The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson (Fantasy Masterworks: Book 32)

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson (Fantasy Masterworks Number 32) was first published in 1954. According to the blurb on the back of the book. The sword Tyrfing has been broken to prevent it striking at the roots of Yggdrasil, the great tree that binds earth, heaven and hell together . . . but now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves, who are heavily involved in their war against the trolls, and only Scafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade the mighty ice-giant, Bolverk, to make the sword Thor broke whole again. But things are never easy, and along the way Scafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard the changeling, who took his place in the world of men. A superb dark fantasy of the highest, and most Norse, order The Broken Sword is a fantasy masterpiece.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. Poul Anderson wrote over 100 novels and won 7 Hugo's in a fantastic career. I read a review on The Guardian website that said that this, the 1st version of this book was the American Lord of the Rings, which was also published in 1954. After reading all of this I was not sure what to expect from this novel. This book at only 228 pages or so is a reasonably quick read. What I ended up with was a bit of a surprise, this is a very mythical Scandinavian tale which now seems to be quite traditional, but was a very modern tale in it's day.

Apparently there was a revised edition of this book published in 1971, and the general consensus seems to be that it did not improve the story and if anything it was worse then the original edition, and so Gollancz have gone back to the original edition for this Fantasy Masterworks edition. Also of note is that he is spelt Scafloc on the back of the book but Skafloc in the actual book itself.

The book is set in a chilly England where Elves and Trolls abound. This is the tale of Skafloc, the son of Orm who invaded England from his Viking homeland and took the daughter of a local noble to be his wife Aelfrida, he made a grudging concession to the English by changing his religion to Christianity. Just after Skafloc's birth we meet Imric, a elf travelling near to Orm’s estate who hears of his birth and decides to replace him with a changeling (Valgard). We find out that Valgard is destined to destroy his adopted family, but this doesn't turn Imric away from his plan. So we then follow Skafloc as he is nurtured by the elves. You can pretty much tell from the start of this book that things are not going to go well, and there doesn’t appear to be much chance of a happy ever after ending to this story.

We follow Skafloc as he is introduced to the lifestyle of elves and learns how to live as an elf, of course he does not have their long lifespan, but on the other hand he has the ability to use iron, which is anathema to the elves. At a very young age he is burdened with the gift of a broken iron sword that has an evil history associated with it. We learn as the story goes on that this sword is going to play an important part in his life at some point. As a teenager Skafloc helps the elves in their great war against the trolls, but unbeknownst to him, back in England his original family is slowly being ripped apart by the changeling who replaced him. This leads to an even greater mess when he meets the remnants of his family.

As the story heads towards an epic climax we can see the writing on the cards and when they meet in a final battle all bets are off.

This is a desperately dark story: you can tell from the start it will be full of tragedy. For a short book it's a very dense read. I've not read many Scandinavian / Viking mythology books and found it quite a difficult read. But, the setting of this book, an England in the grip of winter is fantastic. You can feel the cold settling around you as you read. I found it quite difficult to read the first half of the book as it just felt rather depressing, but as I got further into the book the story gripped me, and I had to power through the last half of the book in one sitting, knowing things looked a bit grim for the hero, but still needing to find out what happened.

So what do I think of the book, it's not the sort of story I usually enjoy reading. I find I have never really got along with the Viking legends and tales of the Alfar in the past, but I did have a fun time reading this. I enjoyed the writing and once I got the hang of the slightly different names, I had fun reading this book. The fights are great, and the surroundings very atmospheric. I think this is a worthy 7 out of 10 book, but not in my opinion in the same league as say The Lord of the Rings.

7/10 An enjoyable dark fantasy.

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3 positive reader review(s) for The Broken Sword

3 positive reader review(s) in total for the Fantasy Masterworks series

The Broken Sword reader reviews

from USA

Before I read this slim novel I was sure LOTR would remain my favorite fantasy work of all time. Now The Broken Sword takes its place as my favorite. It is a brilliant work and all the more extraordinary that he managed to create such a rich fantastic tale in just over 200 pages. Truly astonishing.
10/10 ()

from Cruach

This was an awesome book. It was so easy to read, no offense but it should have been a piece of cake to anyone who calls themselves a fantasy book reviewer.
10/10 ()

from Washington, IN, USA

7/10? Really? This is one of the greatest fantasy novels ever written. It rates a 10/10 easily.
10/10 ()

9.3/10 from 4 reviews

All Poul Anderson Reviews