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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2006
Poul Anderson really was one of the greatest authors of speculative fiction. Many great authors can write swashbuckling heroic fantasy, or hard science fiction, but not many can write both with equal facility. Anderson was one of the few who could, possessing a degree in physics and a great depth of knowledge of Nordic mythology and ancient languages. "The Broken Sword" is one of his pure fantasy stories (and also one of his earlier novels), and draws heavily from northern and western European myth and legend. Anderson takes an interesting approach, postulating that the mythical creatures and deities of all cultures really existed, and sometimes interacted with each other. Thus, in this story, you see elves, trolls, dwarves, and other creatures from Nordic mythology, including some of the Norse gods, the Sidhe from Irish mythology, and even a lonely satyr from Graeco/Roman mythology -- a survivor of the supernatural creatures that followed Roman colonists into Britain centuries earlier. Even Christianity is present, acknowledged as a new and growing faith that is slowly, but inexorably driving out the others (the book is set in the era when Danish Viking armies were settling large parts of northern England during Anglo-Saxon times).

What's fantastic about the book is how well Anderson evokes the myths of that era. All the essential elements of Nordic epic myths are present: the human hero, of special origin, almost superhumanly mighty a warrior, and like virtually all such heroes, fated to meet a tragic and early end; elves, dwarves, giants, trolls and gods, often at war with each other, or at best, an uneasy and fragile peace; powerful curses which work slowly and subtly, but inexorably to bring about their ends; characters motivated by hatred and revenge, whose grievances are not wholly unjustified; even Odin, travelling secretly (and sometimes appearing openly) in the world of men, and manipulating people and events, just as he did in the Norse myths. It's all here, especially the grim and tragic mood that pervades Norse mythology, for the epic tales of Nordic mythology were nearly always tragic. It's amazing how well Anderson captures the spirit of the epic material from which he drew his inspiration. This is one of his most unique and interesting stories.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2015
I found out that this book was published at the same time as J.R.R. Tolkien'n books. It took about 10 pages for me to become thoroughly enthralled. Notice I said enthralled and not enchanted. A curious word "enthralled". There were "thralls" in the book. Its funny how words change over time and if you don't catch yourself you may not fully understand what the meaning was at the time. But I digress. In this time of Marvel comics its nice to get a proper refresher on the whole Norse God tradition and the world of elves, trolls and the like and their respected "thralls". It is a harsh story, full of humans going viking, babies kidnapped, troll women raped, its a harsh world. But as we readers know, in the midst of the harshness there are glimpses of something more; beauty, kindness and Love. Yes folks, at the end of the day this a love story. But before your mind can protest "I don't want to read some silly romance", you are sucked in. And therein lies the twist. As it tends to be with Gods, elves and vikings the story gets all twisted up.And as the reader your are properly "enthralled" and cannot stop reading until the end. And you are left...bereft...wanting more
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword," which was originally published in the 1950's, is a gritty novel that reads like an actual nordic saga or medieval myth. It is one part Beowulf and one part Tristan & Iseult and packs a lot of action, adventure, love and tragedy into a very tight 200 pages. I was very impressed by how human and flawed Anderson's heros and villians are in this novel. Most of them definately jumped off the page for me. This is a great novel and it is a shame at how obscure it has become. If you are a big fan of Fantasy Fiction and/or nordic mythology, then I would definately give this novel a look if you can find it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This novel...
dear lovers of fantasy,
... of a human child exchanged at birth and taken and raised by the elves, is a solid bit of writing and a masterful story. We won't go into the details of the tale, since that can be read in the product description, but only wish to say that this is a yarn worth unraveling for those who love sword and sorcery type tales, as well as those of us who love nearly anything about elves and Faerie. This is not modern urban fantasy, ala Charles DeLint or Holly Black, but an adventure set in the days when the Norse gods still walked the earth and elves ruled a part of it. Enjoy!
kyela,
the silver elves
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2012
I loved reading this short novel. It is a dense, beautifully written novel that moves along at breakneck speed. I doubt it is hyperbole to say more happens in this novel than in the first two books of the LOTR combined. It is a very violent novel and has all the machinations of a Greek tragedy. It is, at its core, a love story, but far from conventional. To reveal too much would ruin the surprises throughout. But be warned. This is not your typical fantasy novel. It is not written where it takes whole chapters to describe a single event. When I say it moves fast, I mean it moves FAST.

There are epic battles throughout, love gained and lost, great quests and, of course, great tragedy. It has everything.

I think it is the finest fantasy novel I have ever read. I had no idea Poul Anderson could write so beautifully. I have read some of his other novels and while I enjoyed them, it was never because of his writing. In fact, I had thought him a very average writer but who had some fascinating ideas. Now I know better.

My only criticism is that it ended.

Highest recommendation!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2015
Anderson writes a tale based on the folklore of the changeling, told from both sides: a viking child stolen away and raised in the land of faerie; and the changeling left in its place, split between two worlds and full of murderous wrath. In the coming war between elf and troll, one will fight on behalf of the elves, the other on the side of the trolls: but ill-fortune follows both, death and ruin following in their wake.

The Broken Sword takes no prisoners, and despite the merriment in its prose and vigor in its swordplay, it’s an unrelenting and stark novel, surprisingly grim for its time. Anderson's flowery prose and strict adherence to the style of Norse myth gives the novel a mythic feel; it came out at the same time as The Lord of the Rings, and while there are similarities, I enjoy both of them for very different reasons. The Broken Sword echoes the grim determination of Nordic myth; it's bleak and grim, yet still full of wonder and thrilling adventure. Definitely a keeper.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2008
Anderson deserves his reputation as a master in the fantasy genre. His knowledge of Norse myth is impressive, as are his talents as a writer. A rollicking good tale, written in the epic style.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2009
Poul Anderson here tells a wonderful tale, full of magic, adventure and peril. It blazes forth at a blistering pace, yet still manages to include sufficient characterization. For me, however, the most beautiful aspect of this book is the language. Yes, the tone is dark, and there are many battles with graphic descriptions, yet I am surprised that more people haven't mentioned the majestic, epic quality to the prose: at once high and lofty, it is yet restrained and noble, often with the feeling of poetry one finds in the Old English sagas. This description, for example:

"He went over hills, the reborn year around him. It had rained in the morning and the ground was muddy, pools and rivulets glittering in the sunbeams. The grass grew strongly, a cool light green to the edge of sight; and the trees were budding forth, a frail tint of new life across their boughs, the vanguard of summer."

Essentially, I feel that Anderson has channeled all of the best qualities of the tone and feel of Tolkien's prose, yet his story is entirely his own. This reads as if an ancient bard is relating a classic tale from long ago, in a time when magic was still real. And it features lots of Vikings, gods, trolls and elves, while at times the din of Odin's hounds and chariot can be heard as he leads the hunt through the cold skies. If you like this kind of subject matter, and a somewhat archaic tone to the prose does not bother you, you can hardly fail to enjoy this.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 1997
Not the best of the saga-like fantasies, this one's nevertheless quite unique in its odd melding of fantasy & the scientific justification presented to make the tale seem real. The elves, a cold and clever race, not truly malevolent but quite indifferent to men, are beings apart (along with their enemies the trolls and the goblins & other faerie folk). They are unable to withstand sunlight or the touch of iron but are yet rich in alternative, albeit medieval, technologies. They use unheard of alloys of silver for their tools and weaponry and "frictionless" ships to ply the seas.

Here is the story of a mortal taken into this world as a babe, replaced in his cradle by a changeling infant, half troll, half elf, but conjured into the image of the child he has replaced, and of how these two grow to manhood in their respective worlds -- the human to serve the needs of the elves, by handling the iron they cannot touch themselves, and the changeling to come to revile and betray the mortal family he was raised to believe were his kin. Both are betrayed by the worlds in which they are raised and lost for that -- the human for the inhuman heritage he has been raised with; the changeling for his longing for a human soul and his hatred of those who have what he cannot.

The plot is set in motion by the curse of a witch, herself the victim of the harshly brutal behavior of the stolen babe's father, and pivots on the interplay of the magical beings of faerie and the gods who toy with them. All are players and yet pieces, too, on a great chessboard which none knows the extent of -- and the stakes are the very existence of the magical beings and the gods themselves.

Into this world the human, Scafloc, is thrust, a preening and overconfident hero among the elves who finds his fate and his end through a forbidden love and, in so doing, brings into the world the greatest evil, even as he strives to save those who have raised him. Not a happy tale by any stretch, yet headlong and well-told. It is rich in the lore and feel of Norse saga literature and well worth reading, though the end's a bit predictable and does not move us quite as it should. Better than average among fantasies, unique but not quite among the greats.

SWM
author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2015
The Broken Sword is a modern Norse myth that both dazzles and disappoints with its tale of unwitting mortals caught in the web of gods.

When just a newborn, our hero Skafloc is snatched from his mother’s breast due to the machinations of a disgruntled witch, who hates the babe’s father. This crone tricks Imric, a mighty lord of the elf-folk, into substituting a half-elf, half-troll changeling named Valgard for Skafloc. Thereafter, the two babies grow up in different worlds; each unaware of the switch that had occurred so long ago.

But while Imric is joyful and proud of his new human fosterling, Skafloc’s life among the elf-folk begins ominously: Skirnir, messenger of the Aesirs, coming unlooked for to the elf-lord’s domain. Upon his arrival, Skirnir bears a broken sword of old, which he casts down as a gift for the human child, proclaiming that one day Skafloc will need to reforge the accursed blade to fight a horrible foe. Imric, however, disregards the ill words, hiding the weapon away, holding on to the joy that the human child brings to the ethereal world of the elf-folk.

Years pass by peacefully. Skafloc grows tall and strong, coupling the strength of man with the wisdom and grace of the elf. Not only is he beloved by all (in their otherworldly way), girded in the finest armor to be found, wielding the mightiest of blades, but he is a warrior of renown, fighting by his foster father’s side far and wide against the elf-folks most vile enemies: the trolls.

In the human world, Valgard has grown in equal measure. He is tall and strong (a perfect twin to Skafloc), feared by all due to his fierce raids. Yet Valgard is a strange child and man, silent and brooding, full of hidden nastiness and rage, who seemingly is ill at ease anywhere except upon his mighty raiding ship.

And hiding in the background, forgotten by all, is the witch, who finds that the abduction of Skafloc has not brought the misery she desired to his family. Thus, she sets into motion a vile plan with the help of a mighty godling; one which will ultimately doom Skafloc, Valgard, their families, the elf-folk, and troll-kind!

After finishing The Broken Sword, I can easily declare that it is an entertaining tale which does many things well.

One, Poul Anderson does a masterful job of mixing the ethereal otherworld of elf, troll, and gods with the mortal realm of man and the Christian faith; each residing upon the other like two window panes of glass, seemingly separate entities yet unerringly connected to the other. Every action in one reflected in some way upon the other.

Two, the characters portrayed are complex, intriguing, and epic in their own individual way. The “bad guys” have their reasons for their actions; reasons that are not only pointed to but also fleshed out enough to actually matter. And even the “good guys” are not pearly white bastions of sanctity but men and women who commit vile acts (knowingly or unknowingly) that leave them doomed to fates much worse than any they would have ever dreamed possible.

Three, this narrative absolutely captures the grand spirit of the ancient Norse myth. It is epic in its tone, tragic in its twists and turns, and constantly demands of its heroes a frantic fight against the coming doom that they can discern but do not know how to avoid.

However, some of the very things that makes The Broken Sword a grand epic in the spirit of Beowulf is also its worst problems. As mentioned, the doom of the hero is foretold at his birth. Not only that but other fae-folk, gods, and even mortals foreshadow the coming tragedies throughout the narrative, so when the unexpected doom falls upon our heroes, it is something that most readers will have guessed long before it is actually happens. A fact which made the story not awe-inspiring and exciting but disappointing and dull.

Even with that seemingly harsh criticism, Poul Anderson wrote an outstanding modern Norse myth with The Broken Sword. More relatable than Tolkien’s The Silmarillion yet just as dramatic, it is a tale that fantasy fans will definitely savor.

Open Road Media and Netgalley provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.
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