Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Publish Date: 4 March 2021
Page Count: 291 pages
If you follow my blog you’ll know by now I’m a big fan of Dan Fitzgerald’s The Maer Cycle, so reading the final instalment in his trilogy was bittersweet. I’ve also just realised that it’s the first complete series to be featured on my blog, and I’m glad it’s one that I highly rate!
The Place Below follows Sasha, a young woman with both Maer and human parents, who spends her time researching Ka-lar tombs, the resting places of the Forever Kings. A self-taught mage with the ability to rapidly learn new dialects, Sasha travels freely between groups of Free Maer.
When she learns of a Ka-lar who was put to rest in a lost brightstone mine, Sasha is determined to see the tomb firsthand. But as she uncovers further tales of the mine beneath the mountain, the danger of her quest becomes clear, and Sasha seeks out the help of old acquaintances.
First off, I quite like Fitzgerald’s decision to set The Place Below twenty-five years after the events of The Archive. Seeing how familiar characters have moved on in their lives made it feel like I’d started to say goodbye to them already, but there is enough continuation that I didn’t feel like I was starting a new, separate story. The time jump also means that the Maer have had time to build new–and in some ways, separate–ways of life and develop their relationship with humans, allowing Fitzgerald to revisit what he describes as ‘otherness examined and deconstructed’ through an expanded narrative.
I’ve never played D&D, but my experience with this book is how I imagine a campaign between good friends would be–a nostalgic urge to explore the world, but with care and attention rather than urgency. I suspect Fitzgerald did take some inspiration from RPGs given the travelling to-and-fro that Sasha does throughout the book in the style of mini-quests (though I do know Dan also likes a good hike), and the fact that he gives us mages, archers, healers, and items enchanted with magical stones.
With Fitzgerald’s world well-established by now, it was exciting to learn more about the lore and history of the Maer and discover answers to questions I’ve had since Hollow Road. I’d say The Place Below is the darkest book in The Maer Cycle, with Something Bad brewing in the chapters between Sasha’s questing.
Sasha is a loveable and intelligent character with interesting magical abilities, and I was particularly interested in seeing how her skills changed her relationships. I’m tempted to use the phrase ‘neurodivergent’ to describe how she interacts with and interprets the world around her, and I’d be interested to see what neurodiverse readers might think of her experiences.
Sasha is much younger than many of the characters in the story (and in one case, extremely), and I enjoyed seeing the characters from Hollow Road in a different stage of their lives without being relegated to minor characters.
The Place Below is a satisfying sendoff to a really special series that has been a joy to experience, and I can’t wait to read more by Fitzgerald.
Trigger warnings: Death of family
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