Swords and Deviltry: Adventure, male camaraderie, easy women

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Fritz Leiber Swords and Deviltry LankhmarSwords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber

Brilliance Audio and Audible Frontiers have recently produced audio versions of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, so it seemed like a great time for me to finally read them. Within two minutes of putting Swords and Deviltry on my MP3 player and pressing play, I was completely enthralled. The first part of the novel (which is really a compilation of short stories) tells the tale of Fafhrd’s liberation from the taboos, close-mindedness, and “icy morality” of his mother and clan (and the girl he got pregnant) in the northern wastes. He yearns for civilization, and finally gets a chance to “escape this stupid snow world and its man-chaining women” with a beautiful showgirl.

The second section introduces us to Mouse, who is apprenticed to the white magician Glavas Rho, but who feels the pull of the black arts — “the magic which stemmed from death and hate and pain and decay, which dealt in poisons and night-shrieks, which trickled down from the black spaces between the stars…” A murder and a betrayal force Mouse over the brink and he restyles himself as The Gray Mouser.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI was engrossed in the tales of both of these young men, so when the audiobook reader (the excellent Jonathan Davis) finally said “Chapter 4: Ill Met in Lankhmar,” I felt a thrill of delight! Of course I’m familiar with the name of this Nebula (1970) and Hugo (1971) award-winning novella, and I knew I’d be reading it in Swords and Deviltry, but for the first time the name had real significance for me and I couldn’t wait to witness the meeting of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.  And it was, as promised, a lot of fun.

But most of all, even more than the adventure, I just loved Fritz Leiber’s prose. It supported the story in the few places where it dragged or at times when I was annoyed that all of the female characters were odious. For me, its cleverness and beauty was the dominant feature of Leiber’s writing:

The Mouser dug into his pouch to pay, but Fafhrd protested vehemently. In the end they tossed coin for it, and Fafhrd won and with great satisfaction clinked out his silver smerduks on the stained and dented counter, also marked with an infinitude of mug circles, as if it had been once the desk of a mad geometer.

Certainly these stories will appeal most to men who particularly enjoy fast-paced adventure, male camaraderie, sword-fighting, and easy women. But I found this first set delightfully refreshing. I’ve already got the next Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser compilation (Swords Against Death) and I’m hoping to meet some worthy women in it. But if not, I’ll still enjoy Fritz Leiber’s way with words.

~Kat Hooper


book review Fritz Leiber Swords and Deviltry LankhmarThis is truly exceptional. Leiber can write circles around most fantasy writers, just as the Mouser’s trusty blades Scalpel and Cat’s Claw forever carve deadly arcs of steel lightning around so many hapless foes… Welcome to friendship, adventure and dialogue of the first water — welcome to Nehwon! This is a great intro to Leiber’s fantasy world.

~Rob Rhodes


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Fritz Leiber Swords and Deviltry LankhmarSimple, straightforward, and fun — a nice escape!

~John Hulet


Swords and Deviltry by Fritz LeiberIf you want to read “sword & sorcery” tales, why not go back to the source? Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER (LANKHMAR) series was first conceived in the 1930s and the first story “Two Sought Adventure” was published in 1939 in Unknown. For the next two decades he wrote additional stories but it was not until the 1960s that Leiber decided to organize and integrate the stories more closely by ordering them chronologically and added connecting materials and backstories. Therefore, Swords and Deviltry (1970) is the first of the series based on characters’ storyline, but was actually written much later. The seventh and final book, The Knight and Knave of Swords (1988), comes almost 50 years after the initial story, making it one of the most long-lived series in modern fantasy. Swords and Deviltry consists of three stories: “The Snow Women”, “The Unholy Grail”, and “Ill Met in Lankhmar.”

“The Snow Women” (1970) is the origin story of Fafhrd, the giant red-headed barbarian from the frozen North. He is an idealistic youth of 18, but is already betrothed to Mara, a demanding young woman, and is dominated by his powerful mother Mor, since his father Nalgron died climbing an icy mountain. The women of the Snow Clan are domineering, shrewish, and dabble in dark magic as well. As the story begins, the clan has moved down south to trade and encounters an acting troupe. Fafhrd is bewitched by the lead actress, Vlana, and finds himself caught in a love triangle between Vlana and Mara (actually, there is another girl he dallies with in the woods, so does that make it a love rectangle?). Anyway, it’s a messy situation and he narrowly escapes death by fleeing the Snow Women using an ingenious combination of rockets and skis. The story ends with him and Vlana heading to the city of Lankhmar to exact revenge on the Thieves Guild, which wronged Vlana earlier.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews“The Unholy Grail” (1962) is the origin story of the Gray Mouser, a short and quick-witted thief and rogue who is highly skilled with both rapier and dagger. In the story he is apprenticed to the hedge wizard Glavas Rho, who dwells hidden in the forest realm of Duke Janarrl, since magic is forbidden. After returning from a quest to retrieve an enchanted stone, the Gray Mouser (still called “Mouse” in his early years) discovers his master has been killed by the Duke, and that this happened due to the accidental betrayal by the Duke’s daughter Ivrian, who was also studying with Glavas Rho. Initially he considers Ivrian a traitor and hates her, but discovers that her father coerced this information from her. He and the Duke eventually confront each other, and the Gray Mouser prevails with the use of black magic. He and Ivrain escape together to Lankhmar.

“Ill Met in Lankhmar” (1970) is a Hugo and Nebula Award-wining novella in which Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser first meet. The events all occur in one single momentous night, in which the two thieves happen to waylay two members of the city’s Thieves Guild after a jewel heist, knocking them unconscious and then fighting off several street bravos together. Recognizing similarities in style and temperament, the two men form a friendship and split the plunder. Returning to the Mouser’s hideout, they introduce Vlana and Ivrian to each other. They all celebrate, but being guys, the two newly-met companions decide to go out for more drink in town, during which time they hatch a clever plot to infiltrate the Thieves’ House and loot it for more riches. However, when they return to their lair later, they discover something terrible has happened and, in a rage, they charge into the Thieves’ House intent on revenge. Mayhem ensues.

Essentially, the first two stories are backstories to fill in the gaps in the companions’ early years, and I wasn’t that impressed by them as independent stories, especially “The Unholy Grail.” If you aren’t concerned about their origins, you could conceivably skip these stories, but if you’ve gone to the trouble to purchase the book or audiobook, it’s worth reading or listening to them.

“Ill Met in Lankhmar” is the crucial story of their first meeting and sets the stage for their later adventures. It is also much darker in tone than the first two stories, as their earlier carefree approach to thieving, wenching and brawling suddenly takes a tragic turn. This event has repercussions that are felt throughout their later adventures, and make them far more sympathetic and vulnerable than your average warrior/thief tandem. It is definitely a standout story and well worth your time.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHonestly, it’s hard to judge this first installment of the FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER series. The stories are extremely well-written in a slightly archaic style that is well-suited to describe their mythic adventures, but it may come off a bit stilted for readers more comfortable with modern fantasy series like George R.R. Martin’s SONG OF ICE AND FIRE or Joe Abercrombie’s THE FIRST LAW. Still, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are fairly sardonic and jaded about their own exploits, so they feel like real characters with complex motivations even if they are mainly intent on thieving, swindling, brawling, wenching, etc. Morever, since the series has been so influential over the 75 years since its first appearance, it’s safe to say that most fantasy authors have borrowed some elements from Leiber’s stories, so the stories sometimes feel overly familiar. It’s an unavoidable pitfall of success, after all. You can also see the huge influence the series has had on the Dungeon and Dragons role-playing games created by Gary Gygax. But certainly they remain entertaining and thrilling tales of adventure set in the mythic land of Nehwon.

The narrator, Jonathan Davis, does an excellent job with the voices of Fafhrd the big but often idealistic barbarian and his more cynical and worldly partner the Gray Mouser, who gets a slightly British accent to denote his sophistication. However, he does struggle portraying the female characters, who inevitably sound shrill and foolish. Then again, this series does not really have many three-dimensional female characters, as they are mainly domineering harpies, seductive temptresses, innocent maidens, and not much else. So that is mostly the author’s responsibility. If you are looking for complex and interesting female characters, I suggest looking elsewhere. If you are curious how the ‘sword and sorcery’ genre came to being, you’ve come to the right place.

~Stuart Starosta

Fritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against WizardryFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against WizardryFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against WizardryFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against Wizardry 5. The Swords of Lankhmar 6. Swords and Ice Magic 7. The Knight and Knave of SwordsFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against Wizardry 5. The Swords of Lankhmar 6. Swords and Ice Magic 7. The Knight and Knave of SwordsFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against Wizardry 5. The Swords of Lankhmar 6. Swords and Ice Magic 7. The Knight and Knave of SwordsFritz Leiber Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) 1. Swords Against Deviltry, Ill Met in Lankhmar 2. Swords Against Death 3. Swords in the Mist 4. Swords against Wizardry 5. The Swords of Lankhmar 6. Swords and Ice Magic 7. The Knight and Knave of Swords


SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

View all posts by

ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

View all posts by

JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

View all posts by

STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

View all posts by

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *