Guest Blog: The Hero’s Journey by Will Panzo author of The Burning Isle

As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Will Panzo the author of The Burning Isle has been kind enough to write a guest blog post for MightyThorJRS today. I am very excited and I would like to thank Will for the opportunity to host this Guest Blog. 

The Burning Isle

by Will Panzo

is Out NOW!

So go get your copy!








The Hero’s Journey

by Will Panzo

The Hero’s Journey is a familiar concept to many readers of fantasy fiction, one in which we see a hero transformed from the mundane to the otherworldly during the course of a mystic quest. Viewed from another perspective though, the Hero’s Journey can be read less like a grand adventure and more like a haunted path, one traveled by only the most obsessive, and which ends in madness.

First articulated by the scholar Joseph Campbell in his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Hero’s Journey is a template for heroic tales. Typically a hero leaves home, adventures through a supernatural world, often with the aide of a mentor. He then faces life threatening trials, overcomes these trials and receives a reward (usually the granting of powers or a magical item). The hero then returns home a changed man, knowledgeable of both the mundane world in which he started, and the supernatural world in which he adventured, and made more powerful by his transformation.

Although Campbell was the first to codify these story elements, it was George Lucas’ Star Wars that popularized the Hero’s Journey. Even a cursory understanding of Star Wars lore is enough to identify the elements of the Hero’s Journey present in the story. Luke Skywalker lives a mundane life until one day he is thrust into a supernatural world, one in which good and evil are battling for dominance of The Force. Aided by his enigmatic mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Skywalker faces many harsh trials, the hardest being a confrontation with his own father, who has fallen to the dark side. In the end, he masters his powers and uses them to defeat evil, restore order to the galaxy and redeem his father.

You can fill the same story beats with Odysseus from the Odyssey, Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Neo from The Matrix movies or any number of other heroes. But what if we consider a different sort of journey, one in which our hero fails to make it through the predetermined steps as planned? What if our hero strays from the path he’s meant to walk, or stranger still, walks the path faithfully and receives his transformation, but is horrified by the outcome?

We don’t see this kind of story explored often in traditional fantasy. But grimdark fantasy has never been traditional. A strain of fantasy with roots stretching back to the pulp era, grimdark has seen a recent surge in popularity thanks to the huge success of Game of Thrones. One of grimdark’s most refreshing aspects is its rejection of traditional fantasy motifs in favor of themes and subjects that subvert convention at every turn. Because of this, grimdark is the perfect genre for the deconstruction of the Hero’s Journey.

My debut novel, The Burning Isle, is unabashedly grimdark, and wears its allegiance on its sleeve. Literally. It says so right on the book jacket.

Set in a fantasy version of ancient Rome, it concerns a spellcaster named Cassius who arrives on a lawless island hidden away on the fringes of the Republic. Cassius claims to have come seeking work as a mercenary, and Scipio is an ideal place for that line of work. Two rivalcrime lords run the island and both are eager to gain an edge in their perpetual turf war. Cassius advertises himself as that very edge, a man who might tip the tide of war in favor of one side or the other. It seems a great ploy to earn some dishonest coin, but it soon becomes clear that Cassius has another agenda, one he guards closely for fear it will cost him his life.

A naïve boy, obsessed with myths and legends, Cassius secretly sees himself as a hero come to clean up a corrupt town. Well-read on the subject of heroes, Cassius envisions himself a man destined for greatness, walking the righteous path of his own version of the Hero’s Journey. But he soon finds the world in which he lives is not as simple as those in his favorite stories.

Violence and destruction follow Cassius wherever he goes, forcing him to confront the idea that while the path of a hero inevitably leads to transformation, in the end, he might not be prepared for what he’s become. Can Cassius survive long enough to write the ending to his own story? And if he does, will he find that he’s become the hero he always wanted to be, or a villain more fearsome than those he faced?







After working in publishing and as an editor for Marvel Comics, Will Panzo found 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.




  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (November 1, 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 110198810X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1101988107


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…


“An engaging, fast-paced and sharply plotted novel. I loved seeing Cassius develop throughout the book and I can’t what to see what happens to him next. A great debut.”—James Islington, author of The Shadow of What Was Lost






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