Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

anderson_broken_sword_carterI 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.

SPOILERS BELOW

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.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

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Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

gaiman-norse-mythology

As I mentioned in my Ocean at the End of the Lane review, I am a fan of Neil Gaiman. The man is a fine writer, and creative beyond most authors currently writing. Tackling the Norse myths seemed like a match made in heaven for him.

This was a fun book to read. I enjoyed the entire thing, and especially appreciated the way he told the tales of old with new language. Don’t expect him to use modern slang or euphemisms; Gaiman is solidly in the old ways in this story.

I think that’s what I love and hate about it.

There’s a lot that just felt like a direct translation of old tales. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it sort of stands out when Loki tells Thor to “shut up” twice in a row. Also I felt like we never truly understood Loki’s motivations, but that seems to be the fault of the source material rather than any fault of Gaiman’s.

Honestly, I would recommend this version to anyone unfamiliar with the old tales. It’s a perfect introduction to Loki, Thor, Odin, Baldur, Frey, and the others. I think it should be used in middle school to introduce these old stories. There isn’t much in the tales that could be too obscene (apart from a mention of Loki’s privates being tied to a rope).

I think he’s done a great job, but would have liked a little more of the environment present; maybe more that is distinctly Scandinavian? The salty scent of the sea, or the coastal cut of the fjord? I’m not sure.

I don’t give grades in my review, but I expect that Gaiman’s stories in this book will be recognized for the skill they were crafted with. This is definitely a book worth picking up.


If you liked this review check out some of my others:

Book Review: Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Or maybe you’d like some of my posts about writing?

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Write What You Like

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