About the Book
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.
First, dear reader, you need to know that Ulff Lehmann is a friend of mine. Also, I’ve been meaning to get this review written and published for basically an eternity. I apologize for taking so long, but the moral of this particular story is that I really suck at multitasking.
Dark fantasy is my jam. I read it. I write it. I edit it. I love it. I really do. There is something about a dark world (or “crapsack” as Rob Hayes calls it, which I think might be one of the best words ever so I’m going to plant my flag on it and use it here) that just works for me. Show me all the crapsack parts of your world, and give me one thin vein of hope for the characters to hold onto, and I’ll be there with bells on.
The thing is, I like details. I really do. I like it when nothing has been overlooked. When all the small parts work together to create a really intricate, detailed whole, and Lehmann really notices every little thing, and gives it space in his narrative. This makes his world feel incredibly well built, but also well researched. The benefit of this, ultimately, is a world that feels superbly real to readers. I felt personally invested in it, and that’s what I want as a reader. I don’t want to read about stuff that happens to other people, I want to feel like this stuff is happening to me. It’s not a battle far away, but it’s a battle I have personal stakes in because I feel invested in both the world and the characters. By and large, in this respect, Lehmann hits all the right notes.
Once upon a time, this world was probably a pretty good place to live, but things have changed. It’s not really bad yet, but it’s moving in that direction. The elves have disappeared, leaving humans to wallow in their own problems. The wizards are extinct, and life sort of moves on. Perhaps one thing I really loved the most about this book was how complacency, or perhaps comfort, is one of the initial driving forces behind whatever happens next. People get comfortable. Things happened so long ago. Life moves on and it’s good enough so why bother? This leads to some degradation of governmental systems, ineffective rulers and the like. And, of course, all of that leads to the central issue of the book.
Of course, things are changing. Peace is becoming a thing of the past. There are threats on the horizon, whispers of new war looming. Invasions. Wheels are turning and various players are moving their pieces around this specific gameboard in anticipation of what is going to happen next. Foundations are being laid. A wizard wakes up after a long, long sleep. Weird things are happening in an elvish city. Kingdoms are glaring at each other across borders. Armies are being prepared. The pot is on the fire, and in this book, the water is starting to boil.
Shattered Dreams follows the path of a few different characters, and with most books that have multiple points of view, you’ll enjoy some more than others due to your personal preference and all that. I felt a lot of kinship for the ex-military hermit, but all of the characters really did shine brightly in their own ways. Like the world building, it’s obvious that Lehmann put a lot of love and eagle-eyed focus on how he developed his characters, who they turned into, and what types of people they were. The push and pull between the world and character development was really intriguing. I loved seeing how people evolved as things happened, and how they reacted to the situations they found themselves in the center of.
The plot doesn’t quit. In fact, I was rather amazed by just how go, go, go it really was. When I started reading fantasy, I got into it because I loved these epic, sprawling series full of conflict and adventure, and at times I felt like I was back in that place, where sprawling adventures were happening with a group of conflicting characters who are all trying to find their way through this crapsack (sorry, I really love that word) world. Don’t get me wrong, Lehmann has written his own beast here, but I loved the way it felt like I was getting back to my roots, to the sort of books that made me love fantasy in the first place.
This book is grimdark. It’s dark. Kinda part of the subgenre, but if you read it thinking, “oh, this is fantastic adventure fantasy” don’t get all offended when things get dark and graphic. That being said, there are threads of hope. There are reasons people do the things they do. There are personal beliefs and ideals central to each character, and I really enjoyed teasing those out. This wasn’t just a bunch of things happening because they needed to happen. Lehmann is laying down the very intricate foundation for a five-book series, and the reasons for various things are beginning to be exposed to the light.
The writing is beautiful. I love the daggerlike precision Lehmann uses to tell his story. Never a word wasted. Never a phrase used that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. He is occasionally poetic, but always powerful, and I just absolutely loved it. There’s something about the juxtaposition of gorgeous writing and a dark world and fraught plot that just does it for me in every respect, and Lehmann really nailed it. I found myself, not a few times, sitting back to just admire his turn of phrase. I almost loved this book as much for the prose as for the plot.
Shattered Dreams lays the foundation for what promises to be one of the most undeservedly, criminally underrated books in epic and grimdark fantasy. Why more people aren’t reading this series just baffles me. Everything you could possibly want is here. Great characters, stunning world building, complex conflict, and absolutely flawless writing. There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end, but book two is already out so don’t let that hold you back.
I’m really glad Lehmann sent me this book to read, and I’m just sorry I didn’t get around to reviewing it sooner. As you can tell, I loved everything about it and I think you will too, which is why I’m rating it five stars and shouting its praises from the rooftop.