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The Broken Sword.

4.5 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Compton Russell (1974)
  • ASIN: B0016STAZG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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4.5 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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!
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