Details: Originally published 1954; (c) 1971 Poul Anderson; Pub 1981 Del Rey; ISBN 0-345-29860-8
Verdict: The broken sword is pacy and the setting is cool, but it doesn't quite reach the mythic tone it seems to be aiming for.
Reasons for reading it: rysmiel enthused about it as being a progenitor to Gaiman, plus I needed something readable for the long train journey to Dundee.
How it came into my hands: Present from the ever-wonderful rysmiel
The broken sword is very nearly a tragedy in the classical sense, in that it's about a horrible and inevitable fate being played out. This makes for rather an odd plot, because you know that things can't possibly work out well. The language is very formal to convey the impression of myth, and sometimes does seem overly stilted or flowery, but not to the extent that the book is unreadable. And the storyline is locally exciting even while it's (literally) hopeless globally.
Although the characters are mythic archetypes as much as people, there is a level of emotional realism which makes the book work well as a whole. I definitely felt engaged with the real human consequences of people being fated to do horrible things to those they care for. Which of course doesn't make for comfortable reading, though I can admire the art. Valgard manages to be both extremely, even cartoonishly, evil but still somehow sympathetic, which is impressive. The moral background is skewed by the whole fatalistic aspect; yes, there are very clear good guys and bad guys, but both sides are so obviously going to end up miserable and / or dead that it doesn't work as the standard good versus evil structure.
What I most liked about tBS was the way it creates a background. The historical setting seems very solid even though obviously there's all kinds of religion and magic going on. There are lots of lovely incidental details that make the setting seem real, somehow. I also enjoyed the way it weaves together lots of different mythologies, primarily Norse, but mixed in with Christianity and what I think of as the basic fantasy mythos with elves, trolls, dwarves etc. There are some very cute ideas for how these different domains interact, too.
Thank you for bringing that to my attention, rysmiel.