Today is my turn on the Storytellers on Tour Blog Tour for The Place Below by Dan Fitzgerald, the third and final book in the Maer Cycle trilogy. Thank you to Justine and Timy for having me along for the ride! Be sure to take a look at the reviews from other bloggers taking part on the tour and take a look at the amazing giveaway at the end of this post as well!
The Place Below by Dan Fitzgerald
Series: The Maer Cycle (#3)
Published: March 4, 2021
Pages: 291 (Print Length)
Content Warnings: Violence, Death
It’s been twenty-five years since the Battle for the Archive. Peace reigns over the Silver Hills, and humans and Maer are preparing to sign their first trade agreement. Even warring tribes of the Free Maer have set aside old quarrels.
Sasha is a young scholar of mixed Maer and human parentage, traveling throughout the Maer lands collecting stories of the Ka-lar, the buried Forever Kings. She finds a reference in the Archive to a Ka-lar named Kuun, a scholar in life, who was laid down in an ancient brightstone mine, beneath a mountain said to be the home of the fabled Skin Maer. The lure of the tale is too strong to resist. Joined by some old friends, Sasha sets out to uncover secrets that have lain buried for over a thousand years.
In The Place Below, the Maer Cycle comes to a close as the darkest mysteries of the Maer are at last brought into the light.
I was kindly sent a kindle version in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Justine, Timy and Dan Fitzgerald!
The Place Below is the final book in The Maer Cycle trilogy. It is set 25 years after the events of The Archive and has many of the characters we are familiar with, but they are now in more secondary, support roles within the story rather than taking centre stage. Final books of a series carry with them a responsibility to the reader, who has already invested the time and emotion in reading two books, hoping that the third will bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion. In the case of The Maer Cycle, The Place Below does not fail to deliver on this angle. The world is a familiar one and we are used to the Maer now, so this story concentrates more on the mysterious Ka-lar, long dead kings lying preserved in barrows, one of whom we met back in Hollow Road.
Sasha, the daughter of Carl and Ujenn, is our new main character. Half Maer, half human, she is a scholar with an impressive talent for learning languages. Sasha is a sensitive, empathetic soul who is able to sense the emotions and worries of people when they touch her, so she doesn’t like to be touched if she can avoid it. She is studying and collecting stories pertaining to the Ka-lar. The Maer greatly value stories and often use them as a kind of currency. Sasha pays for a meal on her travels by telling a story. During a trip with Tcheen to investigate the barrows of two of the 144 known Ka-lar, long dead kings and leaders, Sasha discovers she has the death-link – an ability shunned by most Maer and considered a curse. She can sense the dead and can feel what they were feeling in their final moments. Her magical mental abilities also allow her to detect when someone is lurking nearby spying on them, which proves to be a useful skill when she and her friends are traveling the countryside, camping outdoors.
Kuun is one of the Ka-lar and has been in hibernation for almost seventeen hundred years. We are treated to alternating chapters from the point of view of Sasha and Kuun, who has been awoken by a group of Skin Maer, a tribe of Maer who are less hairy than most Maer, more similar in looks to a human than the other tribes of Maer. Kuun needs to feast on blood to keep renewing his strength, which the obedient and awestruck Skin Maer are only too happy to oblige him with. Kuun’s eyes are light sensitive and his skin is papery thin and cracked. There is no moisture in his body after so long. He is an intriguing character and I found myself looking forward to his chapters more and more, wondering what his ultimate goal would prove to be.
The Skin Maer live underground in an ancient brightstone mine, having been trapped there by a landslide many centuries before, which closed off the entrance to the mine. Kuun has a magical rod which he seeks to power with a large brightstone if only the miners can provide one without chipping or breaking it during the extraction process.
Kuun was able to feel Sasha’s presence when she and Tcheen were near to the mine and he hopes she might be the key to unlocking the secrets of his rod of power if he can make it work before she returns.
As with the first and second books in the Maer Cycle, The Place Below contains a clear message of tolerance and acceptance of anything unfamiliar. Sasha is clearly upset when stories are told concerning interbreeding of Maer and humans or Skin Maer and other Maer. She is made uncomfortable by the stares and comments she receives about her appearance since her heritage has meant her face is not as hairy as other Maer. She is understandably upset by the comment made by the Ram Maer guard that she is a ‘mongrel’ and then angered by him calling her ‘half-breed’. Dan Fitzgerald is clearly against discrimination of all types, and he makes his views clear on this subject throughout the Maer Cycle.
My favourite character in this book is Tcheen. Tcheen is the non-binary leader of the Dragon Maer tribe, a highly intelligent mage and warrior, with ascerbic wit and a tongue held firmly in cheek. Their preferred method of communication is via deep frowns and glares to let people know exactly their opinion without saying very much. They are also a master of dismissive snorts and short sentences. This often leads to some amusing interactions between Tcheen and Sasha:
Tcheen: “Well, my Southish is in ruins, so I hope you don’t expect me to say much.”
Sasha: “I never do.”
The tone of The Place Below is darker than the previous two books and the tension in the story rises as Sasha and her friends make their way into the mine inhabited by Kuun and the Skin Maer. What will happen when the two groups come face to face? Can Sasha’s advanced linguistic knowledge help smooth the way for a peaceful meeting despite the fact that both groups are prepared for a less than friendly encounter?
From Kuun, Sasha is able to learn the reasons behind the hibernation of the Ka-lar:
“The Ka-lar were laid down for many reasons, mostly the fear of disease, death, or old age.”
“There was a great plague in my time, one that killed many thousands of Maer, king and farmer alike. This was to be my solution, the Rod of Life, as I called it. I worked with a group of great artificers, scholars, and mages to perfect its dimensions, materials, magics, and bindings. It was the work of many years, but time was running short. Half of the team had fallen ill, and most of those died.”
For a lot of the time, I was unable to guess what Kuun had in mind, which lead to many unexpected surprises. I was particularly taken by surprise by the last action of Kuun. Perhaps I should have expected it as there had been some foreshadowing, but I had not considered it. It made for a pleasant conclusion for a character who had shown he had a lot of potential to turn irredeemably nasty.
The story reaches a satisfying conclusion and all of the loose ends appear to have been tied up rather nicely. I thoroughly enjoyed this series and look forward to seeing what Dan Fitzgerald has in store for us next!
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Prize: The Maer Cycle Megapack! – Signed copies of Hollow Road, The Archive & The Place Below, all artwork, and the final set of the Hollow Road character cards. That really is an amazing prize – and it’s INTERNATIONAL!
Click here to enter or on the banner below.
Starts: March 24th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: March 31st, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
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.