Revenge stories are tricky. They are inherently sad and depressing stories that require a keen eye for detail, and a lot of planning to execute correctly. Nothing good happens when you set out for revenge. Even the most cynical readers can agree that while vengeance might feel good in the moment, it leaves a person empty with nothing to live for once completed. This can make it hard to write a story that feels immersive, as protagonists are often in a terrible mental place that can be hard to relate to or get behind. However, when done right revenge stories can be captivating, exciting, and mind blowing with their excellent twists and their delicious comeuppance. The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo, makes the cut and is one of the better vengeance stories I have read in years.
The Burning Isle is the story of a mage named Cassius with a mysterious past travelling to a ghetto port town for unknown reasons (its revenge). We follow him around the city as he slinks, schemes, and puts things in motion to pull apart his enemies piece by piece – slowly finding out why he is doing it. The place where this book shines like a jewel is the worldbuilding. The Island of Scipio is a rough ghetto with a lot of flavor and a fascinating back story that kept me wanting to know more and hanging on every juicy detail. Panzo does an incredible job making Scipio feel like a real place with a complex history that has giving birth to numerous conflicts and the character dynamics and the power struggles in the town only deepen that flavor. In addition, the magic in the story is quite enjoyable. Cassius is a rune caster, which is essentially a group of magic users who rape and pillage the magical identities of several other kinds of magic. By taking the spells of other groups and imprinting them on gems, they make magic quick, easy, and collectable – ensuring the dominance of rune mages without having to invent new magic themselves. Panzo does a great job introducing the magic concepts, but I would have loved to learn more about the magical school that Cassius goes to in his backstory.
Speaking of our protagonist, I had a love/hate relationship with Cassius. Personality wise, Cassius was an interesting and likable protagonist that I could very much get behind – but he is sold as a Gary Sue in the book and does not fully hold up. A top graduate from the best magic school in the world, I expected Cassius to wipe the floor with his foes in a bunch of instances that he barely claws his way through. A little too much of Cassius’s success in the novel felt due to luck as opposed to methodical, brilliant planning. In addition, some of the twists were telegraphed way too early in the book to have deep emotional impact. I was able to guess Cassius’s backstory correctly by about 40% of the way into the book, and the reveal comes in the last few pages. However, these were not large issues and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book very much.
The Burning Isle also wins big points with me because it is both the first book in a series, but also completely stand alone. The book speaks of Scipio essentially being a test run for Cassius for greater things to come and it manages to both build out Cassius’s character, lay the groundwork for future books, and have its own great plot. I will definitely be continuing with this series, but I hope Panzo can iron out a few of the small details I mentioned before to make these books shine like a rune gem. The Quill to Live recommends The Burning Isle by Will Panzo.
Rating: The Burning Isle – 8.0/10