Swords and Deviltry

by Fritz Leiber
Reviewed date: 2007 Feb 18
Rating: 2
254 pages
Awards: Ill Met in Lankhmar won a Nebula
cover art

Apparently Fritz Leiber's stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser established some of the archetypes in the fantasy genre, but that doesn't mean they're good stories. Swords and Deviltry, the first book in the series, is a three-story mashup that cannot possibly appeal to anyone who is not already a rabid fan of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

The first story, The Snow Women, introduces Fafhrd. He is the son of a cold-hearted sorceress of the Snow People. When traders come to their realm, he takes the opportunity to fall in love with Vlana, a dancing girl. An honorable man might ignore the dancer and stay with Mara, the local girl who is carrying his child, but Fafhrd is not an honorable man. He gets into a few fights, kills some folks with his sword, and runs away with Vlana.

The Gray Mouser makes his appearance in The Unholy Grail, where he is apprenticed to Glavas Rho, a magician. He is studying white magic, but as Glavas Rho says, the Mouser is too filled with blackness to be a white magician. The best he can hope for is to something in between, practicing neither black nor white magic. Hence the Gray Mouser. Studying along with Mouser is Ivrian.

Ivrian's father hates magic, so he manipulates her to gain entrance to Glavas Rho's home, and kills the magician. Mouser escapes unharmed, then gains revenge by killing Ivrian's father. Then he and Ivrian--who fall in love--escape.

The final story, Ill Met in Lankhmar, brings Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser together. Both are the city of Lankhmar, operating as free-lance thieves. They meet when they both happen to waylay the same allotment of gems. Instantly becoming friends, they introduce each other to their women, Vlana and Ivrian.

But operating independently, they have angered the Thieves' Guild. (Is there some rule of fantasy that all professions must organize guilds? How would a guild of thieves even be permitted, anyway?) Goaded by Vlana, who hates the guild for some earlier slight, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser brazenly attempt to kill the leader of the guild. For their trouble they barely escape with their lives, and Vlana and Ivrian are brutally murdered. In revenge, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser kill a great many low-ranking thieves and apprentices, torch the guild house, and then run away from Lankhmar.

It's a crummy, boring story. Its only purpose is to put the two heros together and rid them of any baggage, which is why Vlana and Ivrian had to die. The heros are cowardly criminals, too. There is nothing worthy of respect in either of them. That wouldn't be a problem if the story had life, but Leiber is just going through the motions. He's setting a stage for the real story, and I see no reason to subject the reading public to these 254 awful pages of introduction. Swords and Deviltry ranks just a two out of five.

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