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The Broken Sword

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Thor broke the sword Tyrfing to save the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree that binds earth, heaven and hell. Now the elves need the weapon for their war against the trolls. Only Scafloc, a human kidnapped and raised by elves, can hope to persuade Bolverk the ice-giant to make Tyrfing whole again. But Scafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard, the changeling in his place among men.

274 pages, Paperback

First published November 5, 1954

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About the author

Poul Anderson

1,414 books969 followers
Pseudonym A. A. Craig, Michael Karageorge, Winston P. Sanders, P. A. Kingsley.

Poul William Anderson was an American science fiction author who began his career during one of the Golden Ages of the genre and continued to write and remain popular into the 21st century. Anderson also authored several works of fantasy, historical novels, and a prodigious number of short stories. He received numerous awards for his writing, including seven Hugo Awards and three Nebula Awards.

Anderson received a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1948. He married Karen Kruse in 1953. They had one daughter, Astrid, who is married to science fiction author Greg Bear. Anderson was the sixth President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, taking office in 1972. He was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies. He was a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his 1985 novel The Cat Who Walks Through Walls to Anderson and eight of the other members of the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy.[2][3]

Poul Anderson died of cancer on July 31, 2001, after a month in the hospital. Several of his novels were published posthumously.

* Time Patrol
* Psychotechnic League
* Trygve Yamamura
* Harvest of Stars
* King of Ys
* Last Viking
* Hoka
* Future history of the Polesotechnic League
* Flandry

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 713 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
May 4, 2017
Why is this book not more popular?

Written four years after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and published the same year as Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword is a fantasy masterpiece. Combining Norse myth and legend, English and World myth, with historical fact and setting, this tells a legendary tale economically and with a fable-like tone.

Adventurous and entertaining as well, the only reason I can think that it has been less successful than its English cousins is that where Lewis and Tolkien created fantasies rich in detail but were clearly (especially Lewis) a Christian allegory, Anderson’s book is more purely mythic and leans more heavily on the animistic perspective and stands outside the Christian house looking in.

Is this book too pagan to be marketable?

Anderson tells of an epic battle between elves and trolls, with the Aesir and Frost giants looking on, and of a tragic hero caught on the chessboard in between. If you like a good fantasy and if you are interested in a blend of history and myth, and any reader who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, should love this book.

A very good read, and should be on a short list of greatest mythic fantasy books of all time.

Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
June 12, 2012
Every young medium, if it wishes to be taken seriously as an art form, must find a way to present mature stories. Movies began to take themselves seriously in the thirties, comic books began their struggle to elevate themselves in the late seventies, and videogames have been trying to achieve greater depth for the past few years.

Yet, like any rise from adolescence to adulthood, this reaching for maturity is always an awkward period. It is marked by overcompensation, by the striking of certain poses which are meant to seem mature, but which only make immaturity stand out more. Whether for child or art form, the signs of adolescence are the same: and obsession with darkness and death, violence, sexuality, swear words, and amorality. If these were truly the signs of a mature work, then my most mature creation would be the back cover of my eighth grade notebook, resplendent as it was with with daggers, bloody eyes, fantasy babes, skulls, monsters, and anarchy symbols.

We recognize that these are the signs of a naive child playing with the idea of being an adult, and yet these are the same things fans and creators of emerging art often point to as proof of their grim, gritty, amoral maturity. It's this obsession with an appearance of maturity which lacks all mature substance that I blame for the fact that today, sixty years later, I am not aware of any modern epic fantasies which can boast the tragedy, heartache, and moral conflicts of The Broken Sword. Certainly there are many truly adult fantasies out there, but they lie in subgenres other than The Epic: Urban Fantasy, New Weird, Historical Fantasy.

Once again, as with everything good or bad about the modern state of epic fantasy, it is the result of Tolkien's influence. There are many readers and even some authors of fantasy today who think that the genre began with Tolkien. Trying to understand fantasy solely through Tolkien and the authors he influenced is like trying to ride a horse with only one leg.

Much has been made of the fact that The Broken Sword was released the same year as The Lord of the Rings, and it's true that the similarities between the two books do not end there: both have distant, tall elves, deep-delving dwarves, a broken sword which must be reforged, an epic war between armies of light and darkness, a central character who is trapped between that conflict, and an interweaving of the Christian and Mythical Pagan worldviews.

Comparing the two works, it becomes increasingly clear how little of Tolkien's world was original--and how the original aspects tended to be the weakest. If Tolkien's work represents an incomplete attempt to recreate Milton's Adam in Frodo and save the heroic Satan in the guise of Aragorn, Anderson's interplay is less daring, but more successful. Taking a cue from Dunsany, he depicts a world where the old and new forms are at odds. Through humanity, they come into conflict, but it is not possible for the utterly aloof Christian god to touch or be touched by the intensely personal, meddling heathen powers.

While I found Dunsany's portrayal of that stark separation intriguing and mystical, it is less satisfying in Anderson's work. Like Kipling, he shows us a world where gods and faiths intermingle, the old dying slowly in the face of the new, but Anderson never addresses why the new faith has this power. I do not ask that he lay out the cosmology, but I would have appreciated more illustrations of the relationship which might have pointed at the intriguing depth Dunsany and Kipling portrayed.

In a curious turn, Anderson returned to this book fifteen years later, making changes throughout to the tone and word use, but also altering a few scenes to change the portrayal of the Pagan/Christian conflict. I read the original version, which has more powerful language and an unusual theological implication which, had it been explored, might have made this book very conceptually interesting.

Another problem in this book was Anderson's portrayal of women, though it was nowhere near as bad as one gets from modern epic fantasies. His women have character, wills, and power. They kill, they wear armor, they defy and manipulate men--Anderson clearly draws the women of his tragic epic from the tragedies of the Greeks and Shakespeare. Yet they tend still to be emotionally reliant on men, and are often lead to act out of their desires for and relationships with those men. More than that, every woman seems to be described at least once as wearing some clinging, form-fitting thing which makes evident her curves, revealing that it's important for an author to describe what is relevant to the story, not merely what his own eye habitually lingers on.

Strong women are not the only things Anderson takes from the great tragedies--his central story is a remarkably deep and sympathetic exploration of personal tragedy, full of purpose and pathos. The deaths, trials, betrayals and self-doubts are not thrown into the story haphazardly to feed a chaotic plot, like Martin's, they are vital and personal, each one built precisely to reveal some new aspect of a character's inner turmoil.

Despite being laid out like a classical tragedy, so that the downfall is evident from the beginning, looming over us, I never felt that this knowledge hurt the reader's expectation, because Anderson was a good enough writer to make sure that it wasn't about what external events happened to the characters, but what their internal reactions would be. There is no mystery about what event will tear apart Skafloc and Freda's love, what is vital to us is how it will impact them. It just goes to show that cheap thrills and plot twists are nothing compared to a good character.

Though Skafloc and Freda's struggles are poignant--moreso as we near the conclusion--for much of the story, Skafloc's antagonistic counterpart Valgard presents a more rare picture: that of the unsure, self-searching man who finds himself again and again on the side of darkness, without knowing what has brought him there--is it fate? his own true nature? mere bad luck? Like Tolkien's Gollum or Eddison's Lord Gro, I often feel drawn to these figures of personal crisis who demonstrate the vagueness of the line that separates heroism and villainy.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed not to see Valgard's story grow as things progressed. When he first asked himself whether he were truly born evil--a changeling child--or had some control over his fate, I eagerly anticipated his attempts to prove the fact, one way or the other. Yet, perhaps realistically, he ultimately found himself spitted on the question, unable in the end to test it. I wish that, even if Anderson chose not to explore the full range of this question, he might have had Valgard confront it in different ways, instead of returning always to the same view and phrasing. In the end, it was Skafloc who explored the fuller range of moral values in his quest to determine what truly separated a sword-wielding hero from a power-hungry killer.

Though this book is largely unknown to any outside of devoted fantasy fans, it is notable for being one of the books which inspired Michael Moorcock, especially in his Elric series, through which many of its tropes have trickled into modern fantasy. In Moorcock's opinion, it was this book, and not Tolkien's, which should have become the epic fantasy classic. It certainly would have sent the genre off in a different direction. Perhaps now, instead of a mirthless grasp at maturity, we might have recognized that since epic fantasy has already had great tragic depictions, modern authors are entirely free to write new and interesting stories free of the hollow pretensions that come with the label of 'serious author'.

Epic Fantasy is not, like some others, a young genre, finding itself, but a very old one that has lost its way. I can only hope that soon, we'll start to see the other side of this mid-life crisis, and that books like The Broken Sword may be written again.

My List of Suggested Fantasy Books
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
August 15, 2011
In a stunning development certain to send shockwaves through the world of Fantasy Literature, The Lord of the Rings, long considered by many to be the "Greatest Epic Fantasy" of all time, has been bitch-slapped and bitch-smote by Poul Anderson's 1954 dark fantasy epic, The Broken Sword. Anderson's story is now loudly demanding at least a share of the top honors. Such recognition would be welcome and long overdue according to fantasy icon Michael Moorcock who believes that Anderson's tale “knocks Fellowship of the Rings into a cocked hat.”***

***Linguists are currently hard at work translating what the hell Moorcock’s statement means, but it does appear to be high praise for Anderson’s novel. More on this as it develops.

Here is a breakdown of this criminally overshadowed epic fantasy tale provided to us by some FANTAnerd who reads way too many books about elves and wizards.

When looking at Lord of the Rings and The Broken Sword, one can’t help but notice a number of similarities between the two epics. Both Tolkien and Anderson drew on well known myth sources from places like England, Scandinavia and Ireland as a primary backdrop for their stories. Both have elves, dwarves, trolls and other non-human races that pre-date man and whose societies are in decline and have seen their best days. Both have powerful magical objects that eventually doom the wielder (i.e., the one ring and the titular broken sword). Finally, both incorporate epic, melodramatic poetry into the narrative.

However, this is where the two books FOREVER part company. Tolkien skips off and builds a light, kiddie friendly playground around a bunch of tree hugging runts with hairy feet. Anderson hacks and machetes a path much truer to the source material from which it is drawn and creates a dark, savage world where rape, murder and atrocities are a way of life and humans are used as pawns by immoral (or at least amoral) gods who orchestrate events for their own hidden purposes. While Tolkien paved the way for commercially popular successors like Robert Jordan, David Eddings and Terry Brooks, the influence of Anderson’s tale can be seen running through the veins of the darker, noirish, fantasy tradition exemplified by writers like Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Neil Gaiman and Joe Abercrombie.

For my money, this latter group is the far more interesting and worthwhile side of the fantasy genre and where I prefer to spend most of my time.


The world created by Anderson is sublime and is easily one of the richest, most concentrated fantasy worlds I have ever come across. Taking place primarily in viking controlled/influenced England around 1000-1100 A.D., Anderson draws from multiple traditions to create a mesmerizing blend of Norse/English/Irish mythology with the added aspect of the steady creep of the Christian tradition as an invading force that is slowly eroding the powers of the old gods. For example, as the story begins, the spread of Christianity (referred to as “White Christ”) has so diminished the power of the realms of Faery (e.g., elves, trolls, sprites, sidhe, goblins, etc.) that only humans gifted with “witchsight” can even perceive them. The way this is portrayed in the narrative is terrific.

In addition to the peoples of Faery, the other major group of players in Anderson’s epic are the Norse gods (i.e., Aesir) and their eternal nemesis the Frost Giants (i.e., Jotunn). These Norse gods remind one of the old, ancient tales and they are anything but Hollywood. I hesitate to call them evil, but they are certainly the supreme manipulators of the story and most of the narrative threads are set in motion as a result of their clever maneuvers.

The story begins with a viking named Orm stealing coastal land from an Englishman and slaughtering the man’s entire family, except for an aging grandmother who manages to escape (and who is also a witch...DOH!!). The witch plots revenge on Orm and sets in motion a plan the culminates in Imrac, an elf-earl, stealing Orm’s newborn son to be fostered with the elves. In the baby’s place, Imrac leaves a changeling he created by raping a captured troll princess...(I told you this wasn’t Disney). The elves name the human baby Scafloc and Orm and his wife name the changeling Valgard.

The fostering of a human child by the elves is cause for a massive celebration in the realm of Faery. At the celebration, a messenger from the Norse gods presents a present to Imrac to be given to Scafloc when he becomes an adult. It is a massive iron sword, broken in two. The messenger explains that only the creator of the swords, the frost giant Bolverk, can make it whole but it will serve Scafloc well. Iron is the one substance no creature of Faery can touch and so the sword is wrapped and hidden deep in the castle behind magic spells.

Well...that’s about all of the set up I want to give as so much of the wonder of the story is all of the maneuvering among the various factions. Scafloc grows to be mighty warrior and wielder of elf magic. Valgard also grow to be a mighty warrior, but one with a violent temper and the very image of a Viking berserker. Both Valgard and Scafloc become pivotal pawns in a complex, massive epic orchestrated by the gods and involving all out (and I mean ALL OUT) war between the Elves and their allies and the trolls and their allies.

Much of the book is taken up with the massive war between the elves and trolls and it is as good as it gets. The battle scenes in this book, in my opinion, absolutely put Tolkien to shame and are epic, violent and loaded with the melodramatic prose so reminiscent of the ancient heroic sagas.
Swords flew in a blur that spouted blood. The shock and crash of metal drowned wind and sea. The elves stood in a ring, and around that circle was another of corpses.
Tall and terrible, his fair locks flying in the gale and his eyes ablaze with blue hell-flames, Scafloc loomed over the struggle. Never did his sword rest, and he ducked the clumsy troll thrusts and swipes with a flickering grace from which his own glaive darted like a snake’s tooth. The trolls began to fall away from him, and his band cleared the bows.
‘Now forward!’, he yelled.
The elves advanced sternward behind a curtain of flashing steel. Mightily did the trolls fight. Elves sank with crushed skulls or cloven bellies or transfixed hearts. But the trolls went back and back, only their trampled dead holding fast.
I can not express how much this book resonated with me. This is a standard bearer of epic fantasy and I can’t believe it isn’t held in the same esteem as LOTR.

Now, I know it may seem that I am dumping a bit on old J.R.R., and I want to be clear that this is not my intention (well, except for the tree-hugging runts comment). I really do love Lord of the Rings and think it deserves its legion of followers. However, I do think think this book is superior in almost every area and I enjoyed it far more than I ever enjoyed Tolkien.

If you prefer Moorcock, Mieville and Abercrombie to Jordan, Eddings and Brooks, than I think you may find yourself agreeing with me. Regardless, you should definitely check it out.


P.S. I listened to the audio version of this book as read by Bronson Pinchot and it was INCREDIBLE and enhanced the reading experience substantially.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
June 25, 2020

The Broken Sword is an essential work of heroic fantasy, as important to the development of the genre as Eddison and Tolkien, Howard and Leiber. If it is neglected today, that is partly because it is unique: it stands alone, not part of a multi-volume saga or the trilogies that are fashionable today. But it is also neglected, I believe, because it is a cold book, literally cold in its setting (most of it takes place in winter), but metaphorically cold as well. It is a grim tale, full of hardship and scant of pity, worthy of the old Scandinavian sagas that inspired it.

It tells of the struggle between Skafloc, a human child raised by elves, and of the changeling Valgard (half elf, half troll) left behind in his place. The two are destined to battle each other in the great war between the elves and the trolls, and the Broken Sword—a god’s gift to the infant Skafloc—is fated to determine the course of their dark destiny.

Michael Moorcock loved his book as a boy, and considered it superior to Tolkien. His elf-King Elric of Melnibone, and his fateful sword Stormbringer, would never have existed—at least not in their present form—without the influence of Poul Anderson’s Skafloc and The Broken Sword.

Please don’t let my comment about how cold this book is dissuade you from reading it. I enjoyed this book, and—although its overall impression is a cold one—it contains much variety. Its three most prominent worlds—of the humans, the elves, and the trolls—are each distinctively realized, with their own pleasures and dangers, and the gods, the goblins, the devils and the witches add much to the mix. In addition, the doomed love between Skafloc and Freda is frankly sensual and tender (and heat up the whole novel—even in the dead of winter—just a bit).
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
March 17, 2019
There is a broken sword and there is a broken thing, a changeling, the story's villain. There is a man and a woman and both shall be broken as well; love shall bind them and love shall break them. There are elves that rape their prisoners and trolls that mourn their lost daughters; Odin disguised as Lucifer and Lucifer coming to mock and offer no succor, even to those who swear fealty. There is a White God, bringing change: all shall fear Him. There is a wintry saga, cold and bleak: The Broken Sword.

A witch smiles in joy at her rat familiar, gleeful at the breaking they have wrought. A woman mourns the devastation of her family, longing for death and finding it. A story brings together all the legends and myths and races and gods, and breaks them, binds them, breaks them again. An author writes of grim destiny in words calm and clear and remorseless, finding the poetry in broken things and the breaking then reshaping of the world. A reader read a broken paperback, and marveled at the sublime despair. A book sang, from tattered pages came such sad and terrible songs. Alas!
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews805 followers
November 30, 2016
Poul Anderson is an authors' author. Wait, I already said that in my review of Tau Zero. Now I will talk about his versatility, The Broken Sword is nothing like his sci-fi books that I have read before, and it is so very different from Tau Zero that it is hard to believe the same author wrote both books. I can not imagine Arthur C. Clarke writing this, or even Heinlein, whose only fantasy Glory Road is still very Heinlein in style.

The Broken Sword is one of Anderson's comparatively few fantasy novels, this book and Three Hearts and Three Lions are his two most popular fantasy titles. It is a fairly straightforward story about two changelings, one human swapped at birth with an elf/troll hybrid. An unwise idea from the elf king that inevitably end in tears. The most interesting aspect of the book for me is the prose style, which is written in a kind of pseudo-archaic or “Olde English” language.

Magic tends to be sparingly used in modern fantasy, and they tend to be backed up with some kind of logic, cause, cost, and effect. The Broken Sword uses an old school unsystematic magic. Chanting and hand waving tend to get the job done, things are conjured out of thin air, that sort of thing. In this cynical age it is hard to suspend disbelief but for Poul Anderson, I made a special effort and just went with the story without over thinking the logic of it all. Still, I have to say the main characters are rather dense in that they can not figure out the hero Skafloc’s mysterious biological parentage. Granted the reader is privy to the info to begin with, but the clues available to the characters are very obvious.

I usually prefer the more "on the nose" covers

This is not a lighthearted adventure tale, it is unrelentingly gloomy and melancholic, not a lot of (intentional) laughs to be had. Some of the passages are very atmospheric, like this one:

“Wiser the witch returned, with a rat for familiar who suckled blood out of her withered breasts with his sharp little teeth and at night crouched on her pillow and chittered in her ear as she slept.”

That gives me the heebie-BeeGees!

Also noteworthy is that even though this is fantasy Anderson still managed to predict a future invention:

“It was a high feast, for which many human and faerie babies had been stolen, along with cattle, horses, and wines of the south. There was music of the snarling sort the trolls liked, rattling out of the air.”

Clearly the trolls are listening to death metal. There is a sort of sci-fi rationalization of the fantasy elements in the author's afterword at the end of the book which may be tongue in cheek, or the result having just smoked something better left alone.

Anyway, that’s enough babbling from me. TL;DR: Very good old school fantasy, well worth a read. Anyway, it should not take up too much of your time. Compared to the size of your modern fantasy epics this book is a mere pamphlet.
Profile Image for Matthias.
107 reviews352 followers
February 10, 2017
Many ages ago, when majestic forests dominated our lands and little cottages of hay and wood were the only thing protecting the hairy humans from the elements, tales were not just tales. The stories passed down from one generation to the next held Truth. The stories read in those days were never forgotten. They were carved in trees and stones, they were carried with the water and the wind, they were illuminated by the stars and the moon. The tales were everywhere as mountains harboured dwarves and trolls, treetops were infested with fairies and the ground one walked upon held within it both the Depths of Darkness and the Source of Life.

A wizard sat by the fire, brooding. He had many tales in his head, of love, of war, of passion, of hatred, of honor and of treachery. He had whispered many of his wise accounts to the birds, to the blades of grass and to the clouds, but the ears that he was supposed to reach had stopped listening. The metallic churning of machines and the clinging of dirty coins drowned out all other noise and Man had stopped listening to the wizard’s stories.

The wizard stood up and strolled pensively to his desk. He had to get his stories out there without burdening busy Man’s brain, catch them with his wisdom unawares. He glanced at his library and an idea struck him. A book! Of course. But it needed to be a special book. One that did not scare away busy Man with many pages but carried an abundance of stories within it nonetheless. And so he crafted a book as small as a mouse but as heavy as a mountain, a book as forethoughtful as an old man but as fast as an elfish horse. A book black as tar but soft as a feather.

And so it is that “The Broken Sword” was crafted. A magical book, both in what it tells and how it tells it. It is a story carved in trees and stones and hearts, whispered in winds and memories. Take heed of its warning. Do not reforge the sword in the face of desperation, for it will show you much uglier things.
Profile Image for Markus.
476 reviews1,562 followers
February 6, 2017
"It was a cool spring dark with the moon nearly full, rime glittering on the grass and the stars still hard and bright as in winter. The night was very quiet save for the sighing of wind in budding branches, and the world was all sliding shadows and cold white light."

Published in 1954, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword is one of the forgotten giants of early modern fantasy. The book remains an astounding influence of several important writers in the genre.

Set in medieval England, the book features a vast combination of cultural and religious influences. The focus is on the various peoples and creatures of Norse mythology, and as such, this is more than anything a Scandinavian fantasy story, easily explained by Anderson’s Danish blood.

To a modern eye, the writing style is archaic, but unfortunately not poetic. In other words, it’s old but not gold. It’s hardly difficult to read in any way, but the writing is in no way outstanding or impressive.

Michael Moorcock praised The Broken Sword as superior to Tolkien. Moorcock, with his class grievances and petty jealousy, is rarely to be taken seriously, but since using something to lash out against Tolkien is simply his way of saying that something is good, the endorsement is worth something.

For this is definitely a great book. More of a historical-mythological fiction novel than a proper fantasy, The Broken Sword still deserves a place of honour in the sacred halls of the fantasy genre.
Profile Image for Adrian.
573 reviews209 followers
October 29, 2020
This book was the book I chose from those offered to me as part of the group "Apocalypse Whenever's" "Bossy Book Challenge". My partner in this years challenge was Nancy, who offered me a great choice of books, from which I chose this gem.

It was a really enjoyable book. I don't read much Fantasy, but always enjoy it when I do, as if I should read more. The one exception is of course Lord of The Rings, a book I've read many times. Why do I mention LoTR, well it is based on some of the same Nordic mythology as this book, and was published around the same time.

That said, this is completely different to LoTR, whilst still fantasy and still an enjoyable story. It focusses on a male baby born to a human family that was stolen by the Elves, with a half troll / half elf child substituted in its place. The substituted baby grows up strong but angry with issues, the stolen baby grows up brave strong and good as the foster son of an elf leader.
However the fates dictate that their paths will cross later in their lives.
Years later the Trolls , who have been secretly building up their army, begin their campaign against the civilised non human (else, dwarves and other fae) members of Northern Europe. Skafloc Elven Fosterling fights on the side of his Elf foster parents, by then Valgard, the human raised halfling, has left his human life and fights with his true brethren the Trolls.
The sword, broken by the Gods for its evilness, hidden by the elves has yet to play its part in this sorry tale.
As you can see it has many similarities with LoTR, Elves, Trolls, Dwarves, other mythical (mystical) creatures and of course a broken sword that will play a major part in the story. The one place it falls short of LoTR is not storyteller, is not adventure, it is the length of the book. In my opinion , this could have been so much more, both figuratively and literally. The story cries out for 500 / 600 pages to fully develop characters, to not rush them through the years, to not rush them through battles or loves. It should be so much more than 207 pages, and that is why I only gave this 4 stars. Great writing, great story telling, interesting world building and a fabulous tale, but tooooo short.
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
November 28, 2015
The Broken Sword: A dark fantasy classic of Norse mythology
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword (1954) was selected by David Pringle in his Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, and is highly praised by Michael Moorcock, whose character Elric of Melnibone and his demon-possessed sword Stormbringer are directly inspired by The Broken Sword. The audio version is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, who has an amazing vocal range and narrates with passion.

To get right to the point, this book is amazing and deserves a much wider readership. It’s one of the most powerful, tightly-written and relentlessly-dark high fantasies I’ve ever read. It’s chock full of Norse gods, demigods, Vikings, elves, trolls, goblins, sea serpents, evil witches, dark magic, mighty heroes, beautiful maidens, and above all tragedy, doomed love, and implacable fate. It taps into the same rich vein of Nordic lore that J.R.R. Tolkien did with The Lord of the Rings, but hews much closer to the dark and violent but heroic tone of those earlier sagas.

There are no jolly and peace-loving Hobbits smoking pipes here. Characters both mortal and otherwise are often cruel, passionate, and ruthless. Yet they storyline itself harks back to the most basic and fundamental heroic stories people have told throughout history. As such, it feels very mythic and archetypal, and the writing of Anderson is muscular, rich, gritty, and evocative to a degree rarely seen in the bland Tolkien-clone fantasy mega-series that have clogged the shelves for many decades. In fact, the recent popularity of grim-dark fantasy penned by writers like George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Glen Cook, etc. can be seen as readers tiring of the same old formula and wanting a darker, more realistic take on fantasy adventure.

I see this as part of a broader shift in popular entertainment that coincides with the power of the Internet and online media distribution. In the past just a few TV networks and film studios controlled the types of TV programs and movies that were available to the public, but the advent of online film distribution caused an explosion of content, both good and bad, that has allowed for greater creative activity than ever before. Perhaps this is more apparent in the world of TV, where in the last decade the best writing and programs are drama series like The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Mad Men, Homeland, etc. These programs share a common thread of gritty realism, reinventing tired old genres, and a healthy cynicism and dark humor that was lacking in the stale offerings of the traditional networks.

The world of The Broken Sword is very complex, and Anderson throws in hundreds of exotic names of ancient tribes, lands, peoples, and faerie creatures that populated Europe many centuries past. The effect is to blur the boundaries between the actual Norse, Dane, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English peoples and ancient places with their rich mythology. The Aesir (Norse) gods Odin, Thor, Loki make appearances, as do Irish demigods, and there is mention of a fearful new white god, Christ, who is a threat to the elder gods. Such is the skill of Anderson that it is impossible to distinguish which elements are fantasy and which are historical. He also provides a sense of immensely long history and ancient god-like figures who only rarely venture into the temporal realms of men, yet have active interest in their doings. The mix of such a plethora of mythologies in The Broken Sword can be a bit confusing, but the tight focus of the main story always prevents Anderson from getting lost in the infinite potential side-stories that he might have examined if he were writing a multi-volume epic to ensure a steady stream of royalties as most epic fantasy writers of recent years have resorted to.

The Broken Sword is the story of Skafloc, the human son of Orm the Strong but raised by elves, and the dark changeling Valgard, a half-elf and half-troll substituted for the infant Skafloc as a baby by a capricious elf named Imric. This sets in motion a series of tragic events that culminate in massive battle between an army of elves led by Skafloc and an army of trolls led by Valgard. There are other mythical creatures and gods involved in the conflict, but the most intimate battles rage in the hearts of Skafloc, who discovers too late that he has unknowingly fallen in love with his sister Freda, and Valgard, who is beguiled by an evil witch into slaying his brothers and parents, which drives him from human society and into the hands of the trolls, with whom he shares blood ties. The two become enormously powerful warriors, but at the same time are torn with feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and the inability to take joy in anything other than killing and vengeance. After discovering his love for Freda was incestuous, Skafloc seeks a weapon capable of opposing the vast troll armies led by Valgard and his powerful battle-axe nicknamed Brother Slayer. Skafloc takes a broken sword embedded with dark and evil magic, which is reforged by the giant who made it. It imparts incredible strength and killing ability to the wielder, but must drink blood once it has been drawn, which had tragic consequences.

The Broken Sword is one of the few books I’ve read where any page you turn to will yield incredibly vivid images and descriptions, but to give you an idea of the dramatic tone and writing style, here is just one example in the climactic final battle between Skafloc and Valgard:

Like a blind man Valgard turned away, wrenching the arrow from his hand. He howled, gnawed the rim of his shield, froth at his mouth. His axe began to shriek and thunder, striking at all before it. He was mad with killing lust. Skafloc fought with a bitter flame of cold murder within him, the giant sword was a living fire in his hands. Blood and brains spurted, heads rolled on the ground, guts were slippery under his horse’s hooves. He fought, he fought in a timeless whirlpool of death, where only the icy lightning workings of his brain were real. He scattered death as a sower scatters grain, and wherever he went the troll lines broke. Swords blazed under the moon, spears flew, axes smote, metal and men cried their pain. The horses reared, trampling, whinnying, their blood-clotted manes flying. Elves and trolls died in a storm of weapons and were crushed under the swaying struggle.

The Broken Sword made me want to go right back for a second listen, and that’s pretty rare for someone with 400+ books on his TBR list. It also made me much more curious to explore the incredibly rich body of classic fantasy tales that inspired it, including the works of E.R. Eddison, Lord Dunsany, William Morris, H. Rider Haggard, and earlier heroic tales like the Iliad or Beowulf, not to mention the almost limitless mythology and folklore of pre-Christian Europe. So you might consider this book a “gateway drug” that could easily get you hooked on ancient fantastic tales of heroism and adventure. Proceed at your own peril, brave warriors.
Profile Image for Michael Fierce.
333 reviews23 followers
February 8, 2017


There are hundreds of good fantasy books, several that can be considered classics. Only a few can be compared in any fashion to the The Lord of the Rings. For me, this is one of them.

It may not be as grand or as ambitious as LOTR, but The Broken Sword is recognized, by several in the know, as an unheralded classic by Poul Anderson, a major fantasy & science-fiction master, and this book, a personal favorite of mine.

The Broken Sword was first published in 1954, the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring. Both, Anderson and Tolkien, borrowed heavily from the same Nordic sagas, even so much as borrowing a few characters and several names from those sagas.

-- Both of these books came out the same year, 1954 --

Though minor, Dyrin and Dvalin - in Tolkien's world, Durin and Dvalin - are two important figures in dwarven history and make an appearance here. But, this isn't a story focused on dwarves. It's about elves. Elves and trolls.

And it's a winner.


Told in a prose style that falls somewhere between high fantasy and one of the easier to read translations of Beowulf, it's tone feels more like The Silmarillion, and remarkably like The Children of Hurin, more than it does The Lord of the Rings or Anderson's own follow-up, Three Hearts and Three Lions. I have read The Broken Sword many times and collected several of the beautifully illustrated cover editions I'll be holding onto 'til death do us part.

Here's a back cover description.

His father was Imric the Elf Earl.

His mother was a captive princess of the Trolls.

But Valgard the Changeling was raised as the son of Orm in the Lands of Men.

His mortal foster parents never knew that their real son, Skafloc, had been stolen at birth to be reared to manhood in the twilight fields of Faerie...they never knew that the curse that had brought them Valgard had even more heinous magic to wreak.

But when Valgard learned the truth of his heritage, his vengeance knew no bounds. And so it was that he set forth to destroy his double - unaware that the gods had other plans for an Elfin mortal and a changeling born to kill!

Tell me that doesn't sound cool!

I don't want to spoil the story for you so I will say nothing more regarding it.

Suffice to say it is written by a master, involving elves, trolls, dwarves and magic swords in a world you will love.


For those interested in what books it has influenced, I will tell you this. Many.

It is a predecessor of sorts to the eternal champion novels by Michael Moorcock, most obviously his Elric and Corum series, of which he has said so himself and also stated he prefers The Broken Sword over The Lord of the Rings. It is a major influence on the incomparable Earthsea saga by Ursula K. Le Guin. It is also noticeable as the foundation to the world created by Gene Wolfe for his wonderful The Wizard Knight duology in both prose and structure. Less so, but still recognizable, as a world-building influence to Lynn Flewelling's magnetic Tamir Trilogy that begins with The Bone Doll's Twin, on into the Nightrunner series that starts with Luck in the Shadows. Even the aesthetics of Terry Brooks Shannara series, most notably from First King of Shannara to The Wishsong of Shannara doesn't escape notice.

Yeah. EVERYTHING, basically.

Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
July 2, 2010
Imric the Elf Earl steals a human baby and leaves a changeling, Valgard, in his place. Little does he know the changeling will start the worst war the elves have ever seen. But what of Skafloc, the child that was taken, and the broken sword given to him as a baby by the Aesir?

I originally picked this up because Michael Moorcock frequently cites it as an influence on his Elric saga. Upon reading it, I can see what he means. The Broken Sword has a lot of the epic feel of the Elric saga, complete with a huge war at the end, a sword with a mind of its own, and some tragedy.

The characters were interesting but not developed all that well. You knew from the beginning that Valgard would turn out bad and Skafloc would have to put him down at some point. While a lot of the story was predictable, the ending was a surprise.

One aspect of the book that I really liked was Anderson's elven culture, much more like Moorcock's Melniboneans than Tolkien's elves. The elves are almost amoral and don't just act like humans with pointy ears. They're more like the beautiful yet cruel faeries of some tales.

Anderson draws from Norse myth, as well as Irish and English stories, to craft his saga. He manages an epic feel that many writers don't achieve in several phone-book sized volumes. The two major campaigns both had an end of the world kind of feel to them. I'd say that while this isn't the best fantasy I've ever read, it's a must read for fantasy fans due to the influence it's had on the books that have come afterward.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
November 15, 2015
DNF at 80%.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'm SO CLOSE to the end, and why would I give up when I've already gotten this far?

Because I'm fucking bored out of my mind, that's why.

I heard that this book was a must read for fans of Tolkien, and so when I saw that it was read by Bronson Pinchot on Audible, I snagged it. Woot! Yay for me, right?

Wrong. This book was slow torture for me to listen to. I figured I could bang it out in a day while cleaning my house, and that's what I did. For hours I endured this book and its endless descriptions of stuff, and its endless fucking lays and verse (seriously, every time I heard "Scofloc quothe" I wanted to just shove my own head into the dishwater until it was over - the verse or my breathing, whichever came first), and its endless whining romance, and endless everything else.

And when it came time to pick this back up today to finish... I just found that I didn't care. I don't care to know how it ends. I don't care about the characters. I don't care about any of it.

And so, it is with great relief that I prove that once again I have gone and read a book wrong. Feel free to unchain your trolls. Anything is better than listening to more verse from this book.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,102 followers
February 9, 2017
1954. The same year that The Fellowship of the Ring came out. And yet, this is arguably a better book.

What? No way! But what about JRRT's depth of world-building, the gradual easing of modest characters into epic ones? What about the language? How could a single fantasy novel by a popular SF author outdo one of the standards of literature?

Easy. Make characters as sharp and bright as arrows, fit them into the bow of a world, and let them fly straight and true. Give them immediate adventure, no superfluous quests or long-winded reliance on the little annoying things like lembas this and lembas that, and throw them deep into revenge, epic love stories, swords that will chop down the world-tree, incest, the undead, and the machinations of the Norse gods. And of course, you can't have a tale without witches, trolls, elves, and dwarves, especially when they are NOT the derivative of JRRT, that they are derived precisely from the epic tales of Norse legends, that they are as old and deep and rich as the real peoples who have been telling these tales for over a thousand years, and we're not forgetting Wagner's Ring Cycle, are we? Oh wait... who is taking what story elements from whom? Oh... right...

So why is this short and truly tight Norse epic pretty much ignored? Oh, I suppose it has something to do with the times it came out. Everything needed a Christian motif back then, and this sure as hell didn't have it, even if the Christian god had a walk-on role, as did the olympians, so of course Narnia and JRRT were given a lot more talk-time. But imagine, if you will, if this nearly perfect adventure-epic were given a fresh splash of paint and a huge advertising budget. Not as a movie, but as a fantastically rich book who's time has finally come?

I think we're ready as a culture to open ourselves up to a truly fascinating mythos that has really been left on the sideboard for way too long. Gaiman's Mr. Wednesday aside, or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, of course.

This was one hell of a rip-roaring adventure, with cloven heads and high adventure, stormed walls, deceit, sex, revenge, and horror. It's easily all the best aspects of the huge epic fantasy door-stoppers in an easy to digest format, with beautiful poetry literally flowing through it, and best of all, it never has a dull moment or dull characters. It is, in short, a work of true brilliance.

And let's not let things like this disappear, shall we? Let's not assume that the most well-known works are always the best. (I feel like a traitor, saying so, because I've read JRRT's stuff over 7 times.)

A side note, my postscript:

Poul Anderson's opening to the novel was a real eye-opener. He just had to tell us that his intent was to call attention to the magic and the races as high-tech analogues, as per Clarke's law. There was no direct explanation or reveal in the text, though, so he wanted us to feel like we were in a perfect fantasy novel, but the fact that he did put the question to us first means that he intended us to read on several levels at once, and because I obliged him, this novel managed to blow my mind in several ways at once. This was no idle fancy. This was a master storyteller asking us to enjoy it as deeply as he wrote it.

What a guy. :)
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,067 followers
February 20, 2015
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

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.

Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews141 followers
October 16, 2021
Fun classic. Grimdark from way before grimdark, with this huge sweeping diverse world of religions, gods (norse and Christian), fae, trolls, elves, and more.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,849 followers
October 5, 2013
Here's another where I wish we had either a 10 star system or a half star system. This book is better than a simple 3 star might indicate. The problem is that I don't like it as much as many 4 star books...or many of the books I've rated four(4) stars. I'll note again here that I'm not trying to rate this or any book on things like, quality alone. I suppose I basically rate on what I think of as overall enjoyability.

This book is exceedingly well written. Based on several types or areas of mythology from northern Europe the story telling style is patterned after the Icelandic Sagas. With influences from Norse mythology, the folklore of Iceland, Scandinavia, England Ireland and Germany the story ranges forth. Beginning with a violent act leading to an act of revenge that brings about the substitution of a changeling for a human babe leading to a Troll Elf war and even referencing the coming Ragnarok this is a true saga.

I have seen reviews of this book that rate it as better than Tolkien even one by Michael Moorcock...I can't agree with that. I don't find the book nearly as good or absorbing as Tolkien, not even in the same ballpark. I couldn't get involved with the people in the story. The elves here are not the High Elves of Ireland...nor the Elves of Tolkien. These are the Norse Elves from Alfheim, the Fairy Knights cruel and selfish. The Norse mythology fatalism is preserved throughout the novel as the foreshadowing of doom follows our characters from the cradle to the shores of Alfheim and Trollheim. You'll get lots of battles and action along with many, many.....many woe is me soliloquies. With a love story right out of German saga (and Wagner[Vagner]) the foreshadowing leads us right to the end of the tale of Valgard, Skafloc and and the Sword.

As noted above the story revolves around the changeling and the human who is fostered by the Elves. The title of the book will tell you (obviously) that there is a sword involved and the story of it's reforging is integral to the novel. While there are long passages of plot exposition and great swaths of florid verbiage much of that is owed to the oral tradition of story telling the book is based on. You will also find intricate, detailed and very gory battle scenes that leave little to the imagination.

Michael Moorcock gives credit to Poul Anderson and this book as having great influence on his Eternal Champion books, especially the Elric Saga and the sword, Stormbringer. If you've read Moorcock's books (as I have) you'll undoubtedly see much of this. This book is intricate and well written if a bit dated (both intentionally and otherwise). I suppose the style may put some off but on the whole I don't think it will be a problem for most.

So, not a contemporary fantasy and very involved in being a saga, still a good story and a good novel.

Even though I go three (3) stars I do recommend you at least give this one a try. Written in 1954 it deservedly holds a place as a fantasy literature classic.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books750 followers
December 15, 2020
This is Anderson's attempt at making his own Norse saga. I had a bit of a rocky start with it, but there's a lot here that I think is great, and my qualms, while strongly held, are of the sort where you can't tell if the world is gaslighting you or if you're just personally tired of something and it's not actually that big a deal. We'll get there.


Things to love:

-The blend of mythology. I haven't done enough research into the blending of mythologies, but this feels like an earlier one, at least. We have the mash up that comes of the Vikings landing in the British Isles, and that's a really fertile set of folklores to investigate.

-The writing. If you've read classic sagas/epics, this uses a lot of the same writing methods as them, but even nicer to read, since the original language is English, and not a translation, so it can be more precise in its meter. A really well done ode to skaldic lore, the Iliad, etc. I also think there's some draw from Tolkien in here, and his views on ancient myths.

-The back half. We FINALLY get something interesting on the characters once the war begins. Some of the best battles I've seen written, and great drama.

Things that did not age well:

-The end. Really abrupt!

-The central drama. Um... so...no. Real spoiler here. I have a feeling Poul was an only child, maybe? Or...yeah, I don't wanna think too hard about that. This was squicky as hell.

-Historiographical modifications. Historiography is the history of history--how we tell of the deeds of the past, and why we make the decisions on inclusion/exclusion that we do. Norse sagas are FULL of women standing toe to toe with the kings and berserkers on all things. This retelling makes really telling choices--and by telling I mean the author seems to be telling on himself. A rant here ensues.

So, yeah, aside from casually dismissing my humanity, I'd say this is a great story!
Profile Image for fantasy fiction is everything.
224 reviews126 followers
April 6, 2022
The Broken Swords is one of the most prominent masterpiece In 1960s. The comparison between LoTR and TBS is quite subtle . Especially the scale of EPIC vibe clearly showed on LoTR, however it doesn’t mean TBS is a lesser work; on the other hand, TBS was successful in recounting the tragedy of Viking mythology. Mankind is just a pawn of deities in TBS. The protagonists were divided into two story line; each of both protagonists were switched into different families and thus it announced the inevitable tragedy of two characters. It’s languished to read a heroic story becoming an ultimate tragic ending. Although, the author has combined densely elegant writing and abundant North Mythologies in TBS with only 200+ pages. an elaborating tale without too many pages unfold the plot. Two main characters converged are near the end of the story give readers a melancholy epic myth as reminisce of the reluctance and relent heroes.
Overall, TBS, a compelling epic fantasy with LoTR both are pioneers of epic fantasies.
Profile Image for Raffaello.
171 reviews46 followers
May 20, 2022
Alcune cose mi sono piaciute molto, altre decisamente meno (il finale oltre ad essere ingenuotto è proprio affrettato, un corri corri che lascia quell'amaro in bocca delle occasioni perse).
Resta un ottimo fantasy vecchia scuola, con alcuni passaggi davvero capaci di far brillare gli occhi; senza dubbio una lettura fondamentale per gli appassionati, in quanto La spada spezzata è tra i capostipiti di tutto quel prolifico filone legato alle spade maledette (o dovrei dire "La spada maledetta"? sarà sempre lei a nascondersi dietro alle innumerevoli declinazioni?).
Scritto in modo indubbiamente desueto, cosa che da molti può essere vista come un pregio, ma che personalmente non riesco più ad apprezzare come accadeva un tempo.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
August 12, 2019
This is a perfectly pitched, brutally poetic epic of Norse gods and Vikings and the machinations between them and the various fearsome and mysterious beings of Faerie. Anderson pulls off the astonishing feat of breathing new life into this saga, one of the sorts of tales that have been told for centuries, by wholeheartedly committing to his passionate approach with a grand fervor and no small amount of heart. Bracingly vivid, powerful, and tragic, and my first foray into literature based on Norse mythology, it sets a very high standard indeed.
Profile Image for Alina.
771 reviews265 followers
December 10, 2015

Much harder and slower reading than I first thought, many words being in Middle and Old English, which nonetheless were perfect for the related times.

The story is interesting, drawn from Scandinavian, Irish and English myths, with conflicts between Christianity and Pagan Gods. Most probably the dark and grim creatures and happenings are closer to the original folklore than in other works, Anderson not being afraid to include bloody murders, rapes, cruel gods. Battles are masterfully told, but the characters are hardly identifiable with or likeable.

Something curious: Anderson's elves reminded me of vampires: afraid of the sun and iron, not bearing to hear God's name or seeing the cross, having no soul.

I would be very interested in rereading this, but translated in Romanian :)
Profile Image for Carmine.
593 reviews59 followers
February 11, 2019
Ghiaccio e sangue

"La notte mi si sta richiudendo addosso, la triste commedia della mia vita è giunta al termine. Ho perso casa e famiglia e la mia stessa anima, o forse non li ho mai avuti, e capisco di essere stata un'ombra proiettata dalle grandi potenze che stanno soffiando sulla mia candela. Buonanotte, Valgard, buonanotte."

"È la vecchia danza di guerra. Immagino che dovrò fare lo scaldo, perché nessun umano è in grado di eseguire questa danza senza ferirsi, anche se conosce a memoria tutte le battute. Ballano al ritmo dei 99 versi dello scaldo: se non si ferisce nessuno, allora è ottimo presagio; se muore qualcuno significa disastro e sciagura. La minima ferita è sufficiente per decretare la sconfitta..."

Affascinante e suggestivo questo violento caleidoscopio di mortali e divinità, punto di partenza per un dramma che gronda sangue e da cui non ci può essere fuga né riscatto.
Le emozioni umane più nobili vengono strumentalizzate per semplice sopravvivenza o malcelata ambizione; l'etica trascinata in un abbraccio mortale con la religione, rendendo quest'ultima un evidente limite per chi cerca di onorare la propria fede, nel privato, senza pagarne un iniquo prezzo.
Tutti ne escono sconfitti; persino gli Dei - l'indifferenza degli Jotun, le macchinazioni di Odino e Loki, l'assenza dell'imperscrutabile Cristo Bianco - sembrano specchiarsi nel lato peggiore dei mortali che dovrebbero rappresentare e guidare.
Non esiste più una netta demarcazione fra il bene ed il male, ma solo il libero arbitrio in relazione alle possibilità.
Profile Image for Metodi Markov.
1,342 reviews319 followers
August 30, 2023
Съвместен прочит с Martin Nedev.

Твърде остаряло и клиширано произведение, съчетано със смешен и объркващ деветдесетарски превод. И естествено - ултра грозна корица...

През 1950 година сигурно е било нещо значимо, но сега не става дори и за носталгичен прочит.

Оставям го недочетено, след минати 25%.

P.S. Имало е и защо, инстинктивно да избягвам книгите на определени издателства...
Profile Image for Juho Pohjalainen.
Author 5 books282 followers
July 12, 2019
A great epic opera this is, with few of its equal in the world. You've got tragic heroes, somewhat sympathetic villains, morally sketchy elves and trolls, horny vikings, badass women who take control of their destinies, gods playing mortals like pawns in the background, magic and mystery, and terrible terrible ending that you could sort of see coming from a mile away but that will still shock you.

One of the very best.
Profile Image for Timothy Boyd.
6,652 reviews35 followers
October 17, 2022
A very nice and entertaining Fantasy book. I was reminded of old legends and Myth stories as i listened to it. the reader was spot on for the way he read the book. Very recommended
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,750 reviews614 followers
March 23, 2018
This read like a Norse saga told at breakneck speed, with hardly a pause to catch your breath. It also read like a mix of faerie tale and Nordic myth, with its inclusion of elves typical from Anglo-Saxon and Celtic lore and creatures that are a trademark of Norse lore, adding also the gods and demigods from both sides, and in tone and style of storytelling, it's reminiscent of the Saga of the Volsungs (the protagonist and antagonist main leads have strong elements from Siegmund and his sons Sinfjötli and Siegfried, which is why I'm adding the shelf tag).

I heard that this was published at the same time as LOTR, and with that in mind, it was very interesting to compare the way Anderson depicts the elves with the way Tolkien does. They're basically identical, in the "from the same mould" sense, the mould being the same mythological corpus; but there were two differences that stuck with me: that Anderson's elves are greyer and rather amoral whilst JRRT's are paragons of virtue (Well, excluding the Fëanorians and a few other Beleriand reprobates...), and that Anderson's elves aren't capable of loving and of falling in love while Tolkien's elves do love and fall in love (sometimes quite unwisely, too). What a contrast!

On the latter point, I liked that there was one exception to the rule, and that said exception was my favourite. I'd have preferred that it didn't end like it did for that Elven character concerning the male protagonist, because that ending was too much of a brutal Deus ex machina and hard to swallow even for a story that doesn't lack in them. I'd also have preferred the story be longer, and more fleshed-out, although I do understand that the author was going for a saga-style story and not a full-blown, 1000-page long novel like it's now usual for the genre. In that context, the story is pretty good and works with the format it has.
Profile Image for Jonathan Terrington.
595 reviews573 followers
July 19, 2012
The Broken Sword is a imagined mythology by Poul Anderson in the Norse style. It features poetry and adopts the style of the Norse myths I loved as a child. For that very reason I give it a four star rating and only because of the tragic nature of its plot do I avoid giving it the full five stars.

This is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in looking at the style of Norse mythology. I admit it's not perfect but Anderson apes the traditional Norse style very well while also creating an intriguing story.

The story follows Scafloc as he grows up as the foster child of elves, and his changeling Valgard who has taken Scafloc's identity in his true human family. The story seems doomed to be a tragedy from the outset and does not disappoint in that regard. What follows is however also a unique new Norse style myth featuring a few extra characters such as Irish gods and even a faun. (Of course I think it needed the gods to be involved more - lazy blokes that they are). There was also an interesting minor subplot involving the conflict between Christianity and paganism/faerie which naturally interested me.

I fully recommend this as a book to read if you don't mind a heavy Norse mythological style tragedy (it's a great and nobler genre - okay I confess that I may be stretching the truth a little there). Either way it's a good fantasy novel worth to be considered a classic. I won't be coming back to this in a hurry although I am now interested in seeing if Poul Anderson wrote any even better novels.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,196 reviews115 followers
May 16, 2018
The perfect epic fantasy tale, all in under 300 pages (and from 1954). This is a timeless masterpiece. A rich tale, with elegant prose, weaving ancient mythology and lore, romance and action. Although not the biggest fan of Nordic mythology or epic fantasy generally, I was spellbound from beginning to end. There are several themes here that I think could have quite possibly inspired Neil Gaiman's American Gods, such as the clashing of old vs new gods, and the power of peoples' beliefs in shaping the fate of the gods.
Profile Image for Jemppu.
501 reviews93 followers
August 11, 2019
Effortlessly lyrical and brutal, with a dash of dark sharpness, The Broken Sword evokes authentic grandiose of olden Nordic mythology.

Surprisingly captivating for a story with such traditional fantastical elements, and with legendary hero types battling evils. It must indeed be it's earnest handling of the folklore inspired motifs that result in the very credibility of the saga - making it both epic beyond mere 'typical high fantasy', as well as geographically grounded, while also managing a touch for a hero's personal journey.
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