Book review

Review: Shattered Dreams – Ulff Lehmann

I read Shattered Dreams as part of the TBRindr programme and will be returning to the series for Shattered Hopes before 2018 is out.

5/5

518 pages| Crossroad Press| Fantasy/Epic/Grimdark

The digest: Shattered Dreams is the first novel that I have read from author Ulff Lehmann, and it most definitely won’t be the last. With a strong, well-integrated cast of characters, interweaving plot lines, well-executed action scenes, and immense world-building, there is everything fans of epic fantasy present. If you’re after a more accessible ASOIAF-esque story where characters can (and do) die, look no further. The author took over 10 years to get this novel out into the world and it was definitely worth the wait!

 

From the Goodreads description:

“Epic Fantasy filled to the brim with Grimdark Reality

If one looks too long into the abyss, the abyss looks back. Drangar Ralgon has been avoiding the abyss’s gaze for far too long and now he turns to face it.

For a hundred years the young kingdom of Danastaer has thrived in peace. Now their northern neighbor, mighty Chanastardh, has begun a cunning invasion.

Thrust into events far beyond his control, the mercenary Drangar Ralgon flees his solitary life as a shepherd to evade the coming war and take responsibility for his crimes.

In Dunthiochagh, Danastaer’s oldest city, the holy warrior Kildanor uncovers the enemy’s plans for invasion.

As ancient forces reach forth to shape the world once more, the sorceress Ealisaid wakes from a century of hibernation only to realize the Dunthiochagh she knew is no more. Magic, believed long gone, returns, and with it comes an elven wizard sent to recover a dangerous secret.”

The review for this novel may come across as a love letter to its characters and worldbuilding, so let me first get out of the way its small (and I mean miniscule) flaws. The dialogue, in parts, is jarring and feels doesn’t feel true to the characters emotions (or at least what I understood these emotions to be). It wasn’t awful, but I definitely would have made a few changes on occasion. Having said this, the novel is over 500 pages long and the dialogue was only an annoyance on a handful of occasions – I’m not sure any book is perfect and the issue here isn’t enough to knock any stars off the rating. Related to this is the use of swearing and profanity – for the vast majority of the book we have ‘Scales’ replacing ‘Hell’ or similar when the characters are a bit peeved off but around ¾ of the way through (as I remember it), the characters suddenly start using more traditional English swear words – more consistency would have been better.

Negative aside, let’s discuss the positives!

The characters in Shattered Dreams are outstanding, and Lehmann should be massively proud of his achievement in creating such a thoroughly developed cast of this proportion. We have everyone you would expect in epic fantasy: noble families, priests, warriors, thieves, ‘warleaders’, spies, fanatics, and a variety of magical cults and beings. Although we spend the majority of our time with just two characters (though chapters focus on a wide variety – on both sides of the impending war), at no point did I feel as if the others were there purely for plot or aesthetic purposes. No character is perfect, none is entirely flawed, and each member of the main cast is developed enough to suit their need within the storyworld. Do we know everything about each character? Of course not – but we know a fair bit about their histories and their aspirations, along with their current predicaments as to identify with most of them on at least some level. I grew to be attached to a fair few of the main crew and was saddened by some of the events of the novel, but I was also swept away in the more tense scenes – the characters do matter here. Be warned though, terrible things (including death) do happen to the characters.

Most of the crew are male, there are no two ways around that. But the plot revolves around a selection of events heavily reliant on women, and there are most definitely powerful women in Lehmann’s novel. I would be surprised if female characters didn’t play a more significant role in future instalments but at the same time didn’t feel as if the imbalance negatively affected the plot. A minor point to be made is that there seems to be no problem in Shattered Dreams of having female warriors or priests – this level of background equality is definitely a positive in my eyes as it signifies that the author was fully aware of his casting during the creative process. Might also be worth noting that we spend a decent amount of time with a variety of different character classes – the good, the bad, the indifferent, and those who could end the war with a click of their fingers (or so we imagine).

Readers familiar with my review will know that I don’t like discussing plot details in much detail as I believe the best way to enjoy media is to know very little about it before you begin your journey. Here, however, I will point out that there is a greater focus on magic (and supernatural powers/beings) than the summary above hints at. In my opinion, Lehmann and his publishing team would do well to maybe add just another sentence to the summary to reinforce the idea that whilst a lot of the action takes place with no magical influence, the novel is fundamentally set in a magical world.

 

The plot is a little slow at the beginning – the quick flicking between character viewpoints a necessary part of the introductory passages of any book such as this. For me, the intrigue and action really seemed to ramp up around the 50% mark, but due the background information presented in the first half was absolutely vital in my enjoyment of the second. Lehmann’s pacing, then, is just as it needs to be. There are no info-dumps, information is instead revealed piece by piece in a way that doesn’t leave the reader confused, and also doesn’t present us with characters with pages of exposition.

There are a number of different viewpoints which all link up in some way, a feat which few authors can successfully carry out (in my opinion). The changes of perspective can obviously be annoying at time – who wants to leave one of the plotlines on a cliff-hanger for an indeterminate number of chapters, but it keeps things fresh and ensures that there will never a dull moment. There was only one occasion in the novel where I realised we hadn’t seen a certain character for quite a while only to find that the never chapter focused on them in quite some detail – so don’t be put off by multiple perspectives!

 

The worldbuilding and magic systems in Shattered Dreams are, I think, my favourite out of the 56 books I have read this year.

There is a rich history of the different geographical locations, the different factions, the various religious groups and cults, as well as the life of the standard villein. It seems as if the author was acutely aware of his world before setting out to write the novel, and I would be massively surprised if he didn’t have a master sheet (or document) with all of his histories floating around his desk somewhere. There are intricate details and nuances, especially between the most popular religious groups which I was surprised to see in print. I will say no more for risk of spoilers, but if you enjoy getting stuck into the intrigue and truth behind cultic beliefs I am positive that you will be satisfied here.

The magic system in Shattered Dreams is, as you may have guessed by now, also excellent. I could probably write an essay on its effectiveness within the plot but to give away any more than the synopsis does is a spoiler in my opinion. Magic permeates the narrative and if you prefer cinematic systems with magnificent flair and flamboyance then Shattered Dreams will not disappoint you. Some of the scenes here read with such fluidity that one can clearly picture the action in great detail. The sense of pure power and ferocity created is astounding – something which is often lacking in other stories. If you enjoy a well planned and executed magic system beyond your typical wands and tomes of spells, I implore you to pick this novel up and give it a shot. The best bits are undoubtedly in the last 1/3 of the novel, but the teases every now and again in the first 2/3 will leave you wanting more.

 

The novel ends on an obvious cliffhanger: it is very much the first part of something larger and as such you can expect at least two more books in the Light in the Dark series. As of this review’s publishing date (21/10/2018), only one sequel (Shattered Hopes is available for sale). I will be reviewing Shattered Hopes before 2018 is out, but to prevent genre fatigue I’ll be taking a break to focus on shorter stories first.

 

5/5. I think it is obvious that I absolutely adore this novel. It is to date my favourite TBRindr book of its type and I cannot recommend it enough to fans of series such as ASOIAF and other epic fantasy tales. It is in a way similar to Hayes’ City of Kings, but with a lot more magic (and a lot more depth of character, to be honest), so if you enjoyed that book (and its surrounding series), do pick up Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann.

 

Pick the ebook up here for a steal at 99p: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattered-Dreams-Light-Dark-Book-ebook/dp/B07BJ46JP6 (link is straight through to Amazon with no benefit to me whatsoever. The author has not asked me to post the link here but I really do think that the readership for this story should be much larger than it is.

3 thoughts on “Review: Shattered Dreams – Ulff Lehmann

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