Thor has broken the sword Tyrfing so that it cannot strike at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree that binds together earth, heaven, and hell. But now the mighty sword is needed again to save the elves in their war against the trolls, and only Skafloc, a human child kidnapped and raised by the elves, can hope to persuade Bölverk the ice-giant to make Tyrfing whole again. But Skafloc must also confront his shadow self, Valgard the changeling, who has taken his place in the world of men.
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In The Broken Sword, Poul Anderson mines the same Nordic/British myths and folklore that Tolkien did, and tells a rousing, tragic adventure. An infant is born to a Viking warrior and his Christianized family, but a proud and haughty elf lord takes the child and leaves a changeling in his place. Thus, Skafloc grows up among the elves and learns their ways, while the half-troll-half-elf Valgard is raised as human, but becomes a savage, unruly warrior.
The plot isn’t too complex: the two warriors, who have a close physical resemblance, take opposite sides in a troll-elf war, and battle each other using magic, trickery, and might. However, a tragic twist comes into play, thanks to Skafloc’s ignorance of his origins and some intervention by Norse gods.
This isn't up with The Lord of the Rings in terms of depth of world-building, but it’s got a fiercer, darker spirit. Look for homage to all the traditional elements of Northern European myth: old gods who do not allow mortals to renege on a promise; aloof, immortal, fleet-footed elves, who dwell in ethereal castles and “know friendship but not love”; seductive maidens who aren’t what they appear; and big, ferocious trolls (who call to mind the roided-out orcs in Peter Jackson’s LOTR films). Though the description never gets too explicit (this novel was written in the 1950s), there’s plenty of larger-than-life action, treachery, black magic, ale-quaffing, bawdiness, and skull splitting. The Hobbit, this isn’t.
Fans of epic warrior sagas or the kind of blood-soaked faerie tales that are no longer considered suitable fare for children will eat this one up. Anderson's writing is faithful to the lusty descriptions of old epics like Beowulf, but not as dusty-sounding. You can practically hear the war horns blowing and the swords ringing. Audiobook narrator Bronson Pinchot might overact a bit here and there, but that's in keeping with the tale’s energy.