I previously covered Poul Anderson with my book review of The Enemy Stars. It was okay, but with The Broken Sword, I feel like he really shined as an author.
The Broken Sword is a fantasy novel, but it’s set in real locations during the viking age of Northern Europe. The twist is that there are actual faeriekin, as they’re called, who are the legendary creatures of old. Interestingly, this means the gods of various locales exist as well, with Odin and Thor being mentioned prominently, as well as various Celtic deities. The Christian god is mentioned as well, in the context of being the “new god” that the old ones fear. It’s an interesting idea.
The story opens with an elf named Imric, who steals a child from a viking leader named Orm and replaces the child with a changeling he sired with a captured troll woman. To celebrate the child, one of the Aesir, the Norse gods, gifts a cursed sword to Imric. The changeling and the human child grow up separately, but look similar in appearance. The human child is named Skafloc, and he comes to understand the elfs’ ways, going so far as to make love to the elf women at times. The changeling is named Valgard, and he becomes a ruthless beserker.
Before I get into spoilers, I want to say that I absolutely loved this book. I think it was one of the best fantasy novels I’d ever read and by far the most interesting thing I’ve read from Poul Anderson yet. The ending didn’t awe me, but it was satisfying. I would say this is a hugely underrated classic of fantasy.
One of the odd parts of the book is how Valgard kills basically his whole family, except his foster sister. She flees, and is smitten with Skafloc, who she doesn’t know is her brother. This whole relationship was a little off-putting, but I think that was the point. When their relationship is revealed by the ghost of Orm, it’s shocking and ruins any chance they had to be together.
As far as the ending goes, while I understand a “happy ending” was impossible, I still wished for it as I read. I knew it was coming, with Odin being seen previously multiple times, but it was still sad to see happen.
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