“He was a beast of a Maer, six and a half feet tall, with impossibly broad shoulders and hands the size of crevice spiders.”
They encounter Skiti, a stout-hearted and resourceful dwarf-like Timon, who leads them through the mine to the keep where they meet the female Timon leader, Laanda. Skiti was my favourite character in the book. Devoted to her leader, brave and smart enough to think outside the box when confronted by adversity, she also has a conscience and a strong moral compass when it comes to the life of the dangerously attractive human thief (or maybe she just fancies him). Many of the Timon who live and work in the mines have been murdered by the humans and the remaining inhabitants want revenge. They band together with the Maer, releasing the human thief, Feddar of the sparkly green eyes, with a tracking device which will allow them to hunt the group of humans.
Fans of role-playing games such as D&D will recognize this story as a dungeon crawl and there are elements from such games aplenty which will satisfy game players reading the novel. The mage sometimes uses scrying dice to determine what they should do next, each of the main characters has a well-defined role within the group and their own specific type of weapon, and they encounter many foes along their way, including a dragon:
“The creature stood no more than thirty feet from him, and it crouched low at the light, its pupils dilating, its forked tongue slithering in and out like a whip.”
Both the Maer and the Timon have really interesting magical technology which they rely on to use as weapons and to shield themselves. The Maer gauntlet also has spells programmed into it and those were the only spells the mage was able to use - I found this an interesting, smartphone-like approach to a fantasy magic system. The two species are intrigued by each other’s technology, which was an endearing touch. These species do not often have contact with each other and yet were able to work together well towards a common goal. I would have liked a little more technical explanation of some of these advanced technologies. The Maer also have circlets which allow them to communicate telepathically. Readers of Fitzgerald’s other books will be familiar with these circlets already. The humans also had a mage in their party who was able to wield lightning and they had a time-stopping device and floating globes which they could send off to spy on their adversaries.
It would be impossible for me to review this book without mentioning the very present sex scenes. These scenes are extremely explicit with consensual encounters between male characters, female characters and male and female characters:
“I hope you like it spicy,” Skiti added with a smirk. Yglind’s mouth twisted into a snarly smile. “What’s the point of living without a little spice?”
Personally, I did not find the earlier encounters very romantic. I struggled to find much romance in the relationships of the lovers until near the end of the book, with desire and a personal need for relief being the drivers behind the earlier sex scenes. I just didn’t feel like they added much to the story or character development for me, which gave those specific chapters a feel of dipping towards erotica rather than romantic fantasy. It may be that I am just not a fan of these types of scene, preferring more of a slow emotional burn leading up to a sex scene as opposed to a “quick no one’s around and I need a release” approach. The scenes which occur after the stress of the quest is over felt more romantic and loving to me. Because of this personal preference, The Living Waters still remains my favourite of Fitzgerald’s books and I found The Delve to be less tantalizing.
There were some unexpectedly funny comments which I appreciated:
“What an inglorious end, she thought, to be killed by someone with such atrocious facial hair.”
I greatly enjoyed returning to the world of the Maer and finding interesting bits and pieces that reminded me of things that happened in Fitzgerald’s other books. The locations and scene-setting in the mine are expertly written and the feeling of trepidation consumes the reader, with the isolation from the outside world and the darkness itself becoming fairly claustrophobic. The ever present threat of coming upon the dragon is also palpable. There are all sorts of other imaginatively threatening beasties in the mine, some of which made me cringe as the group came upon them. The author is an expert world-builder and never fails to add emotion to his books, in this case growing anticipation and fear. Set 2000 years before the other books featuring the Maer, The Delve is an excellent addition to the stories of the Maer and their growing history and mythology.