Along with sequels Forge in the Forest
and The Hammer of the Sun
, The Anvil of the Ice forms the first part of Michael Scott Rohan's "Winter Of the Worlds" trilogy. I don't believe it is exaggeration to class this trilogy, and especially the first novel, as of the very top tier of fantasy fiction. Obvious comparisons can be drawn both on the basis of such a claim, and also on the themes of both trilogies, to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
. Both draw heavily from Germanic, Scandinavian and particularly Norse mythology, but there the similarities end.
Whereas Tolkien's work is primarily mythological high fantasy involving flying dragons, walking tree-men and wizards who can cast lightning (tongue in cheek, but bear with me), Michael Scott's Rohan's fantasy series is somehow simultaneously more gritty, more human, and more British, but struck through with equal poetry. Where the high fantasy elements of Lord of the Rings give something of the comic-book baddie to Tolkein's villains (giant floating eyes, giant cave-trolls and ethereal sword-wielding horsemen), the characters and races in the Winter trilogy are more gritty and human. Tolkein's dwarves are met by Scott Rohan's stocky duergar of Northumbrian myth, his orcs by the Viking-esque Ekwesh, and his staff-wielding wizards by soot-caked smiths.
Michael Scott Rohan's trilogy is to The Lord of the Rings what The Dark Knight is to Batman, a grittier re-imagining of the fantasy landscape that inherits from and owes a lot to Tolkein but does not cheapen or ape it, nor become lost in its shadow. To write fantasy fiction in the Anglo Saxon world without acknowledging any influence from Tolkien would be forced and crippling - the approach taken by Michael Scott Rohan shows a positive engagement with Norse mythology that is absent in the vast majority of fantasy fiction. It is my impression that Scott Rohan's trilogy resembles Tolkien not because it is drawn from it, but because he has been inspired by it to re-examine the same root sources of the mythology as Tolkien did when he wrote his trilogy. It is a difference that marks this trilogy out from the lazier boilerplate fantasy fiction that abounds, homogenous and indiscernible, in modern fiction. A difference that is apparent from the inclusion of concepts and ideas from Germanic mythology absent from Tolkien, such as the lead character's similarities to Wayland the Smith of The Poetic Edda
, and the central role of the Tarnhelm, a re-imagined inclusion from Wagner's Das Rheingold
. A difference also that is apparent in the author's nonfiction work on the Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross
Tolkien's trilogy has attained the status of high fiction as a result not only of it being the first major work of fantasy fiction to tie together strands of Germanic mythology in a modern novel of such scope, but because of the depth of his research into the mythology that informed it, and the perceived commentary - intentional or not - of his wasted Middle-Earth on modern-day atomic weaponry and industrialisation. I find Scott Rohan stands shoulder to shoulder with Tolkien on every count. His writing style is captivating, his plot gripping, his mythology informed, and his imagined wasting of Nordeney by The Ice as powerful a commentary on climatic change as Tolkien's wasted Middle Earth was on industrial development and pollution.
If you believe that modern fantasy fiction has lost its way, this book might go some way to restoring your faith. Anvil of Ice is an under-read masterpiece that you will be the richer for having read.