Today I am interviewing Will Panzo, debut author of the new grimdark, fantasy novel, The Burning Isle.
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DJ: Hey Will! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Will Panzo: Thanks for having me! I’m a physician assistant by trade, working in a busy emergency room, but writing is my passion. The Burning Isle is my debut novel. I live in New York City with my fiancé.
DJ: What is The Burning Isle about?
Will: I describe it as a dark and violent revenge tale, set in a fantasy ancient Rome with lots of intrigue and lots of magic.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Burning Isle?
Will: The story is, on one level, about a mysterious stranger who arrives in a lawless island run by two gangs, and his attempts to play both sides against each other. In this way, the story has obvious ties to Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Dashiel Hammet’s Red Harvest. On another level, the story is a dark revenge story with a central mystery that acts as the primary driver of the action. I love revenge stories but my favorite is probably The Count of Monte Cristo.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Will: Cassius is a young spellcaster, very naïve and very powerful. Obsessed with myths and legends, he fancies himself a kind of white knight figure who comes to this lawless town, Scipio, to right a great injustice. Although he strives to live by a strict moral code, he’s soon confronted by a harsh world that tests his resolve. Death and violence seems to be the only means to effect change. It’s tough work and it weighs on Cassius heavily. I think it’s the dissonance between these two aspects of Cassius, the hero he wants to be and the hardened killer he has to become to do his work, that is most compelling.
DJ: What is the world of The Burning Isle like?
Will: As I mentioned, the story is set in a Republic reminiscent of ancient Rome. Scipio, the island where most of the action takes place, is a city without laws. It exists on the fringes of the Republic and serves as a haven for people who can’t live elsewhere, such as exiles and criminals. It also serves as the base of operations for a host of illegal activity.
DJ: The Burning Isle is being described as “Grimdark.” Personally, I am a fan of grimdark – but to be honest, I cannot give a solid definition as to what “girmdark” is, and nor does anyone out there seem to be able to. It seems to vary form person to person.
So, what is it about The Burning Isle, that makes it “grimdark?”
Will: I agree with you that grimdark seems to have a nebulous definition. When I was coming up, the terms Sword and Sorcery or Low Fantasy served a similar purpose. These were stories with morally questionable characters, many of whom didn’t want to save a kingdom or vanquish an ancient evil, but were instead adventuring for more selfish reasons. Protagonists who existed on the fringes of society and who mostly fought for money or to settle scores or because their lives were in danger.
DJ: There is also magic too, I believe? Tell me about that, as well!
Will: In the world of The Burning Isle, there are ancient magic traditions that have existed for centuries. These are typically the exclusive domain of reclusive ascetics who guard their secrets jealously. Magic, for most of history, is something that has been known to a select few and then only after a lifetime of dedication and study. It’s very powerful and rarely used.
Recently though, a new form of magic was discovered. Rune magic is a language of arcane symbols, a kind of secret language, that has unlocked the power of magic. When these runes are inscribed onto jewels and then handled by certain gifted people, they reproduce spells and sorceries that were previously only available to the magical elite. What runes lack in power they make up for with ease of use and wide availability. Now magic belongs to the masses. People who previously would never have access to arcane forces, such as women, children and slaves, now wield great power. As you can imagine, it’s caused quite an upheaval for society.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Burning Isle?
Will: Just spending time in this world. It’s a dangerous place, full of dark secrets and magic. I wouldn’t want to live there. But it was great to visit.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Will: There’s a mystery at the center of the story that drives Cassius. I think it’s one of the most powerful aspects of the story. Astute readers may feel as though they’ve figured it out early on, but there are twists and turns throughout the story. I hope it’s a rewarding payoff.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing The Burning Isle? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it?
Will: I don’t really have a message. But the theme I was trying to explore was the dangerous nature of heroic ideals. The idea that we can set a path for ourselves that we think is righteous and noble. But while walking that path we may do things we’ll regret forever, things that may change us, and not for the better.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Burning Isle that you can share with us?
Will: Sure, he’s a short passage that I think sets the tone of the story well:
They were hard men. Old beyond their years and worn, some with ruined limbs, mangled arms or stumps for legs. They might have been laborer’s injuries, suffered in a quarry pit or timber yard. But Cassius knew at a glance that none of them had worked an honest day. The other wounds told that story. The missing eyes and missing fingers, the shorn ears, the brands on their faces and foreheads that read the same judgments in a dozen languages: cutpurse, horse thief, rapist, murderer.
DJ: Now that The Burning Isle is released, what is next for you?
Will: I’m working on another novel set in the same world and with some recurring characters. I hope to have it finished soon.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Burning Isle that we haven’t talked about yet?
Will: I think we covered a lot! If you’re a fan of dark stories with morally conflicted characters, who likes intrigue and magic, The Burning Isle might just be for you.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Will: Really appreciate you talking with me!
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*** The Burning Isle is published by Ace and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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A powerful and gripping debut grimdark fantasy novel, set in a world of criminals, pirates, assassins, and magic…
“A man has only three reasons for being anywhere: to right a wrong, to earn a coin, or because he is lost.”
Cassius is not lost…
The mage Cassius has just arrived on the island of Scipio. Five miles of slum on the edge of fifty miles of jungle, Scipio is a lawless haven for criminals, pirates, and exiles. The city is split in two, each half ruled by a corrupt feudal lord. Both of them answer to a mysterious general who lives deep in the jungle with his army, but they still constantly battle for power. If a man knows how to turn their discord to his advantage, he might also turn a profit…
But trained on the Isle of Twelve, Cassius is no ordinary spellcaster, and his goal is not simply money. This is a treacherous island where the native gods are restless and anything can happen…
After working in publishing and as an editor for Marvel Comics, Will Panzofound his true calling as a physician assistant for an emergency department. The Burning Isle is his first novel. He lives and works in New York City.