The Pyre Starter is a book I picked up and put down many times over the course of the month I started it, and I struggled to understand why. It was this journey I wanted to see the end of, but every time I picked it up I found myself reading a chapter or two and then… putting it down. It wasn’t until I got about halfway through the book that I started picking up steam. As I finished it, I understood why.
The Pyre Starter is an excellent book. But while what drew me to it was the adventure and mystery of the magical talismans that served to propel the story, the book’s real focus was on the budding and turbulent romance between the main character and his boyfriend. I went into this book believing it had a gay romance subplot, but in fact the opposite was true – this is a gay romance novel with an adventure subplot; two young men against the world with only some talismans they didn’t quite understand to protect them.
This is an issue in only one way – it changes the pacing. Know that, and you’ll be on your way to experiencing a solid tale.
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Dakota is a college student at the end of his rope, drunk off of alcohol he can’t stand the taste of and looking to end his life. Terrell is a slightly older man who decides to intervene and rescue him. He asks, what if there’s something worth living for, would you be interested in seeing it? Dakota goes out on a limb, and the seeds for a slow burning romance is formed.
Dakota meets Terrell’s extended family and oh-ho-ho don’t get attached to any of them. He learns that his family have about a dozen talismans that they’ve been research, and are aware of countless more. Activate the talismans by saying their name, and an effect of some sort happens. One protects the user from magic. The other calls animals to the location, where they become irritated and attack anyone who doesn’t hold the talisman. A third turns stone into ground. A fourth creates fire. You get the idea.
Dakota falls in and decides he’s going to research these talismans too, but this is less because of the talismans and more because he’s super in love with Terrell, and these talismans involve Terrell so here he is.
They spend time at the ranch, and at a town nearby on a date and getting checked for STDs – as you do – when an antagonist shows up and oh-ho-ho I hope you weren’t attached to all the family back at the ranch.
The story allows for the two lovers to recover from their losses and grow closer together, before they buy an RV and decide to travel across the country in search of and acquisition of other talismans, and later in the book to come to terms with Terrell’s past. Along the way, the two will grow closer… but also farther apart. This is the first of seven books after all, and the early romance despite moving slow across the page is written as being something of a whirlwind.
Both men are broken in this relationship, but for different reasons. Dakota has some huge self-esteem and attachment issues. Terrell is elusive and careful not to share too much, and is also disabled from a car wreck and unable to walk readily without a cane and some patience. Their relationship is solid, realistic, and just works. Later in the book, Dakota does something that hurts Terrell on a real deep level, and it’s the solvent that causes them to break apart. It’s a believable action, but it’s also a risky move given the romance genre. I’m assuming (or at least hopeful) they pull back together again in a future book. I did find it interesting that Dakota really grows as a person and, frankly, as a protagonist, while it seems Terrell in some ways regresses into his usual character traits. I might go so far as to say that as the books evolves, I went from being annoyed by Dakota to genuinely liking him, whereas I went from pitying Terrell to downright hating the person that grief and bitterness had turned him into.
When I first started this book, I thought I’d make a quip about how it might be suitable for those looking for more LGBTQ+ representation in their magic stories – sorry Potter – but this book has a lot more in common with novels like The Magicians, right down to some of the darkness and death that lurks around every couple of pages. It does a great job of intermingling moments of happiness and togetherness with moments of shade and darkness. The cast is definitely smaller, with the couple later picking up Terrell’s kid sister Kenna but the story generally just focusing on the two, but that works within the confines of a romance.
So why must the story end with the two parting ways? It is a bold move. I hope in the future novels it pays off.
The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger so much as a solid end to what is clearly a first act, which personally I liked and found refreshing. Overall, it’s a great book with some real solid writing. Just know what you’re getting into – the book really puts most of the focus on Dakota and Terrell, with the world around them playing second fiddle, which means if you’re in it for the urban fantasy angle you’re going to feel like the first half of the book really drags its feet.
The Pyre Starter is written by Jaimie N. Schock, and is the first of The Talisman War books, of which there are 7. It is 386 pages, and can be purchased for Kindle at $5.99 American or from a variety of book sellers in paperback form. The cover was designed by Written Ink Designs.