So today I have a three-part special as I review The Maer Cycle by Dan Fitzgerald from start to finish. This is a series and an author that I’ve been aware of for a while, and I’ve helped with the cover reveal for the second and third book, but I hadn’t got around to picking them up for myself. So when the tour for the third book in the trilogy came up, I hopped and board, bought the first two and dived in (and why did I wait so long?!!), and here we are.
Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.
It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.
This is the story of their return.
Carl, Sinnie and Finn, three companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.
Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted.
Lately, I have been in the mood for those more classic quests and adventuring party stories. I blame it on the fact that D&D is slowly taking over my life (not that I am complaining), and Hollow Road definitely falls into that category although it is not defined by that alone. Firstly, I have to say – and will surprise no one by doing so – that there is a map, which always makes me happy to see, especially in a story like this that involves a journey because I like having that reference point.
What really made Hollow Road stand out for me and makes it harder to define is that there isn’t an overarching good vs evil battle or overwhelming villain. Instead, the danger comes with the journey, with the people, and with the influence of stereotypes and misunderstandings and misperceptions, between people and cultures, and that is what this story is at its core. It’s a grounding thread that runs through the story and makes this story incredibly relevant and impactful even when we’re in the realm of magic and legend. This book also provides an interesting look at how folklore changes over time, and how stories themselves can be used as a weapon, both intentionally and with the twisting of time. The Maer have become cloaked in legend and fear, relegated to being the ‘other’, and as much as this story is about the journey of the three main characters, it is also a journey to learning more about the Maer, to discovering the truth and finding more questions along the way (in the way of a true quest).
The worldbuilding is excellent and done with a deft, subtle hand to provide a vivid, believable backdrop to the story. The world itself falls more into the low fantasy part of the scale, and while there is magic it is not flashy or overwhelming, again deviating from that classic D&D feel, but working fantastically with the world that Fitzgerald has created. I liked that there are limits and costs to the magic and that it is more balanced, with the others who fight with normal weapons while still adding that classic fantasy feel. The scale of the world that we have seen so far has been kept fairly limited, with glimpses granted of a wider world, but this has not only allowed the focus to remain on the characters and the plot, but it means that we can become firmly grounded in where the story is occurring, aided by Fitzgerald’s deft and evocative descriptions. It also allows for more focus to be given to the culture and traditions, and in a story that is very much about the people of this world, that is time well spent and builds up a rich world that frames the story being told.
The characters are truly the star of this show. On the surface, you can see them fitting into traditional party archetypes – fighter, ranger or mage – but once again the author takes that foundation and breaks the mould with each of them. I loved all three of the main characters and particularly enjoyed the aspect of them having been childhood friends who’d spent some time apart before coming together for this journey. They’re very many individuals, each with their own experiences and skillsets, but with that common thread tying them together and providing a springboard for some of the best friendship I have read for a while. The relationship between them, from catching up, to teasing one another in the way that only close friends can, to watching them grow and develop – individually and together – through their journey and circumstances where they are all needed, as are those different skills, is fantastic to behold and has that depth and warmth that makes it a living, breathing thing. While the story is centred on them, and their relationships, the wider cast is just as well-written.
For a shorter read, there is a lot packed into the Hollow Road even if you don’t immediately realise it at the time. The pacing leans towards the slower side – although the action when it happens is beautifully written and exciting to read – and for me at least, the pacing felt organic. It was a journey, a discovery, for the characters and the reader alike, and it was one to be savoured. The Hollow Road completely sold me on the Maer Cycle from the very beginning, and I loved the feeling of being drawn along on this journey as though you were travelling with the characters themselves and learning about the world, and the truth behind the stories right there with them. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book, and the series and I was so glad that I could immediately dive into the next book after this because I wasn’t ready to come up out of this world.
About the Author:
Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy author living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, taking photographs of nature, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music. The Maer Cycle is his debut trilogy, with Hollow Road and The Archive on several book bloggers’ best-of lists for 2020, and The Place Below coming March 4 2021. His upcoming duology, The Weirdwater Confluence, will be published in October 2021 and January 2022. All books published by Shadow Spark Publishing.
Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or look him up on Twitter or Instagram, under the name danfitzwrites.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.