Swords in the Mist: Only two of these stories must be read

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 Wizardrybook review Swords in the Mist Fritz Leiber Lankhmar 3Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

All due respect to the late Fritz Leiber, but overall, this book was weak.

The first story, “Cloud of Hate” was good. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser unwittingly take-on Hate embodied in a noxious mist that turns already shady characters into rampaging serial killers. The next one, “Lean Times in Lankhmar”, starts out interesting as the life-long friends go their separates ways, but goes flat. “Their Mistress, the Sea” builds up well but the ending seemed to be missing something. The rest of the book brings Fafhrd and Gray Mouser to our world’s ancient history, which should’ve made for a great read. But contradictions concerning their memory (they supposedly lost all knowledge of their previous life in the world of Newhon, but yet they make references to it), adventures told as second-hand accounts, and a prose that seems meant to be humorous and clever, only made the story confusing and monotonous. I got the impression that these stories are a satire, maybe of something going-on either in literature or in society at the time they were written, but I didn’t get it.

I’m a big fan of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser, or at least of their first two books. But if Swords in the Mist had been my first LANKHMAR book, I don’t think I’d have read any more of them. Fritz Leiber is rightfully considered one of the original masters of fantasy. His writing spans over 50 years. So it’s only natural that he’s produced at least a few clunkers.

~Greg Hersom

Fritz Leiber Swords in the Mistbook review Swords in the Mist Fritz Leiber Lankhmar 3Swords in the Mist (1968) is Fritz Leiber’s third collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and the Gray Mouser, his small wily companion who has a predilection for thievery and black magic. The tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser originally appeared in pulp magazines, short novels, and story collections between 1939-1988. Swords in the Mist contains:

  • “The Cloud of Hate” (1963) — This is a short eerie metaphor in which hate becomes a mist that reaches out in tendrils throughout Lankhmar to find corruptible souls to use for evil deeds.
  • “Lean Times in Lankhmar” (1959) — In this novelette, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser part ways and find themselves at odds when Fafhrd becomes an acolyte and the Mouser is hired to extract money from Fafhrd’s cult. Humorous and cynical, this story makes fun of Lankhmar’s polytheism and makes the seediness, decadence, and corruption of the city come alive. The ending is hilarious.
  • “Their Mistress, the Sea” (original publication) — This story makes a nice bridge between “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” but it’s entertaining in its own right.
  • “When the Sea-King’s Away” (1960) — This is a fun fantastical story with a great setting (under the sea!) in which Fafhrd has a sword fight with an octopus.
  • “The Wrong Branch” (original publication) — This is a bridge between the previous story and the following novella:
  • “Adept’s Gambit” (1947) — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser arrive in our world (Macedonia) in this novella. There are some funny parts here — Fafhrd kissing pigs and analyzing Socrates, but mostly I found this story dull. The sorcerer Ningauble of the Seven Eyes has sent the boys on a near-impossible quest, but the exciting parts are quickly skipped over and too much of the story is spent with an unpleasant character’s excruciatingly long autobiography.

I love Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser because they’re intelligent rogues. They look like a big dumb barbarian and a sneaky little street urchin, and they love nothing more than drinking, fighting, and wenching, yet they’ve got big vocabularies, make glorious similes and metaphors, and enjoy philosophizing. When they’re doing these things, they’re irresistible, especially in the audiobook versions narrated by Jonathan Davis (Audible Frontiers).

However, half of Swords in the Mist consists of a novella that was not as fun as I’ve come to expect from Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories (perhaps this is partly because it doesn’t take place in Lankhmar). I would suggest that, unless you consider yourself a completist, you find “Lean Times in Lankhmar” and “When the Sea-King’s Away” and skip the rest of Swords in the Mist.

~Kat Hooper

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GREG HERSOM’S (on FanLit's staff January 2008 -- September 2012) addiction began with his first Superboy comic at age four. He moved on to the hard-stuff in his early teens after acquiring all of Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the controversial L. Sprague de Camp & Carter edited Conan series. His favorite all time author is Robert E. Howard. Greg also admits that he’s a sucker for a well-illustrated cover — the likes of a Frazetta or a Royo. Greg live with his wife, son, and daughter in a small house owned by a dog and two cats in a Charlotte, NC suburb. He retired from FanLit in Septermber 2012 after 4.5 years of faithful service but he still sends us a review every once in a while.

View all posts by Greg Hersom (RETIRED)


  1. occams beard /

    you my lady are one listening and review writing machine. I read a lot but I get distracted from throwing out reviews. You must be able to compose essays in your sleep with no editing for mistakes. I think I admire and hate you at the same time ok I do not really hate anyone, least of all you. I just wanted to say hi and mention I entered the rename your cover book contest with what I thought was a pretty hysterical take on it. I am beginning to think your children are self service and you have clones. I just cannot believe the shear output of written stuff you put out and raise a gaggle of folks and teach college. I am definitely a slacker by comparison. Ok I do have some health problems, but still, UH-mazing, glad I found you on goodreads.

  2. Or maybe I just don’t have much of a social life?
    Thanks, though! I love my kids, my job, and reading speculative fiction, so it’s all easy!

  3. I think “Lean Times in Lankhmar” is probably my favorite story of the entire series, possibly one of my favorite fantasy stories ever by any author.
    Actually, I did like “Adept’s Gambit” (the story that take place outside of the Lankhmar universe) a little more than you did perhaps, but then I’m probably a “completist” (as you so aptly term it) when it comes to these stories.

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