character. Marion does a great job of helping the reader sympathize and support R, Julie, and Nora on their individual paths.
He successfully shows different sides of the characters that weren’t previously shown in Warm Bodies, and builds up their backstories to help us understand them more. He does this exceptionally well with Nora. Her history in particular was the most intriguing and exciting of them all – and I certainly felt her pain at the climax of her adventure.
I personally found Julie’s story a bit lackluster, and by that I mean that I can barely recall much of what happened in her chapters other than her father kind of being a jerk and her mother leaving them. I even found R’s to be a bit forgettable, as he was very much a spectator observing Julie and Nora when he runs into them. However, his mysterious past kept me drawn into his story and craving for more.
Overall, this novella was extremely satisfying, as it gave reason to details left out of Warm Bodies, such as how Julie arrived at the stadium, why Nora is missing a finger, and how R met his best friend, M.
The Burning World
Remember how I said that reading The New Hunger was important? That’s because The Burning World is filled with nods and important allusions to the prequel!
R sees the name “Addis” carved into the table at the bar, Nora can’t help but wonder if she had met Marcus before he was a zombie, and Julie is plagued by the thoughts of her mother. If you read the prequel, you’d know the importance to these moments.
One of the biggest things that I got excited about was the interjections of The Boy and his narrative. If you don’t read the prequel, these moments won’t seem too significant other than puzzling. But when you have a vague idea of who the boy may be, you can’t help but get jittery with excitement!
A big moment for me was specifically on page 156 when R notices the ties. I legit had to set the book down and breathe to remain calm as I realized shit just got real. And boy does it get real. R’s past unravels wildly in a wonderful patchwork of images, and you can’t help but wonder if the zombie you grew to love was ever a good person.
Overall, Marion’s writing has not simply improved, but rather flourished. He does an excellent job of weaving memories and reality together, making is just as confusing to the reader to decipher the truth as it is for R as his past starts to rear its head. As the novel continues and R remembers more about his past
Something else fascinating about this novel is that it is divided into “I” and “We.” While the “I” is R’s narration, “We” seems to be the culmination of something omniscient and omnipresent. “We” follow the characters from an objective point of view to learn more about the world that Marion has expanded rapidly. The basic ideas that structured Warm Bodies have evolved into a magnificent beast that you get sucked into.
You can’t help but flip through the page ravenously when reading these novels. The best way to describe the experience is to say its like eating fresh brains and vividly reliving the memories of every character.