Book Review: The Pyre Starter

With the strike of a match, the flame is lit— but the flames can turn all you love into a pyre.

The Pyre Starter by Jaimie N. Schock is full of heartfelt dialogue, engaging action scenes, introspection on what family means and what lengths we’ll go to in order to protect the ones we love.

We begin with a despondent Dakota, living a jaded and meaningless life while sporadically attending classes at a university. We dive right into his lowest moment—attempting to end his own life.

A college acquaintance, Terrell, attempts to persuade him to give life another go by sharing with him a secret kept behind locked doors for thousands of years: magic is real.

A disbelieving Dakota follows Terrell on an adventure of love and misfortune that spans a cross-country road trip, monumental loss, and new beginnings. The ending will shatter your heart to pieces, then put the broken remains back together again. Not ever the same, but for all it’s mismatched and worn-down edges, still whole.

The Good:

I fully enjoyed the wild ride Schock takes us on. While predictability and tropes are an acceptable vehicle for story in genre fiction, Schock relies on none of them. As a result, I couldn’t predict the next steps of the story as it emerged, let alone the outcome, something I normally pride myself on being able to do.

It was like a puzzle with disparate pieces, until the last ten pages where it all came together in the only way it could. I can’t imagine what Schock has in store for the other six books in the series.

Though The Pyre Starter has a solid plot, the story is very much carried by the genuine and relatable characters.

Dakota sees nothing left to live for at the beginning, but through love, found family, and necessity, he transforms into a character with the fortitude and charisma to carry the series as a protagonist. I related to Dakota on a deeper level than I do most protagonists, and found many of his thoughts echoing my own. The dark places the author goes to is presented without melodrama, but with a tactical observance that allows the reader enough space not to go down that road themselves while reading.

Terrell starts as a character that exudes joy and curiosity, but his obsession with the talismans and revenge blind him to the possibilities of love and healthy companionship. All of the characters experience a transformation, but it’s up to their own personal proclivities as to whether it’s for better or worse.

Should You Read It?:

I’d like to give a forewarning to watch for the triggers if you are prone to having problems reading about certain issues.

That said, what I liked about The Pyre Starter is it’s a modern fantasy novel where diversity is a feature but not the main event. Diverse representation means along with having stories that deal heavily with those topics, we have stories where diversity exists but is not the plotline. While those stories absolutely need to be told, especially from Own Voices, there also a need for stories where diversity is normal and celebrated.

In this book, the issues of homophobia, racism, and ableism aren’t ignored, but it doesn’t become the impetus of the story. The diversity is just a backdrop to the main plot and themes. Diversity naturally exists around us if we let it, and Schock lets it. It’s refreshing.

If you are instead looking for a story where diversity becomes the crux of the conflict, this story may not be for you. There are many wonderful reads by Own Voices that do this, including The American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Dreadnought by April Daniels, and I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver.

Spark Level:

I rated The Pyre Starter, The Talisman War Book 1, as Wildfire. It’s a heavy-hitting coming of age story with a combination of action-packed scenes and heartwarming interludes that warmed my soul like a campfire.

The Trigger Warnings: Major Depression, Suicidal Ideation & Attempt, Explicit Violence, Sexual Content