Nathan’s review of The Delve by Dan Fitzgerald.
Well, this was definitely a shift in what I normally read and review.
Despite what my recent trend in reviews might indicate, I am actually not a big romance reader. Going into this book I had only read one other book that was explicitly marketed as a romance (with all of the requisite spice), and that was JD Evan’s Reign and Ruin, the SPFBO7 champion. I really liked the grand epic worldbuilding and magic in that book, although I could take or leave the more sexual or spicy elements.
So, when I received an ARC for The Delve, I went in hesitant, but with an open mind. I had really liked Reign and Ruin, and I wanted to give this one a chance. I have been seeking to expand my SFF horizons a bit as I got more and more burnt out of the same fantasy epics (I still like those, but just want to shake things up sometimes!).
And you know what? I did really enjoy my time with the The Delve. Did it completely blow me away? Not really. But did it craft a fun fantasy adventure? Most definitely. This is my exact definition of a solid three star read – I am glad I read it and enjoyed my time with it.
The Delve tells the story of a trio of Maers (a furry humanoid creature) that are on a quest in a deep mine to investigate why they are running out of power. Yglind, the lead warrior, is undertaking what the Maers call a delve – a heroic journey in which the goal is to kill five enemies. While investigating in the mines, our trio of heroes meet a wide variety of other characters, both friends and foe, a dragon, and so many other monsters. In some ways this novel felt like a bit of a throwback to the swords and sorcery heyday of fantasy or an RPG dungeon crawler. Nearly the entire novel takes place in the mines, and we get to explore its riches and dangers right along with the characters.
In a lot of ways this really worked for the tension in the novel. I loved exploring the mines with the characters. They felt fully realized and lived in, as they are the home to a Dwarven-like species of creature. However, they are also filled with monsters and other menacing creatures that our protagonists have to face. One of my favorite elements of the books is that it is the humans who are the true villains here. The fantasy genre, particularly epic fantasy, has a problem of “othering” (which I know I bring up a lot in reviews!), and that “othering” process usually involves naturalizing humans as “good” or “normal”. Fitzgerald does a wonderful job of making the humans feel mysterious and unnatural in both their personalities and physical attributes.
Dan Fitzgerald notes at the beginning of the book that this is a standalone adventure set 2,000 years before the others books in the series (which comprises of one complete trilogy and one complete duology), and that each series can be read in any order. As the reader, this came as a double edged sword. On one hand I really appreciated that I got just a little taste of the world without a full multi-book commitment; I don’t want to give anything away about the ending, but it has a definite and satisfying conclusion.
On the other hand, I did feel like I was missing pieces. Fitzgerald is very sparse with his descriptions and narrations, and he throws out fictional in-universe words, terms, creatures, names, etc. without ever explicitly defining them. While this is a valid narrative form that a lot of fantasy authors take, Fitzgerald just didn’t have the time in this short novel to make it 100% work. It took me way too long in the book to get my bearings on who everyone was and how the different elements of the world related to one another. For example, as I said earlier the main antagonists are humans. However, I had little to no understanding of the history between these different races/species, or what was driving the conflict. Fitzgerald gives a little bit of detail here and there, but so much is left unsaid that it distanced me from the characters and conflict a bit. Therefore, readers should go into The Delve for the quest and the adventure as worldbuilding is spartan and not the focus here.
I cannot finish this review without talking about the sexual content. If you like sex in your fantasy, there is plenty here. I honestly skimmed past a lot of it, but I did appreciate that there was a lot of sexual and gender diversity expressed in the spicy scenes. So, if you like sexually explicit fantasy romances but don’t feel like there is enough queer representation, look no further than right here! I should point out though that there are inter-species relations in the book (one particular insta-love between a hero and villain is a bit much), so if you are looking for that, it’s here! And if you are not looking for that, avoid!
I don’t really have too much more to say about the spice elements as I did skim past them, but I will say that if you don’t like sexual content then there is still a lot of fantasy adventure to like here. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything major (in terms of character development or story) by skimming past those scenes, and the book works completely fine for those of you not looking for it. You will still have to deal with some horny (I cannot come up with a better word) writing in between the scenes, but if the rest of the author’s blurb sounds appealing to you, then don’t let the sexual content dissuade you!
Concluding Thoughts: A fun swords and sorcery quest in a cool environment that is just slightly dulled by sparse worldbuilding and character development. Readers who like queer romance and spice in their books will find a lot to love here, and sword and sorcery fans shouldn’t be put off by the romantic/sexual elements. A great way to spend a few hours.