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The Broken Sword
Poul Anderson
Gollancz paperback £6.99

review by Patrick Hudson

The Broken Sword is a tale of vengeance and doom in Dark Age Britain, encompassing the human and fairy realms, a great war between elves and trolls and the mysterious plans of the gods themselves.
   When Orm, a Viking raider, murders an English lord and his family and takes over their land, the surviving old mother swears revenge. She makes a deal with a mysterious stranger who helps her convince the elf-lord Imric to kidnap Orm's baby son and replace him with a changeling. While the human Skafloc grows up among the elves, Orm believes he is a Viking raider like his father, and raises the half-troll Valgard. From this point, the novel is the story of Skafloc and Valgard, their destiny and tragedies inextricably intertwined.
   Poul Anderson was one of the leading lights of the silver age of science fiction, the period between the end of WWII and the rise of the New Wave that saw the first generation of writers who grew up reading the pulps take on the mantle of their inspirations. Anderson published hundreds of stories and dozens of novels between 1947 and his death in 2001, a talented writer with a great gift for storytelling.
   Anderson is known mostly as a science fiction writer, but he turned his hand to heroic fantasy on occasion and when he did the results were always of the highest quality. Three Hearts And Three Lions, his Last Viking and Kings of Ys series (the latter with his wife Karen) stand out as classics of the field. Many of his stories were part of much longer narratives, such as his Technic History stories featuring Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry, and the Time Patrol stories. If this volume does well, maybe we'll see some of these back in print soon.
   Anderson drew on his Scandinavian heritage for inspiration and his tales of sturdy, sensible settlers across the galaxy owe as much to his seafaring ancestors as to the far future. In his fantasy, he could indulge his love of Dark Age myth and legend. The Broken Sword is a brilliant example of this, set in a grim world where Faerie is in retreat at the advance of the New God. Anderson contrasts the increasingly lawful human realm with the natural chaos of the faerie realms. In this other world, separated from the human realm by a thin skein of perception, the decadent elves and the bellicose trolls are in a state of near-constant war.
   The faerie realm is similar to that in Jack Vance's Lyoness, a place of opulent mystery and magic, but Anderson's elves are closer to Tolkien's than Vance's fairy folk. They are dreamy, noble creatures but they have a passion for battle, wine and debauchery that is missing from their wan namesakes on Middle Earth.
   Like Tolkien, Anderson has a keen ear for the sensibilities of his source material and captures in the saga of Skafloc and Valgard the role of fate, prophecy and magic in the ancient stories. Like the great epics, it is an examination of humanity in extremis, of what it means to be a 'Hero'. It is a tragic story, with much bloodshed and no happy endings. Skafloc and Valgard are tragic heroes, driven to their fates against their will. With its family struggles and Scandinavian flavour, it couldn't help but remind me of the story of a certain Prince of Denmark, but with even more death and misery, if you can imagine that.
   This is another fine addition to the fantasy masterworks series from Orion. With its Science Fiction masterworks stable mate this is really one of the reasons to be a SF/fantasy fan right now: I can't think of a time in the last 15 years when so many fine books have been available in print. I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating: more please!
The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
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