Lankhmar Book 1: Swords and Deviltry
by Fritz Leiber
Publisher: Dark Horse (January 10, 2007)
Leiber, like Howard, is one of those defining figures of fantasy that I should have read in my youth, but was never able to. Like Howard, I believe his stuff was out of print for a long time, or perhaps I just never really knew much about him. I know that the notion of the “Grey Mouser and Fafhrd” as some sort of pairing of a small, sneaky, guy and a big, strong, barbarian guy was in my head by college, but beyond that, I really can’t remember.
In any case, someone over at Dark Horse (a fact which I did not realize until I started writing this review), apparently decided to reissue Leiber’s Lankhmar stories in a series of small paperbacks. Swords and Deviltry collects three stories which serve as an “origin tale”, bringing readers up to speed on the background of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, respectively, before moving into the tale of their first adventure together.
As sword and sorcery stuff goes, it’s great fun. The stories are very fast-paced, full of adventure, intrigue, excitement, and a good deal of humor. One of the things I really enjoy about them is that both of the main characters are relatively young men, which gives them a good reason to make mistakes that older, more experienced sorts of characters might not plausibly make. Indeed, the characters youthful hubris pretty much drives the plot of their first meeting together, and plays a reasonably large role in their origin stories as well.
The world that Leiber crafts is a pretty interesting one; at least, it seems to be. Like Howard, Leiber doesn’t spend a lot of time on world building, choosing to just give his reader’s snippets of information as he sees fit or necessary. If it’s not relevant to the story, it’s not included. It actually works very well as a world-building method, giving the reader a feeling of looking in on a complete world that they just can’t entirely grasp. It’s a style of storytelling that seems to have faded in the wake of Tolkien, which is unfortunate. I love Tolkien, but I think this method works well too.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection, and I’ll probably grab the next one at some point. The stories didn’t feel like they had quite as much depth as some of Howard’s work, but it is possible that I’m just not giving them their due. In any case, this is worth the read, for sword-and-sorcery buffs, or people who just like a good action story.