The sequel to “Warm Bodies” follows R, our recovering zombie hero, on a thrilling coast-to-coast journey.

Share story

“The Burning World”

by Isaac Marion

Atria Books, $27, 512 pp.

Middle children are notoriously confused about their place in the world. Middle books of trilogies are usually just as awkward as their human counterparts when compared to their series’ other volumes. But “The Burning World,” Seattle author Isaac Marion’s sequel to his sweetly geeky zombie romance “Warm Bodies,” is as smooth and self-assured as its older sibling.

In this second book, the first’s fairy-tale ending — true love overcoming Undeath — is withering in the global plague’s implacable grip. Despair and relapses combine with an influx of spookily nameless corporate salespeople mouthing sinister platitudes about forced mergers while slicing off a reluctant interviewee’s fingers. As his temporary haven in a Northwest enclave of living humans comes apart, R, our recovering zombie hero, ditches it in the company of a medic, another post-Undead man, and his darling Julie. Chapters recounting their thrilling coast-to-coast journey in a jury-rigged jet are interspersed with dispatches from an enigmatic group voice introduced in “The New Hunger,” the novelette prequel to “Warm Bodies”: the voice of a self-aware library with shelves extending up to the stratosphere and down to the earth’s core.

Zombies are frightening. Those who prey upon them are even more so. The financial exploitation of the Undead by the Axiom corporation, source of the aforementioned finger slicers, persists beyond the book’s end. There’s irony in the way a horror trope that began its genre life as a metaphor for chattel slavery gets literalized back into it, and a Make America Great Again whiff to Axiom’s attempted monetization of the zombie masses. Major characters prove to be involved in the corporation. Major chunks of their pasts mesh with the novel’s present, a near and drear future filled with torched cities, diminishing stores of medical supplies and canned goods, and rising sea-levels threatening New York, North America’s last bastion of non-zombieness. Where, of course, R and his cohort wind up in a quest to save the burned and burning world.

Author appearance

Isaac Marion

The author of “The Burning World” will read at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Queen Anne Book Company.

Usually a trilogy’s second book does two things: follows up on loose threads left dangling at the end of the first book, and sets the finale of the third in motion while avoiding resolution. But the trailing ends of “Warm Bodies” wove themselves into an edgeless ever-after which while not unequivocally happy felt right: a resting place. Rather than knitting loose threads together, the beginning of “The Burning World” picks them apart.

“The Living,” the Warm Bodies trilogy’s conclusion, is already complete; it was finished at the same time as the current volume. According to the author’s website he originally believed he’d written a single 900-page book, but then discovered a natural pause in that rather long story and cut it into halves. This may be why “The Burning World” reads less awkwardly than other mid-series novels: it isn’t one. Not exactly. It’s the first part of a two-part sequel.

So “The Burning World’s” characters’ motivations are as explicable as the anatomical drawings Marion chose to adorn some chapter heads, their internal monologues are as clear and concise as the architectural cross-sections embellishing others, and their deeds and triumphs and failures as curious and thought-provoking as the remainder of the book’s decorations. And on the whole, as a whole, they do their job: they make the reader want to keep going and find out more.