The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson – 4/5 Stars

The Broken Sword - front cover - alternative 1

‘Fathering a son on a female troll held captive in his dungeons, Imric exchanged the nonhuman babe for the true son of Orm the Jutlander. Thus, while Valgard the Changeling was raised as Orm’s son in the Lands of Men, the true son of the Jutlander, Skafloc, was reared to manhood in the twilight fields and whispering woods of timeless and shadowy Faerie…’

Though an epic fantasy reminiscent of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Poul Anderson did not borrow from Tolkien; The Broken Sword was published in the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954. Expect the usual elves, trolls, and goblins, but this time with a changeling twist. The infant son of Orm of Jutland has been substituted with the half-breed Valgard, son of elf-earl Imric and a female troll prisoner. Imric is behind all of it, but his motivations aren’t clear. Perhaps he wanted a human because they are stronger than elves and unlike them can withstand iron.

The Broken Sword - back coverAs they grow older, while the human Skafloc grows proficient in the magics, songs, and skills of Faerie under his foster father Imric, Valgard grows up within Orm’s household in England and is despised for his moody countenance. Dogs bark at his passage. Valgard’s anger grows and he excels at the Viking raids. It is apparent there is a division between him and his family but it’s not until he is ensnared and tricked by a beautiful young witch that he takes a path of bloodshed and murder. Fuelled by his strength and hatred of his division he does what the witch advises: to head towards Trollheim to win the favour of Troll King Illrede, for Valgard has learnt he is of troll and elf, not human, blood.

What follows is an epic battle for the elf homelands. In the troll versus elf conflict Valgard comes face-to-face with Skafloc, who bears his likeness. The fated ‘brothers’ pit their skills against one another, and it’s Skafloc’s Faerie against Valgard’s ‘berserkergang’. Their fates are destined to clash time and again, and are intertwined with the future of Faerie and the Lands of Men. Also in the midst of this is a tragic forbidden love story between a survivor of Orm’s household, the sorrowful Freda, and Skafloc. Their love is made all the more perilous when the elf woman Leea yearns for Skafloc’s love.

My only criticism is that while the stakes and the characters were introduced well, how they came to the conclusion was mired in endless descriptions and irrelevant sub-characters.

What an epic read! It certainly contrasts with Lord of the Rings, but is quicker, more tragic, and violent. I’d call this a classic. If you like Lord of the Rings, read it now! The mystery ‘the broken sword’ itself represents to me a broken or stray soul, a theme that resonates with Valgard most obviously, but also Skafloc and the elf women.

Poul Anderson’s books on Amazon