The Burning World. Book Review

The Burning World by Isaac Marion
Vintage, p/b,  512pp, £7.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

I’m still not sure whether to call this a good book or an average book. The first quarter was dull, the next half was interesting, the last quarter was a thrill a minute. In some ways it was frustrating, in others, compelling. A month after finishing it, I can’t decide if it’s a keeper or a ditcher.

Maybe that’s a good thing. All art is subjective and genre fiction tends to be more divisive of opinions than other forms, so my lack of opinion could be seen as a good thing for a book as it may mean it will appeal to a broader cross-section of people.

The books picks up from previous books in the series, but is one you can read as a standalone and not be confused. The lead characters are fleshed out well and the situation they find themselves in is thoroughly explained. And that’s my first problem with this book: too much background, not enough action. We even have the story of one young recovering zombie (yes, there is such a thing) whose sole purpose is to meet two others who are the adopted sons of an adult ex-zombie.

Maybe all this book needed was a better editor, as it is a good story with an interesting tweak to the zombie genre.

What’s it about? The zombie apocalypse. It came, it saw, it conquered. Then some zombies got better and, providing they weren’t too full of holes or wounds, got better and became human again.

If you think that sounds absurd, take a step back and think how absurd the idea of becoming a zombie sounds. Also, if zombieism is caused by a disease, as is case in this book, recovery becomes more normal.

What Marion also proposes in this series is that the zombies somehow manage to retain some memories of the people they’ve eaten.

The main character is R. He can’t remember his name, but has flashbacks to when he was human, memories that lead to a troubling, and excellent, conclusion at the end of the book. He does, however, remember eating people to death and living in an aircraft at the airport. That aircraft is intimately linked with his flashbacks.

Into this mix comes Goldman, a group who are trying to make the best of it and are looking to take over all human enclaves. These people are truly scary. Not because of violence, torture, or any other nastiness, but the sheer pig headedness of their bureaucracy and what they are willing to use to get their way. Smiles, warm handshakes and the kind of management speak that leaves people cold, turned into a fascist dream of utopia. Not quite death by management, but control by manipulation, each of their number in white shirts and coloured ties, each unable to say or do anything except be managers, experts in managementese. They have no soul, no humour, just deadlines and goals allied to a lack of sympathy for anyone who doesn’t share their ideals.

Once the story gets going (about page 100), it gets its teeth into you in the nicest way possible. I found myself not wanting to put it down. Before this point, I found it hard to pick up. Had I not been reviewing it I would have dropped it by about page 50 (10% of its length, the minimum time I give a book to hook me). Had I done so, I still don’t feel I would have missed much.

For people who like zombie and/or apocalypse stories, this would be worth reading. For the rest of us, maybe not so much.