Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Publish Date: 17 September 2020
Page Count: 243 pages
I’ve started this review rather tangentially, so before I start my rant, I’ll just tell you that when I finished Hollow Road I immediately bought The Archive, the sequel in Dan Fitzgerald’s The Maer Cycle. Now, I’m going to smash out this review so I can get back to the Silver Hills!
The daunting length and often meandering plot of doorstop SFF books means that they are decidedly not for everyone. I suspect they are also part of the reason why adult sci-fi and fantasy books on the whole still aren’t seen as mainstream, aside from those that have found success in the wider entertainment industry.
Personally, I couldn’t motivate myself to finish Return of the King, and I’ve attempted to read The Wheel of Time on two occasions, only getting as far as book seven before running out of steam. Despite this, I see myself as an epic fantasy lover, and I’ve even spent a fair bit of money on early prints of Jordan’s seminal work.
I’ve thought a lot about why this might be. It’s not because I feel swayed by their reputation or influence in the genre – there are plenty of popular and widely acclaimed books that I happily ignore. It’s also not necessarily for the quality, and definitely not for their diversity.
Instead, I decided it was due to the immersive experience that comes from spending 800+ pages with the same characters, and the feeling of intimacy that this cultivates. Plot twists, epic battles, and the final dance-off between Good and Evil are all great, but it’s the quiet moments of beauty that always stick with me: the slowly building friendship between protagonists, that first home-cooked stew after a long trip on horseback, or a round of pints at the local inn when the war is finally over. All pretty standard fantasy fodder, yes, but when done well, like chicken soup for the soul. I’m sure I’m not the only person who would love to read a book about daily life in Hobbiton minus the evil jewellery, or to wonder if there would’ve been a traditional Two Rivers wedding between Rand and Egwene if it wasn’t for the Dragon Reborn.
In Hollow Road, Dan Fitzgerald has managed to create this kind of intimate experience within a few pages, simultaneously confirming my love of wholesome fantasy moments and completely debunking my theory about page count.
Hollow Road is an incredibly earnest fantasy story about friendship, forgiveness and enlightenment, with many moments of warmth and sincerity.
The story begins with Carl, a young soldier hired to transport a body to his home village of Brocland for burial.
Paid a suspiciously generous fee, Carl recruits two childhood friends to help – Finn, a mage in training, and Sinnie, a talented archer. They set off on the week-long journey, passing the time by getting to know each other again as adults.
But the trip isn’t without its dangers; there are rumoured sightings of the Maer, savage creatures of myth from the Silver Hills, and villagers have started to go missing.
Hollow Road can be described as low fantasy, but that doesn’t mean the book lacks for pacing or action; there wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t feel engaged with the characters and the story. Nor did I want to speed my way to the end, instead naturally getting lost in the journey.
I immediately felt a connection to every character in the book, who are all loveable but remain realistically flawed. Fitzgerald is careful to include diverse representation in his book, which feels natural, without needing to draw attention.
I loved seeing the three protagonists getting to know each other again after finding separate paths in adulthood, and I almost didn’t want any tension to develop. But obviously, that wouldn’t be a story.
The magic system is not overly complicated, instead, feeling organic and believable, without detracting from the narrative which is ultimately about people.
Fitzgerald has a love of nature and wilderness walks (check out his Instagram) that shines through in his writing. He breathes life into his characters’ quest with detail and thoughtfulness.
Hollow Road is rather short for a fantasy book, but the length and pacing are perfect, and the ending is satisfying while leaving much to be discovered in the sequel.
There are no fundamental forces of good and evil in this story, nor battles to save humankind; just the complexity of human nature. This is precisely what makes Hollow Road such a refreshing and engaging read.
Big thanks to Dan for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review!
Trigger warnings: death of family, death of children
Support independent bookstores and my blog by buying from bookshop.org