REVIEW: Shattered Fears by Ulff Lehmann

Shattered Fears is the third novel in the Light in the Dark series. Ulff Lehmann has created a fascinating Warhammer Fantasy-esque world of magic, elves, demonic possession, and other staples while not detracting from the gritty dark atmosphere. It is a world where steel, blood, and sweat are the primary tools of the heroes (as well as villains). It’s also a series that I strongly recommend for its excellent use of Medieval warfare tactics as well as brutal unsympathetic portrayal of life during feudal times.

Cover for Shattered Fears by Ulff LehmannGrimdark is an often misunderstood word that is sometimes used as a pejorative and other times used as a style of writing. For some people, it means nothing more (or less) than dark, gritty, fantasy. For others, it only applies when a book tries too hard to be dark and edgy at the expense of believability. The Light in the Dark series is definitely a series that is dark, edgy, gritty, and deals with harsh subject matter but never strays completely into nihilistic excess. The protagonists are generally lower class to mid-level nobility dealing with a brutal and unforgiving war that spares few of them.

The premise of the series is that the Chanastardhian is an invading force smashing through the defenses of Danastaer as if they aren’t even there. High General Urgraith Mireynh is a brutal Stannis Baratheon-esque figure who despises all foes who surrender or turn against their home nation, even when it is to his advantage.  They’ve managed to bring the fight to their enemies’ capital but are now faced with a threat they couldn’t anticipate: magic, gone for centuries and only recently returned. There is also Drangar Ralgon, a PTSD-suffering warrior (before they had a name for such a thing) who is also either demonically possessed or chosen by the gods or both.

I love how Ulff Lehmann handles the issue of magic in the world because it is very useful but only a few people in the world can use it. It is not a game-changer in terms of military power but its sheer strangeness has a horrible effect on Chanastardhian morale. Yet, the lone wizard who wields it in the war is also vulnerable to be killed. I’m a big fan of Low Fantasy stories and that’s the best way to describe this. Magic is a terrifying, invasive force to a place that is very used to everything being mud and blood. The protagonists can wield it but it’s playing with fire that can explode in their faces. It’s much more in the vein of A Song of Ice and Fire or The Witcher novels than high fantasy.

Part of what I like about the book is that Ulff Lehmann doesn’t go for, “a bunch of epic heroes turn the tide of the war by themselves.” The war is mostly settled by sheer numbers and logistics with multiple perspectives on the same events giving you a sense of the sheer scale of the conflict going on around the protagonists. One of my favorite parts of the book is an assault on the city walls where we get the orders being given, the soldiers doing the fighting, the defense, and a witch harnessing magic to try and buy a few more days. It makes the whole thing spring to life and that’s rare even in books I love.

While not a big fan of romance in fantasy, I do like the one developing between Drangar and Gwen as the two of them have good chemistry. I also like how she’s an enemy of his country but forced on his side by circumstances. I’m a bit iffy on how Drangar keeps accumulating “Chosen One” qualities but that’s inevitable in fantasy. My favorite character in the book probably remains Ealisaid, the wizardess, and the fact she is not someone who escapes permanent injury despite her awesome powers.

Shattered Fears brings a huge number of plots together from the previous books and forms numerous explosive scenes. Ulff Lehmann has an excellent grasp of Medieval tactics. He’s not afraid to exploit the chaotic, bloody, and brutal conditions of war as well as how injuries were things that could leave you crippled for life or kill you after the battle. The low realism is a big appeal of these books and why I’m glad to have picked them up.

Read Shattered Fears by Ulff Lehmann

Share this
CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.