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Nifft the Lean

(Nifft the Lean #1)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  611 ratings  ·  52 reviews

Follow the adventures of Nifft the Lean, the master thief whose felonious appropriations and larcenous skills will lead through Stygian realms to challenge your most lurid fantasies and errant imaginings. Places where horror, harm and long eerie calms flow past the traveller in endless, unpredictable succession.

Travel the man whose long, rawboned, sticky
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 1st 1982 by DAW (first published 1982)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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 ·  611 ratings  ·  52 reviews

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Dan Schwent
Aug 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2010
Come then, Mortal. We Will Seek Her Soul:
At the behest of an apparition, Nifft and Haldar kidnap a disgraced warrior and take him to the land of the dead to be reunited with her in exchange for the Wizard's Key. Only things don't go as planned...

The first Nifft story was quite good, a trip to hell with all sorts of horrifying denizens. It was a bit like Fritz Leiber's Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser, only told in the first person and in a meatier style like REH's. Shea's sense of humor and dialogue r
Nifft the Lean: Vance’s Cugel reimagined by Hieronymus Bosch
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Back in 1950, Hillman Periodicals published a little book for 25 cents called The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. It could easily have disappeared into obscurity like thousands of other books, but there was something special about it. There weren’t any other books in SF/Fantasy quite like it, depicting an incredibly distant future earth where the sun has cooled to a red color, the moon is gone, and huma
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of Sword and Sorcery tales that owe more to Moorcock than Howard. In any event, this is some of the best sword and sorcery fiction I have ever read. Whenever I sit down to read some S&S, this is what I am wanting to find (and I am usually left wanting). Bloodsucking vampires, mind-bending demons, trips to hellish underworlds, black magic...this book has it all. ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
An exquisitely written aberration from the early 80s. Lusty, dreamy sword-and-sorcery showing all the passion and thirst of Robert E. Howard with a more advanced prose style. Not much by way of character depth, but lushly beautiful conception and execution. Deserves to be lovingly remembered along with the work of Howard, Leiber, and Vance.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
With Nifft the Lean, Michael Shea presents a dark vision of a dying Earth. Two of the four tales have the feel of Journey to the Center of the Earth as if written by HP Lovecraft, with Nifft descending to an underworld teeming with eldritch landscapes and demons that are as uncanny as they are disturbing. Shea's writing and style are masterful, with dense prose sometimes bordering on the baroque, yet sprinkled with wit. As much as Shea is compared to Jack Vance, I found his writing more visceral ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
I ordered this book a while back but only got round to reading it now. It's a collection of four longish S&S tales set in a far-future dying Earth where science and magic have merged and demons (aliens?) stalk the land. At the start of the book Nifft, the titular character, is presumed dead, and the tales that follow are arranged as a sort of series of reminiscences by his good friend and chronicler Shag Margold. In addition, each piece has an introduction giving a bit of background to the story ...more
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly satisfying. I am definitely seeking out the rest of Shea's fantasy work.

Nifft and his partner Barnar are true thieving professionals, and the stories come off as (mostly) planned heists by mutually trusted, reliable, and exceedingly competent partners, recalling the relationship between Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Shea's unnamed world owes much to Jack Vance and the Dying Earth series, particularly Eyes of the Overworld. Where Shea's follow-on to Eyes, A Quest for Simbilis, felt constr
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who like a good adventure
I wasn't expecting this book to be as good as it is. Nifft the Lean, a thief of renown (accompanied by fellow thief Barnar), steals things, insults morons, and goes to hell. Very reminiscent of Fritz Leiber, in a good and not particularly derivative way. Ugly and sensual. Very entertaining, as though Michael Shea wrote a really, really good D&D novel. That is, better than any D&D novel. ...more
Aaron Singleton
Apr 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf
Nifft the Lean reads like a Vance/Lovecraft/Howard collaboration done in the late sixties. Does that explain anything?

Michael Shea got his start writing a "sequel" to Vance's The Eyes of the Overworld, with Vance's kind permission. He says that Vance told him: "If you can get it published, go right ahead." Shea also offered Vance half of his advance and royalties on the book. Vance politely refused, telling Shea he deserved the money and congratulations. He did get it published, a book called A
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
This is a real gem of sword-and-sorcery storytelling, I was pleasantly surprised. It really deserves to be more popular and widely known. Put it on your shelf next to Vance, Leiber, Moorcock, Howard and Wagner.

Favorite story: The Fishing of the Demon-Sea.
S.E. Lindberg
Jan 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
More appropriately named “Nifft the Tour Guide” since the four short stories comprising this do not develop Nifft’s character or his motivations. His presence is a mere instrument for the author (or the author’s fictional historian, Shag Marigold) to describe entertaining adventures worthy of recording.

Shae offers a strange, effective mix: non-scary, detailed, weird narratives (this is weird fantasy to be sure, but a “fun” version). Readers should expect engaging, detail-packed guided tours thro
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Four adventures of Nifft the Northron, known also as Nifft the Lean and Nifft the Nimble. Michael Shea's first book, A Quest For Simbilis, was an authorized sequel to Jack Vance's The Eyes of the Overworld and this book is very firmly in that vein, although several steps removed from Vancean whimsy and into territory more frequented by, say, H.P. Lovecraft (in his Dreamlands books) or Clark Ashton Smith. (And territory more recently trodden by, say, China Miéville in his Bas-Lag books.)

Nifft's w
Invadozer Misothorax Circular-thallus Popewaffensquat
The Dante styled journey through tour-ture quibbling quavering horrors into banter muck-about with stupid or sharp witted demons tug at my jaw getting a drool from the side of my lip instead of a full adult tear from my eye. Enjoyed this so much would like to tattoo most of it on my body to enjoy rereading it when stranded in the boondocks which happens often enough. Inspired mind terror with many a maggot, wasp, egg laying, screaming...descriptions beyond what any human can imagine with nerves ...more
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
While I didn't care for "Goddess in Glass," the final novella in this book, the first three pieces were so imaginative, so unique, and so utterly, coruscatingly beautiful that I can't imagine taking even a single star away from its rating. If you're a fan of fantasy, horror, or just of lyrical writing in general, I urge you to track down a copy of this wonderful book and get lost in the singularly vivid imagination of Michael Shea.
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: horror, fantasy
This came as a recommendation from a visitor to my old website, and I
was lucky enough to come across it at my favorite used book store.
This store, btw, is The Book Gallery, in Carleton Place, Ont., and it's an old creaky house converted into a book store. On both floors, floor to ceiling is crammed with books. It's glorious.

Anyways. Nifft.

This is a highly rated novel by most who have read it. It's very literate, long on description, and short on character development.
This is a read that requires
Jan 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific book, that I think would earn five stars within the straitened confines of the verbose, Vancian genre of fantasy that it increments, asymptotically, to such a satisfyingly extreme pitch.

Considered against all books, the constraints of its genre - which keep it a bit short on character development, emotional heft, and drama - limit it to a four star review.

It's broken up into several separate stories. The Boschian horrors of the second last, in particular, are quite memorable,
Paul McNamee
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amazing stuff. Every sword-&-sorcery fan should read. Or, as in my case, listen to the excellent audiobook.

Four tales of Nifft's thieving exploits are told. A story of traversing the underworld - sort of an ode to Dante's INFERNO, a tale of larceny involving black pearls and a vampire queen, the longest of the tales is another journey/quest through the sub-world of the demon seas and finally an odd tale of a kingdom that once was visited by aliens.

My only slight dissatisfaction is with the final
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Really liked the first story. The second is even better. The third gets slow during the middle. And the fourth never really engaged me.
Ivan Stoner
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This is pretty good fantasy, but I have no idea how it's supposed to be a Dying Earth/Cugel sequel. It really doesn't seem to owe anything to Vance.

Reads a lot more like Fritz Leiber -- which is sort of good, but the protagonist isn't as charming as Fafhrd or the Mouser.
Darryl Walker
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you enjoy the Brontë sisters and nurse romances you will not want to essay the picaresque NIFFT THE LEAN. Michael Shea, a man incapable of writing badly, could do things with English other writers couldn't. He could crack the language like a whip, run it silkily across your skin like a feather's caress or make it cold and sharp as a murderer's dagger. His words can elicit belly laughter one paragraph then creep into your brain the next to evoke some sticky, nauseating horror. Shea's style rem ...more
Norman Van Der Linde
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
This group of stories revolving around the anti-hero Nifft and his partner Barnar as told by Shag Margold are an absolute treasure to read.

Taking you all over their world, including a trip to the demon infested underworld, the tales are rich in both imagination and depth and following their exploits are a pleasure, the schemes are crafty and the results not always what they planned. It is difficult to find fault with this book the characters are likable (despite themselves often)the world is be
I remember thinking this book was awesome when I read it as a thirteen year-old farm geek. A little too horrific, but I knew that was more about my tastes as a person than what the author delivered. Then I went to college and found out the Michael Shea just kind of ripped off Dante. But I still liked it. Wish I still had the book.

On re-read, I think above is a disservice to Shea. He built the bones on Dante but there's a lot more in the book about Shea's thoughts on, for instance aging or creati
Aonghus Fallon
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Classy Sword-&-Sorcery book consisting of four distinct stories, each detailing the exploits of the eponymous Nift as related by the scribe and historian Margold, and set in a dark, richly detailed world reminiscent of Vance's 'Dying Earth' series. However, Shea avoids the sometimes chilly - and distancing - style adopted by Vance to create a lush, immersive experience. Winner of the 1982 World Fantasy Award. ...more
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this years (30ish?) ago and liked it enough to lug it around ever since. Recently discovered that the author eventually wrote a couple of followups. None are available via kindle and all three are out of print. Interestingly all three are however available via Auidible. Ordered the next two installments printed editions used. Re read Nifft the Lean and found it weird and good. Audible narration was good.
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Okay, in the style of the best of pulp stories, Nifft the Lean is totally a winner. Filled with action, adventure and lush descriptions, this book is fun and easy to fall in love with. If you're looking for deep characterization, um, you might want to look elsewhere.

This book is all about the fun.
Nov 14, 2011 added it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
This book is great popcorn for the brain. Strange and imaginative world. Criminal schemes to poach black dodecahdron pearls from giant red and purple swamp polyps. Fans of Hieronymous Bosch, the Mighty Boosh, Jack Vance and Fritz Lieber will appreciate it. I would love to see Stephen Merchant play Nifft and Ricky Gervais play Barnar. (Perhaps Carl Pilkington could play Haldar?).
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Some unmatched imagination and creature-building are to be found in here. Though I feel none of the stories quite matched the longest one 'Fishing in the Demon Sea', which has quickly become one of my favorite novellas of all time and on its own would surely be a 5-star enterprise in goodreads terms.
Herbie Smith
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Although the characters are indeed shallow, the real joy of this book is the world in which they have their adventures. I first read this in 1985 and it is still one of my favourite fantasy books to this day.
Ian Banks
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Four stars because the last story is only quite good rather than brilliant. Seriously, just read this for "The Fishing Of The Demon Sea" which takes up roughly half its length and is the most inventive, gripping, horrific and laugh-out-loud funny trip to hell you are ever likely to read.
Avis Black
Feb 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 4-stars
One of those books that once you read, you never forget it. Won a World Fantasy award.
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For the British author of thrillers and non-fiction see Michael Shea

Michael Shea (1946-2014) was an American fantasy, horror, and science fiction author who lived in California. He was a multiple winner of the World Fantasy Award and his works include Nifft the Lean (1982) (winner of the World Fantasy Award) and The Mines of Behemoth (1997) (later republished together as The Incomplete Nifft, 200

Other books in the series

Nifft the Lean (3 books)
  • Mines of Behemoth
  • The A'Rak

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