So, I’m making my way through the Fantasy Masterworks series – this is going to take some time, bear with me – and lately I read The Broken Sword by the prolific Poul Anderson. It’s number 32 of 50; obviously I’m not doing this in order. For the record I’ve already read numbers 13, 17, and 22.
The Broken Sword is inspired by Norse myths and is set amongst Vikings, elves, trolls, Aesir and Jotuns. The writing style is brilliantly archaic. There were a couple of points where I thought Anderson was making words up and he’s certainly not shy of turning nouns into adjectives or verbs. Every word works to create the rhythm and feeling of myth. The words are strange and alien which is fitting for a story set in a strange and alien world.
I don’t think the plot was lifted directly from myth but it follows a familiar path to its tragic end. Despite the unusual language I found this an easy read and the pace was quite fast. Characterisation was done with quite a broad brush, with more tell than show, but in this case I feel that was dictated by the constraints of the style. Because it was told as myth, then characters were described as mythological characters – many of whom would be familiar from other tales in the Norse mythology.
I really enjoyed this and it is very different from contemporary fantasy. Worth a read.