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Shattered Dreams (Light in the Dark Book 1) Kindle Edition
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So, what did I think?
Shattered Dreams is an entertaining dark low fantasy novel about a Germanic kingdom under siege by an invading army, a religious cult devoted to the god of war, traumatized veterans, an elven wizard, and a talking squirrel. The fact this has a talking squirrel and this is still one of the grittier fantasy novels I've read since Game of Thrones. Indeed, despite the elven sections having high fantasy magic, the majority of the setting is a dark lawless world where life is cheap. Eventually, it becomes about a siege, a conspiracy, and a book which can end the world.
My favorite character is Dragnar Ralgon, who is a veteran traumatized by his experiences and driven to the point of suicide attempts. He makes an unlikely hero but events shift around him that links his personal tragedies to the larger threats in the kingdom. None of the characters are actually all that heroic, though, as they're all driven by various motives ranging from religious fanaticism to trying to make a last meaningful accomplishment before they are too old to fight.
Generally, the best part of this book are the parts which deal with the grizzled old veterans of the story like the Chosen, Riders, and Dragnar. This is the area where Ulff Lehmann's writing shines. He's also very good at building believable religions and conflicts with elaborate histories alluded to without indulging in unnecessary exposition.
There's a lot of good world-building which flows naturally through the text. The action in the book is minimalist but plentiful with a single blow of the sword usually enough to kill whatever it hits. Life is savage and cheap in the setting without any magical healing or unusually swift recoveries. Despite this, the most distressing death in the story was a most unexpected character. There's also a number of chaotic battle sequences where the results of the conflict are only determined after the final results.
There's a few flaws in the book which I think would have made it better. As much as I love the characters, their names are extremely hard to pronounce and the book would have benefited from a guide at the beginning like Mark Lawrence's Red Sister to consult. Maybe also a short description of who the various factions are and what they're up to. I also think the book could have used some more descriptions.
George R.R. Martin wasted unnecessary pages on description but I found I wanted to know the symbols and appearance of characters better than done here. It seems so realized that it deserves it, even if it would expand the world significantly. Finally, I think the book jumped around a bit more and would have been better breaking up the character sections with chapters. Again, I seem to be recommending it be more like A Song of Ice and Fre but it's a rare book that achieves that comparison.
The big appeal of the book is the "used universe" feel as this is the kind of planet where people actually live. There's talk of brothels, food, random events, and plenty of people have normal jobs alongside the mercs as well as wizards. Indeed, my favorite par of the book was a short scene where the High General has to make sure his troops pay for the food they eat as well as brothels they frequent even if they get free lodging.
In conclusion, while not perfect, it's a really detailed and interesting world, One I look forward to reading more of.
I read Shattered Dreams as part of my self-imposed SPFBO challenge. This book has been on my radar for a while - I remember stumbling upon it during one of my potential next book searches. The synopsis sounded interesting to me, and some reviewers I appreciate were enthusiastic about the book.
After finishing Shattered Dreams I’m still not sure what’s the best way to describe the story. It’s ambitious. It’s epic. It’s complicated and nuanced at times.
The author juggles between eight points of view and tells a complex story through their eyes. The main character – Drangar - is a tortured soul. The only thing he sees about himself is the pain he caused and the pain he is feeling. He doesn’t care about the world or himself, but he has a strong sense of justice that gets him into trouble. He’s accompanied by interesting pair of friends – a dog with whom he speaks in his mind and a horse.
Shattered Dreams can be interpreted as a book describing his path to redemption. Naturally it’s much more complicated than that and each of the characters has a story to tell. The other point of views are:
Kildanor - one of 24 Chosen of Lesganagh, the Lord of Sun and War. Basically he’s a war machine. He’s able to single – handedly destroy enemies.
Ealisaid is the last Wizardess. All her friends were killed in times past. When she wakes up from hibernation she thinks it’s all just a test and unleashed some power. Soon she discovers the reality changed a lot and that she may be the last of her kind.
Jesgar is a young man who took up thieving as a hobby, now he’s trained for a spy.
Anneijhan is a noble warleader with the enemy army. I liked her.
Mireynh is the invaders' High General.
Lightbringer is a being who shapes history by influencing others, steering them in desired direction.
Lloreanthoran is an elven mage tasked with retrieving forgotten artifacts.
Bright-Eyes is Lloreanthoran's squirrel familiar.
As you see there’s plenty of characters. of course, their stories intersect and make the plot much more interesting.
I really enjoyed the story and the world in which it happens. Truth be told the story and my curiosity to see what happens next was the main reason why I finished the book. I actually didn’t feel connected with any of the characters. Even though it’s character-driven book, I was more interested in the story than in characters. I tried to analyze why I couldn’t connect to them and why, at times, I felt disengaged. They’re rather complex. They all have some interesting traits and overcome adversities. I think I know the reason.
It’s the prose.
It’s solid. It’s good and it says what the author wants to say. However for me it felt monotonous, a bit artificial and, sadly, it sounded exactly the same for each character. I do realize that the author in non-native English writer. I appreciate the fact he’s managed to write a book in English. His voice though does little to engage me and captivate my attention. Even emotional scenes were written in a way that just didn’t manage to create a significant emotional response from me. At times I felt bored even though the events weren’t boring. For me Ulff Lehmann prose lacks finesse and lightness I enjoy and look for in books.
Overall, I think it’s a solid debut with plenty of interesting ideas and characters. The thing that didn’t work for me was prose that feels a bit formal at times, and basically it doesn’t differentiate significantly between POV’s. I finished the book because I believe it’s interesting and I wanted to see how the things would work out. But the truth is I also felt disconnected from the story quite often.
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