Book Review – Nav’Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin by K.J. Backer

K.J. Backer

Nav'Aria: The Pyre of Tarsin (Book Cover)


You know the usual stereotypes about unicorns, right? Happy, sparkly, wholesome kids stuff right? Three things often synonymous with one another are sunshine, rainbows, and unicorn poop (even that seems to be held with awe and wonder) Well, dear reader, I am about to present to you a different take on unicorns. And centaurs. And even merfolk.

If you’re a fan of fantasy (and I know there are more than a few of you out there), and you haven’t yet checked out this series, you need to add it to your TBR. The Pyre of Tarsin is the second in the trilogy (the third is forthcoming), with Nav’Aria: The Marked Heir being the introduction to the series. If you haven’t yet read Marked Heir, stop what you’re doing right now and go read it.

No. Really.

I mean it! Anyway, here are my thoughts on The Pyre of Tarsin.

As mentioned above, the typical world of unicorns and others is turned on its ear in Nav’Aria. Unicorns are regarded as the fiercest, most sacred warriors in the land. And we find the most revered of them all, the family of the First Horn, helping its ancient ally, the Meridia family (whose line is “marked” with a symbol on their body that grants them power) to take back the throne, which had been usurped by the evil Narco (uncle to Vikaris, the rightful king) prior to the events of Marked Heir. Darion, who is the so-named Marked Heir (and son to Vikaris), has marched across the Shazla Desert in search of new answers to defeat his great uncle, namely references to Winged Ones in the ancient prophecies. He travels along with his best mate, Edmond (introduced in MH), his bonded unicorn, Triumph, and Edmond’s unofficially bonded unicorn, (for only the Marked Royals can bond with one) Soren.

Meanwhile, Narco is finding success in infiltrating Vikaris’ camp, which was supposed to have been secretly hidden away from non-magical means. The time is coming soon when he will have no choice but to offer battle to his uncle and decide the fate of the kingdom once and for all.

What I Liked

First of all, one of the most common writing tips I see on the interwebs is to avoid writing prologues. Both Marked Heir and Pyre of Tarsin diligently wad this advice into a tight little ball and loft it ever-so-skillfully into the wastebasket. This is a good and necessary thing, especially in the case of Tarsin, because the context of the book as a whole (and specific events later) will be made clear later on.

Next, You know how I’ve explained the different take on unicorns and other “kid” things? This has to be my favorite part of this series. The usual symbols of fantasy laid out above (unicorns, centaurs, merfolk) are aged up and given the adult treatment. This is a fascinating twist on what people usually associate with these creatures, and possibly the key reason why you should check it out. Dragons make an appearance as well in Tarsin (hence the cover), and even they are given a new twist from the usual cliches most readers might associate with the fire-breathing reptiles.

it has a little bit of everything. Amid the violence that will be necessary to reclaim Nav’Aria (and the horrors of Narco and his minions), there are plenty of humorous or light-hearted moments to bring relief to the audience.

Finally, this book delivers. The pacing is excellent; it doesn’t lurch from event to event. The plot has a nice mix of peaks and valleys so that the reader gets caught up in the action, but also has a chance to catch their wind.

What to Be Aware Of

Make no mistake: although Darion, the Marked Heir and central character is an adolescent (and often experiences coming-of-age situations), this is not intended for YA audience. Granted, the blood, sex, other such adult-oriented content hangs out on the upper register of PG-13, but this is certainly geared toward older audiences. This is not the book to give to your eight-year-old nephew who loves dragons.


Fantasy has such an enormous following with expectations that are quite difficult to live up to. I feel that often, many writers want to be the next Tolkien, but K.J. Backer eschews that idea entirely in favor of a new wrinkle that is highly engaging. Sometimes the classic good vs. evil is just want I want to read, and The Pyre of Tarsin delivers on this promise. I found my blood pressure elevating as the steps toward battle likewise ticked upward throughout the story.

You won’t regret reading Nav’Aria. If you haven’t yet started, begin with The Marked Heir, and move on promptly to The Pyre of Tarsin.

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