book reviews by Althea

The Burning Isle – Will Panzo ***

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The Burning Isle
The Burning Isle by Will Panzo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Newly arrived in the cesspit of a city known as Scipio, the young man Cassius presents himself as a gladiator, ready to fight for pay.

Scipio is a city of the edge of a savage jungle on the very outskirts of an Empire reminiscent of that of ancient Rome. But in this Empire, gladiatorial fights are traditionally fought with magic, powered by spells woven into jewels set in traditional gauntlets worn by the fighters. Although physically unimpressive, Cassius has these gauntlets – and he loses no time proving that his magical ability is nothing less than viciously strong. As a matter of fact, the reader is given to know, he’s actually a student from one of the most notorious schools that trains mages, and his path has not taken him to Scipio just to earn a coin.

However, although we know this immediately, the author is then unnecessarily coy about what Cassius’ agenda actually IS, for the rest of the book. I felt like this coyness was supposed to generate narrative tension – but it didn’t. It just felt peculiar, because Cassius is the POV character, but he just kind of refuses to talk or think about why he’s doing what he’s doing. At the same time, there aren’t any shocking revelations – all of the reasons that are eventually revealed are kind of obvious and can easily be guessed before they’re explicitly stated.

Cassius is a patient man. Clearly, he’s waited years for his plans to begin to fruit, and he is willing to bide his time before he can take each planned step toward his goal. As a reader, I didn’t feel quite as patient as Cassius. At quite a few points in the story, I felt that it could’ve been quicker moving, and that it might’ve been better as a shorter, tighter book.

However, I did like the setting, the characters, and the growing conflict between Cassius’ passionate conviction regarding his goals and his guilt regarding the mounting collateral damage that his carefully-sown chaos is wreaking.

Many thanks to Ace and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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