on 27 February 2009
I have to admit that though I have read more fantasy novels than can possibly be good for a grown man, this was my first read of this classic written at the same time of LOTR's.
It has made me re-evaluate some of my beliefs such as GRR Martin, Erikson and a few others invented the 'darker' and gorier branch of fantasy! They didn't Anderson did.
Having now read it I see why so many authors credit Anderson as an inspiration to them. Back in the 1950's this book must both have been groundbreaking and quite shocking. If Tolkien is the Beatles then Anderson is the Rolling Stones! more raw, edgy and dangerous but perhaps not as widely celebrated.
Anyway the book! First off it is relatively short (275 pages) and yet soo much is crammed in. Anderson tells you the story as though he is an ancient nordic story teller with his audience sat round the fire with a horn of meade. True saga style. The quicker the reader grasps this the better as there will be no riding behind the eyes of the heroes or pages of motives and feelings. In fact you could even argue there are no heroes just competeing factions.
Anderson sets the action in our world as man and the 'White Christ' is starting to sweep the land of faerie from the world. Despite this the war which makes for the bulk of the story is between the Trolls and the Elves. Into this war is dragged a human hero who must contend with the meddling of the God's, the fate weaving of the norn's, frost giants, falling in love and discovering who he is and where he came from!
Anderson manages to weave together actual history, faerie legend, nordic culture, the Gods and a sweeping story of envy, lust, violence, vengeance and love and I repeat all in about 275 pages!
Given the historical importance and clear conduit to modern fantasy status as well as the fact it is a mini masterpiece it had to be a 5 star rating.
I highly recommend all of Poul Anderson's books, especially Three Hearts & Three Lions (Fantasy Masterworks), this is the second of his books I've read and I'm currently reading Midsummer Tempest (Orbit Books) and I have Twilight World (science fiction) in my to be read pile. Anderson can not disappoint.
This book has especially strong character development, hero or villain you really do become engrossed by each and there is a very strong plot, the pace is excellent and the book never dips. As a tribute to norse and anglo-celtic mythology and storytelling its absolutely wonderful. I also think that Anderson is among a precious few who has been able to really convey the cruel and threatening nature of faerie beings such as elves and trolls or the existence of a faerie realm in tandem with our own.
The story is that of an epic, featuring both the faerie realm and human realm, it is in some ways a tragedy with the curse of a witch working itself out on the protagonists, it is also the tale of a changling and an epic struggle between elves and trolls with implications for the human realm. All the elements of very good fantasy are here, magic, heroes, villains, magical weapons, mythical beasts and creatures.
Worth mentioning is some really excellent poetic dialogue, worth reading for alone and which really comes into its own when featured in a ritual in which the spirits of perished ancestors are called back from the grave atop a burial mound. Highly recommended to fans of the fantasy genre, this is as good as Lord of The Rings, easily, highly recommended to fans of Poul Anderson (in my opinion his second best book after three hearts, three lions).
on 13 November 2001
If it wasn't for the fact that this book was published the same year as The Lord of the Rings, Anderson could be called one of the more succesful and original of myth-inspired fantasy authors in Tolkien's line. But though Anderson draws on some of the same sources, mainly Norse, Celtic, English and Scots mythology, he treats his subject matter quite diferrently from what Tolkien does. Anderson's England on the borderline between historical and mythological time is much more colourful, raw, unpolished, violent -- and more true to the tone and spirit of the Norse sagas, than Tolkien's more civil (and consciously Christian -- or at the very least profoundly moral) Middle-earth.
While many other authors in this line imports (more or less digested) elements of myths into their plot, Anderson seems to import his plot into the mythology. He uses the saga style very dextrously to present his complex and fascinating story of a human kidnapped by the elf-lord and his changeling replacement.
This book has many strong points to make it stand out: the very style-conscious and succesfully saga-terse language; its original depiction of the amoral elfs contrasted with heathen and Christian humans; its almost supernaturally powerful love story. But which are appreciated most will depend on the eye of the reader.
on 1 August 2012
Prior to signing up for a Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge I had never actually heard about "The Broken Sword" by Poul Anderson. I feel a little bit ashamed of this since I pretend to be knowledgeable about Fantasy novels yet I had no idea that this was released at the same time as Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring" or that it is broadly regarded as a classic of the heroic fantasy genre. Either way though, I am now happy to have discovered such a complex and interesting novel that draws on Norse, Irish and English mythology.
The story takes places within a fictional England during the period of Viking incursions where the realm of faerie exists alongside that of humanity. Orm, a Viking raider has killed a Saxon family, taken their land and married an English wife through coercion. However, his pillaging actions lead to a curse being place upon him which results in dire consequences in the future for himself and his family. The curse begins when Imric, an elven earl is led to Orm's house at the moment of his first son's birth so that he can kidnap the child and replaces it with a changeling. On the day that the kidnapped child is named as Skafloc, a dark gift is presented by an Aesir messenger. This ancient and broken sword with a history of death and destruction portends a grave future for both elves and men. And so begins a saga of battles, danger and death as Skafloc is forced to try and repair the sword and fight against the very changeling who replaced him when he was born.
The first thing I need to say about the book is that it really is quite a grim and bleak tale with a tragic ending that whilst expected is pulled off very well. Readers really do need to be aware that this really is a dark fantasy full of mayhem and slaughter with the plotline containing elements of betrayal, murder, incest and rape. Whilst it was quite interesting to see this rather dark influence of Norse mythology that did help in giving the book the felling of being an epic saga, I did find it all a little bit depressing to read.
In regards to the characters, whilst they were all interesting enough I can't really say they were developed in any meaningful way. For example, it was obvious from the beginning that the changeling would turn out to be bad in some way and Skafloc would be forced to deal with him. However, I did find that the characters in this book really were firmly rooted in the 11th century as they were brutal, superstitious and were living bleak and short lives. In addition, I was quite intrigued by the elven culture shown by Anderson; these are not the perfect and honest elves who just act like nice humans with pointy ears that are regularly seen in other novels. The elves had their own set of morals which were very different to humanity and whilst still beautiful creatures they were also cruel and selfish.
The writing itself was very intricate and Anderson has used a rather poetic style that I actually found quite interesting to read as it wasn't a type of style that I read very often. However, it did sometimes feel a little bit dated and the style may put some people off but I think most people shouldn't have a problem.
Overall, it was an interesting and enjoyable experience to read a book that without doubt should be classified as a classic of fantasy literature. Whilst it isn't the best fantasy novel I have read, I think any fans of the fantasy genre should enjoy this book as long as they don't mind the rather strong Nordic tragedy influence on the story. For me, it was a pleasure to read and explore a book that had influence on so many other novels.
And there haven't been too many of them recently, the standards been slipping. This one, as has been said by others, was written in 1954 and then revised in the 70s by Poul Anderson. I first picked up a (revised) copy around 10 years ago after I'd been looking for a copy, on and off, for around 10 years (and then just happened to see it in a second hand book shop - isn't that typical)
A word on the revision. This is the original and it's the first time I've read this version and, comparing it to the version I read 10 years ago, I have to say there's not too much difference. In the revision, Anderson changed one plot element (he has a witch calling up Odin instead of Satan) but otherwise left the plot intact, changing only the style to be less frantic. Whilst it's true that the original reads better, Anderson had the best of motives in the revision - he, like a lot of authors, was dissatisfied with his earlier work and admitted in the introduction that his current style (as of 1970) was more 'Three Hearts and Three Lions' (an excellent book by the same author, due for re-release in the Masterworks series and worth getting, I'd give it 4 stars.) The point I'm trying to make here is that the revision a) wasn't too bad or very extensive and b) was done for the best of reasons, because the author (wrongly) felt his early work was bad and could be improved - i.e. aesthethic reasons.
So it's an exaggeration to say that the revision 'ruined' the book, it didn't. I've only just read the original and whilst I can say it's better, there's not an enormous difference. A lot of people quote Moorcock here, who hated the revision - but I'm amazed he dares talk, considering the revision he did of 'Gloriana' for POLITICAL reasons. At least Anderson was motivated by a (mistaken) feeling that he could improve the book, not a desire to make it more PC like Moorcock. And the original is being released here, whereas the original of 'Gloriana' is still being suppressed by Moorcock as it's not PC enough (Of course Anderson's dead now and can't protest, but I think he'd have agreed anyway.)
But as to the book. It is fast paced, frantic and does its best to imitate the style of Icelandic Sagas in places, especially the poetry (a word of complaint - the Masterwork editions always seem to have bad print quality and typesetting. Here, they could have left a line space between the poems and the text, it would have made it look better. The revision did.) It deals with plots familiar to readers of those sagas also - blood feuds, a war and incest thrown in also. It is the closest you'll get to reading them and maybe you'll realise why they were so popular (and start reading the originals - Penguin do a good line in translations of Icelandic sagas. Start with 'Njal's Saga' or 'The Volsunga Saga' and you'll see where Anderson got a lot of his stuff from. And they're well worth reading, though the style takes a little getting used to.) This book is one of the best of the Masterworks so far.
on 20 November 2003
One afternoon in 1954 I walked into the library to do research for a school report and ended up at the "new aquisitions" bin instead. There I found a slim volume with "sword" in the title, opened it, and still standing by the bin, read it from cover to cover. I then rushed home without taking proper note of title or author, and spent the next ten years trying to identify it. It was only when a fellow-graduate-student took me to a party at Poul's house that I found the book once more, and re-read it with even more delight.
THE BROKEN SWORD made an indelible impression. It was the first work I had read which really conveyed what it would be like to live in a culture with a completely different worldview. Anderson's Danish background gave him a real feel for the saga style. Here was a marvelous world of stern Vikings and unearthly elves, gods and trolls, heroic combats and tragic courage.
The revised version, which was written after Poul joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, also included some changes in the battle scenes based on his new expertise.
Either way, the book was wonderful then, and is just as good a read almost fifty years later.
Poul Anderson's fantasy has the stark, fatalistic tone of Norse mythology. Its monsters are terrifying and seemingly undefeatable. Even the forces of good are selfish, greedy, and driven by revenge. There is much darkness.
This is the story of two men who look the same, but are not of the same blood. Skafloc is human, stolen from the house of his father, Orm the Strong, and raised as the foster son of Imric the elf. Valgard is a changeling, drawn forth by elf magic from a captive troll mother and left in Skafloc's place to be raised by an unsuspecting Orm. Although the two look alike, their temperaments are distinct. Skafloc is loyal, courageous, and friend to many elves and others invisible to the eyes of men. He is capable of love. Valgard is foul, treacherous, and leaves his mark on everyone within reach. The two take opposite sides in the war between elves and trolls. It is inevitable that they will meet.
Even without a good story, this book would be worth reading to explore the world imagined by the author. Magical creatures inhabit the same geography as mortals, but can only be seen under special circumstances. Not only do Norse gods walk the earth, but they are joined by gods, demons, and a full cast of mythical celebrities from all traditions. Many tread cautiously at the mention of "The White Christ" who will answer prayers, grant mercy, and save his followers from the vengeance of other gods. This plays havoc with pacts, oaths, and other agreements. The politics of Faery lend a unique texture to a world where mortals spend as much time negotiating with as worshipping their gods.
I recommend this book to fans of thoughtfully written fantasy. Particularly those who have grown weary of happy, tidy endings.
on 10 September 2015
I've not read much fantasy - Tolkien mostly - unless you count Terry Pratchett's Discworld series or the Laxdæla saga, so I can't critique this book amongst its peers as a work of fantasy.
I hadn't been too impressed with Tolkien and had read somewhere that The Broken Sword apparently exhibited strength in all the places I felt were weakest (for me at least) in The Lord of the Rings.
To be fair, after reading both, you can't really compare them. They're apples and oranges.
I loved The Broken Sword for its quick, white-knuckle pace - which comes across as a little aloof at first - but skips straight to the action. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be 'entertaining'.
Anderson foregoes Tolkien's tedious detailing and goes straight for the jugular with gruesome, and quite graphic episodes of extreme violence and brilliantly complex characters.
I loved the fact that sometimes I didn't know whose side I was on, and even felt pity for the antagonist more than once. I loved the fact that I knew how it was going to end, but had to keep reading because I didn't want it to end that way.
Anderson loses one star for the sag at the end of Act 2, where I found myself getting bored of the build-up toward the final climax, but it didn't last more than a handful if pages. Tolkien managed to beat out his sag over many hundreds of them!
on 4 March 2014
This, The Saga of Skafloc Elf's-Foster - a changeling - is absolutely captivating and well worth reading again. The geographical, historical and language usage make it all so believable, you could almost believe it! From brutal mortal beliefs of Viking culture to the mystical, immortal, majestic cruelty of the High Elves with their eyes the colour of moonlight, the whole thing is spellbinding and inspiring. I particularly love the different characters' use of verse to express individual feelings and progress parts of the story - Skafloc quoth, "the wind lives alone and wails in the trees".
Anyone who likes Tolkien will appreciate Faerie from a different angle in The Broken Sword. See you in Alfheim!
The Broken Sword has the honour of being the first Poul Anderson book I have ever read and I am now thankful to the person who recommended it to me.
At the the outset I did initially think I wouldn't be able to get into it due to some old fashioned word usage here and there. However, once I had managed to get over that the story fair flew by. The best way I could describe it is an epic tragedy on a small scale. And by that I mean for the amount of pages written, Anderson packs in a fantastic tale. Elves, trolls, goblins, Christians, pagans, gods, men, it's got the lot.
The biggest disappointment for me is, how on earth have I not come to read this twenty odd years sooner!! Got a lot of catching up to do now.