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A True Classic of Fantasy Literature
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.