The Holver Alley Crew, which launches a new series set in Marshall Ryan Maresca’s sprawling Maradaine universe, is a perfect caper novel. It’s an enjoyable, fast-paced read, filled with dauntless villains, daring heists, adrenaline-packed fight scenes, and unforgettable characters. Beyond all the adventure and action we can rely on the best of these kinds of stories provide, though, Maresca goes a step beyond, maintaining a such relentless pacing and precise timing that it’s nearly impossible to find a good place to stop reading it. Through crackling character chemistry and a sharp wit, he also gives it a lighter tone that keeps the pages moving even during the darker moments. The result is a glorious riot of high adventure and low cunning, fast, furious, and most of all, fun—something all too often in short supply in grimdark low fantasy books and crime fiction alike.
The Rynax Brothers were the best thieves in the neighborhood of North Seleth, and possibly the whole city of Maradaine. That was before Verci settled down with a wife and child, and Asti went off to a disastrous stint in Druth Intelligence that left him traumatized. The brothers planned to open their own “gadgetorium” in Holver Alley and give up crime for good. Then came the night Holver Alley burned to the ground. With creditors at their heels and the suspicion over their survival, the Rynaxes are forced into a life of crime once again, this time with a ragtag crew of neighbors and former thieves backing them up. Because if anyone’s going to show the people behind the fire that they burned down the wrong alley, it’s going to be the Rynaxes.
A caper story lives and dies by its dialogue, and Marshall Ryan Maresca definitely has an ear for fast-paced, witty banter. Characters volley barbs back and forth with rapid fire precision, drawing on their shared vernacular and history of past jobs. Their camaraderie is palpable, and lends the leads a tremendous amount of depth, even as their banter keep the energy high between action scenes.
That breathless, nervy energy begins with a scene of the brothers helping their neighbors escape from a devastating fire, and ramps up from there, flinging the cast into one scrape after another as they move from heist to heist. The set pieces are ridiculously entertaining to read, from a brutal fistfight inside the ruins of the Rynax Gadgetorium; to an attempt to break into the paranoid haven of the brothers’ former fixer; to the climactic heist, a multi-leveled, multilayered affair set in a crime lord’s pleasure palace. It’s not always easy to make a cinematic heist work on the page, but the hastily planned schemes the crew undertakes in their quest for revenge are both elaborate and easy to follow.
While Maresca has been building the Maradaine universe across multiple books and connected series, The Holver Alley Crew marks a new chapter in the city’s story, and a great entry point for new readers.