Saturday, September 17, 2016

Swords and Deviltry (Fritz Leiber)

Swords and Deviltry
(The Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser stories, Volume 1)
Fritz Leiber
Open Road Media
Fiction, Collection/Fantasy
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In the long-ago and faraway world of Nehwon, a world of sorcery and barbarism and wonders untold, two unlikely souls find their fates entwined, their lives and exploits becoming the stuff of legend: towering, skald-trained swordsman Fafhyrd of the icy north, and the clever little magic-dabbling thief called the Gray Mouser.
This collection contains the first four tales in the adventures of Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser:
Induction: A vignette of the meeting between the two soon-to-be heroes.
The Snow Women: On the verge of manhood, Fafhyrd grows restless with the backward, custom-bound ways of his northern kinsman, enamored with the distant allure of civilization - and with Vlana, an exotic woman traveling with a troupe of entertainers.
The Unholy Grail: A white wizard's apprentice, Mouse, returns from an initiation quest to find his master's home burned by the cruel lord of the land, turning to black magic for revenge.
Ill Met in Lankhmar: In the great "city of cities" at the heart of Nehwon, Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser meet when both cross wits and blades with the all-powerful Thieves Guild... a challenge that brings tragic consequences to themselves and their loved ones.

REVIEW: Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser are classic heroes in the sword and sorcery genre; indeed, Fritz Leiber is credited with coining the term "sword and sorcery". As a fantasy reader and would-be writer, I figured I ought to explore them, and a recent sale on the e-book edition gave me that chance. Though not the first ones penned in the series, these short stories are the first, chronologically, in the characters' lives, the "origin" tales. Leiber writes with imagination, adventure, and the odd touch of humor, crafting an archetypical world built on tropes - though some of the tropes I'm familiar with possibly originated with Leiber, such as the now-ubiquitous Thieves Guild. It was the author's intention to write more human characters than those that existed at the time in the genre, such as Conan, and in this he succeeded; though still larger than life, both Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser have very human weaknesses and failings, making them more relatable and approachable. The genre's sexism shines through, particularly in The Snow Women with the emasculating, fickle northern ladies and their ice sorcery (and the way in which female characters and their whims and weaknesses lie at the heart of much of the tragedy in all the tales), and here and there the age of the works is also evident. Of the four tales, the last one, the award-winning Ill Met in Lankhmar, is clearly the best, while the first is more of an incomplete prologue - indeed, I'm not quite sure why it was included, save to whet readers' appetites for the other three stories. Overall, though, this collection holds up fairly well; enough for me to forgive the sexism and a few other issues to rate a solid good (largely on the back of the final story). I don't know if I'll follow the series further, though I'm more likely to read more of Fafhyrd and the Gray Mouser than such stiff, broodingly inhuman figures as Conan.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Phoenix on the Sword (Robert E. Howard) - My Review
Hero for Hire (C. B. Pratt) - My Review
Sword-Dancer (Jennifer Roberson) - My Review

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