Literary Inspiration: The Burning World

The Burning World Collage

Last we checked in on my reading challenge efforts, I was whiffing a friend’s 2017 creation with just 10 piddly books.  I mean, I’m not sure I’d call The Stand “piddly,” but I did attempt to pass off a 35-page ice cream cookbook as a novel from which I learned something, so six of one, half a dozen of the other!  So when that same friend, working in partnership with a third blogging buddy, created a new reading challenge for 2018, I thought it prudent to try, try again.  Second verse, same as the first and all that literary jazz.  Or second verse, hopefully with more effort…than the first, and all that literary jazz (slightly less catchy saying, that!)

Last time I got quite hung up on completing each of the challenge prompts in the order in which they were listed.  This time I just jumped into the deep end with whatever theme spoke to me first, which turned out to be number 26, “A book title that sounds like the cool name for a band.”  And for this theme, I chose Isaac Marion’s The Burning World, the third novel set in the Warm Bodies zombie universe.

The Burning World Book 2.jpg

Some of you may remember that I read The New Hunger, a prequel to Warm Bodies, in satisfaction of one of the prompts last year.  The Burning World, a direct sequel to Warm Bodies that picks up two months after the events of that novel, acts as a bridge between the original story and its prequel.  It’s a fantastic framing device, particularly in light of the fact that if you’ve read the prequel, which introduces the main characters into each others’ orbits years before they ever meet face to face, you know things in this book that the characters do not.  Watching the puzzle pieces of their deeply interconnected lives (and afterlives) click into place is half the joy of reading The Burning World.

And it’s just as well there is that joy to be had from this novel, because holy smokes, absent it, there is very little light or levity to The Burning World.  If you’ve read Warm Bodies, you might remember its tone was one of a weary kind of optimism.  It ended on an up note, if not necessarily a “And they all lived happily ever after” note.  But The Burning World opens on a beleaguered community crumbling under the weight of trying to “fix” the zombie apocalypse, and it only gets much, much, much worse from there.  Part heavy political commentary (zombies were just the final outrageous straw that broke the world’s back, after years of war, environmental destruction and political abuses), part road trip journey and part bald warning, The Burning World mostly jettisons the softer aspects of Warm Bodies – gone are R’s “boy zombie-meets-girl” internal monologues, replaced now with meditations on whether love is even something worth pursuing in a world where survival is paramount.  So, too, is any sense of peace or rest or stability for our little band of wandering revolutionaries, who are left, at the end of 500-some pages, exactly where they started – on the run.  And with one final book coming in 2018 to wrap up the story, it left The Burning World in an oddly truncated and abrupt place – I literally flipped the page and thought, “Oh, okay, so that really was it.”

The Burning World Nails 1

Having said all that, this was a great novel – Isaac Marion is such an evocative writer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his works set in the Warm Bodies universe.  Enough that I’ve managed to pull some decent nail art inspiration from even the bleakest of dystopian tales, this burning manicure being no exception.  As for the tie?  Well, that’s a bit of a spoiler, and on that intriguing subject, I shall say no more. 😉

Literary Inspiration: The New Hunger

Warm Bodies Collage

First off, reading challenge assessment time.  Grade received: Total crap!  Because I’ve read just 10 books out of a possible 24.  And I can only lay so much blame at the feet of Stephen King, whose gigantic tomes I’ve already read in service of two of the challenge themes.  Reading for pleasure (instead of panic, ie. whatever horrifying news is coming out of American politics this hour) is just not an activity I gravitate towards any more.  I wish I knew why that need to read has departed – I was a voracious reader when I was a kid – but hopefully it will return.

Until then, there are infinitely worse ways to pass the hours than in the broken but healing, dying but not yet dead world of Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies.  And so for the ninth challenge prompt – a story that takes you to another place and time, real or imagined – I chose The New Hunger, a prequel novella from Marion set in the Warm Bodies universe.

If you’ve only seen the 2013 Warm Bodies movie, you can be forgiven for assuming that The New Hunger is a trifle of a book.  I liked the film – correction: I like Nicholas Hoult, will watch him in virtually anything, although I recommend the sexy-as-hell Equals – but there really wasn’t very much there.  It was an enjoyable watch, but a tepid shadow of 2010’s fiery novel (which I see that Wikipedia has sorted into both the post-apocalyptic and gothic fiction tags, neat.)  But the movie – quite apart from some major changes to the story – failed to capture the beleaguered optimism of the novel, distilling R and Julie’s passionate, revolutionary call-to-arms down to a simple Romeo and Juliet story, with zombies.  I adored the book; it’s one of the best things I’ve read in decades, but the film adaptation did it, and the deeply layered Warm Bodies universe, no terrific favours.  Isaac Marion is a fantastic writer – his prose is tidy and to-the-point, peppered with heartbreakingly poignant observations about war, politics, geo-political turmoil, man’s inhumanity to man, life, death and all those other terrifically lightweight subjects.  Warm Bodies, the novel, deserved more.

So a trifle it is not, and neither is The New Hunger, a 2013 prequel novella set in the four or five years before R, Julie, Nora and M make their last stand in Stadium City.  I actually read this book when it was first released via e-reader in 2013.  Scared the crap out of me; the last 10 or so pages left me breathless, wide-eyed, shocked.  As always, I can’t say more than that without spoiling this excellent, taut little examination of the downfall (and subsequent resurrection) of man, but the book links our four main characters years before they ever meet face to face – R, newly awoken as a reluctant zombie desperately clinging to the last vestiges of rational thought; Julie, 12-years-old, living out of her parents’ armored truck and dreaming of the kind of stable childhood she was never allowed to enjoy; M dying alone in the bathroom of the Space Needle; and finally Nora, 16-years-old, on a trek across the flooded port of Seattle in search of food, shelter and safety.

The New Hunger Cover

The bulk of The New Hunger concerns itself with Nora’s story, which ends in a place no less bleak than its beginning.  After years of global crises, nuclear war, destructive political posturing and rising sea levels (sound frighteningly familiar?) humanity has reached its breaking point.  Then, as the final flaming cherry on the end-of-times sundae, the dead rise up to drag the few remaining down.  In the midst of all this – abandoned cities, deserted safe zones, looters and cultists and much, much worse – Nora and her little brother, Addison, have been dumped in a Seattle suburb by their junkie parents.  Nora wakes one morning to find that they’ve simply left, taking all the food and weapons with them.  Nora tries to tell herself that they probably committed that final atrocious act out of some concern that two kids left alone with a gun are bound to hurt or kill themselves with that gun, but she knows better – her parents didn’t give a shit, cared more about their final score than they ever did about their own children.  It’s heartbreaking.

And real.  Maybe a bit too real given some of the realities of today.  I said before that this book genuinely scared the crap out of me.  It did back in 2013, and it continues to frighten me today, albeit for different reasons beyond “ooh, zombies, scary.”  It’s all hitting just a little bit too close to home.  Truly, absent the living dead, Marion’s template of the downfall of humanity seems to be one we’re following note for note these days.  Takes a bit of joy out of post-apocalyptic literature, that.

But you get your kicks where you can, and for me, that always means accompanying nail art, here my approximation of the flooded, fog-shrouded Seattle skyline Nora and Addison cross on their path to what just has to be something better.  Something I think we could all work towards – something better.

Seattle Silhouette