As I've noted on this blog before, Dr. J. Eric Holmes, better known as the editor for first Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, also had a career as a fantasy novelist. Writing under the name of John Eric Holmes (his full given name), he penned several pastiches, including an unfinished Conan one -- "Conan on the River of Doom," it was to be called, I believe -- but these were far from his only literary output. Throughout the 1970s, he wrote a series of loosely connected short stories that appeared in the pages of Alarums & Excursions and Dragon. These stories were all, to varying degrees, derived from Holmes's home D&D campaign and reading them provides many insights both into Holmes's personal take on the game and on the early culture of the hobby.
Holmes's short stories don't form a true serial. That is, characters change from story to story and plots are self-contained. Nevertheless, they all seem to take place within the same "world," one that ought to be familiar to fans of the Holmes-edited Basic Set, as there are multiple points of contact between the implied world of the Basic Set's rulebook and what's presented in his short stories. So there's a Green Dragon Inn, weresharks, centaur PCs, and so on -- all things Holmes mentions in passing in his rulebook and that appear to derive from his home campaign.
The Maze of Peril was published in 1986 by a small publisher in New York (from whom copies can still be ordered here, so far as I know). Though longer than any of Holmes's short stories by a wide margin, it's still only 147 pages in length, making it quite small by the standards of today's neverending fantasy epics. It concerns two characters previously mentioned in several of Holmes's short stories, a halfling named Boinger and an elf named Zereth (named Xoreth in an earlier story). The names of these characters alone set the tone for The Maze of Peril: this is not a self-serious fantasy novel dealing with Important Issues™. Indeed, it could be uncharitably described as a work of "fan fiction," since it reads a bit like an imaginatively written report of a D&D campaign's events -- and for all I know could be just that!
But such a characterization, while perhaps closer to the truth than we may wish to acknowledge, is also somewhat unfair. The Maze of Peril is a fun little novel. It tells the story of Boinger and Zereth's adventures into the underworld near the seaside settlement of Caladan (Porttown of the Basic Rules) and the consequences of their actions while there. It's absolutely filled with old school D&D goodness, from hiring mercenaries to accompany them to iconic monsters to using trickery, clever stratagems, and just plain running away to avoid death. Reading through it, you get a real sense of what many early D&D campaigns must have been like, right down to quirky creativity of individual referees who allowed centaurs to be PCs or saw nothing at all odd about dropping Latin-speaking Christian clerics into a vague fantasy world derived from a mishmash of Howard, Tolkien, Lovecraft, and whatever other ideas could be conveniently pillaged from nearby fantasy and science fiction novels.
I won't say that The Maze of Peril is a fantasy novel for the ages. Its primary sources of interest are its author, the remarkable J. Eric Holmes, and the way it presents evidence, in literary form, of what at least one early Dungeons & Dragons campaign might have been like. For those of us who admire Dr. Holmes and who have an interest in the early history of the hobby, the novel is a gold mine of information. It's also eminently readable, which, despite its other failings, puts it head and shoulders above many "real" fantasy novels published over the last thirty years. If you come across a copy, please do pick it up and give it a go; it won't take you long and you'll likely have learned a few things in the process.