I read a lot of fantasy. It so happens that I really like all varieties of fantasy (and almost every genre) but there are some that just make you sink back with the biggest cup of tea you can find and smile. In this particular instance, the book was Shattered Dreams by Ulff Lehmann, a book that combines epic fantasy with some of the more fiddly aspects of detailed oriented historical fiction, as well as a touch of the grimdark to spice things up. This book, I shall tell you with great delight, is what I imagine a literary chess game to be. It has strategy, threads woven together, forethought, false directions, intrigue, and that wonderful fascination that puzzles invariably provide.
This plot is definitely one that is not simple. Some epic fantasy stories will follow a character or a group of characters on a quest. Some follow more intricate details that move through various characters’ lives and create a world, fully formed, fully fledged, stunning. This book does that. There are definitely a few things to follow: Danaster is being invaded by its neighbour, Chanastardh. The Danasterians would agree that this is a problem. Therefore, some of the people in Danaster, namely a holy warrior, a slightly-befuddled wizardess, and a few other people who are smarter than you might think, have decided that perhaps they should do something about this. Naturally, there are other forces at work. Ones from the long past. And they’re bringing other people into play.
The plot is expertly woven together, with details about the actually-terribly-important history of the world that I found fascinating. Often, epic fantasies rarely manage to get the history involved in a truly realistic manner. Or, they give you an info-dump at the very beginning disguised as a prologue. This plot involves the history in careful remarks, chance phrases, and an elf perhaps screaming too loudly about such matters.
Again, this is like a chess game, only with death being the result if you lose a piece.
There are a few really important characters in this book, but I shall focus on two: Dragnar and Kildanor.
Dragnar is a man fleeing his past. His very mysterious past. We first meet him in the isolated backwaters and he is invariably mysterious and interesting. This is a potent combination, which usually—in epic fantasy, as well as other genres—means there is a tragic backstory. This tragic backstory, though, is actually rather central to the plot and does more than just develop Dragnar’s character. To be fair, it does that, too. Dragnar tries to flee, but the past has claws and does not so easily let go. In facing it, he becomes a key upon which events turn.
Kildanor, on the other hand, is fully aware that he is significant. This is not arrogance, but experience. He is one of an order of holy warriors, belonging to a religion that current times have done their best to ban. (It hasn’t worked all that well, as these things go.) Kildanor has power and he has the influence to wield it. So, he does. All in the name of his god, Lesganagh, god of Sun and War. But there are other dangerous forces afoot, some of which haven’t been seen since one of the last wars and hoped to have been locked away forever.
The characters in this book read like wildly interesting and realistic people. They have quirks and fears. They joke with their friends. And they both shape and are shaped by the world around them. These are really well done characters, ones I enjoyed reading almost as much as I enjoyed the situations in which they found themselves.
There was a bit where things caught fire and people were complaining by means of axe-strike. That was definitely my favourite bit.
My critique for this book has very little to do with the book and more with my inability to read a map. It took me a few chapters to figure out who was fighting whom and which side everyone was on. However, it was all made completely clear once I looked again at the map so helpfully provided at the front of the book. Otherwise, I really have no major critiques. Just the knowledge that I am directionally challenged and geographically incompetent. C’est la vie.
Overall, I would say that I have not read a book of this depth and detail and thought for a while. Sometimes I read to melt my brain and clear the synapses. But most of the time, I like to think and to be invited to think. This book definitely did that and I am glad for it. I could probably read this book over and over and still enjoy unravelling it. I would therefore say that this book was excellent.