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For the first time-the story of how the greatest heroes in fantastic literature first met.

'The two thieves had themselves been robbed by two youths, who eyed each other suspiciously over the sprawled, senseless bodies.

Fafhrd said: 'Our motives for being here seem identical.' 'Surely, they must be!' the Mouser answered curtly, fiercely eyeing his huge, potential foe.

Fafhrd glanced down at the belts and money-pouches of the fallen thieves. Then he looked up at the Mouser with an honest, open, ingenuous smile.

'Sixty-sixty?' he suggested.

Thus was born the most improbable relationship in the whole history of swords and sorceries.


7 • Induction • [Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser] • (1957) • shortstory by Fritz Leiber
11 • The Snow Women • [Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser] • (1970) • novella by Fritz Leiber
91 • The Unholy Grail • [Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser] • (1962) • novelette by Fritz Leiber
123 • Ill Met in Lankhmar • [Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser] • (1970) • novella by Fritz Leiber

208 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1970

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About the author

Fritz Leiber

1,094 books902 followers
Fritz Reuter Leiber Jr. was one of the more interesting of the young writers who came into HP Lovecraft's orbit, and some of his best early short fiction is horror rather than sf or fantasy. He found his mature voice early in the first of the sword-and-sorcery adventures featuring the large sensitive barbarian Fafhrd and the small street-smart-ish Gray Mouser; he returned to this series at various points in his career, using it sometimes for farce and sometimes for gloomy mood pieces--The Swords of Lankhmar is perhaps the best single volume of their adventures. Leiber's science fiction includes the planet-smashing The Wanderer in which a large cast mostly survive flood, fire, and the sexual attentions of feline aliens, and the satirical A Spectre is Haunting Texas in which a gangling, exo-skeleton-clad actor from the Moon leads a revolution and finds his true love. Leiber's late short fiction, and the fine horror novel Our Lady of Darkness, combine autobiographical issues like his struggle with depression and alcoholism with meditations on the emotional content of the fantastic genres. Leiber's capacity for endless self-reinvention and productive self-examination kept him, until his death, one of the most modern of his sf generation.

Used These Alternate Names: Maurice Breçon, Fric Lajber, Fritz Leiber, Jr., Fritz R. Leiber, Fritz Leiber Jun., Фриц Лейбер, F. Lieber, フリッツ・ライバー

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 820 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
March 9, 2020

This is the first volume in Fritz Leiber's classic fantasy saga, the adventures of Fafhrd and his friend and partner, The Grey Mouser, composed from the 40's through the 70's. The volumes are ordered chronologically by their position in the saga, not the date of their composition, and this volume features some of Leiber's most mature works.

We meet the young Fafhrd--a barbarian of the northern wastes dominated by his mother, the great Snow Witch--who longs for the excitement and variety of civilization that arrives in the form of a theatrical caravan, and we meet Mouse--the apprentice of a poor hedge wizard--who revenges his master's death, becoming in the process "The Grey Mouser." The book ends with what is perhaps its best tale, an account of the two heroes' first adventure together, in which they join their wits and swordsmanship to defeat the Thieve's Guild of Lankhmar, the City of a Thousand Smokes.

Leiber does not choose to construct an alternate world--or an elaborate multi-volume quest, for that matter--with the painstaking care of Tolkien, but he writes just as well (perhaps better) and creates a marvelously expansive world filled with good food, good wine, good sex and good fellowship, with a little roguery and thievery thrown in for good measure.

Tolkien's debt is to Beowulf and the old Viking sagas (plus more than a dash of Merrie Olde England), but Leiber is a direct descendant of Dumas and Sabatini, with liberal doses of "If I Were King" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" thrown in for good measure. This makes for a romantic, wordly-wise, cosmopolitan, theatrical fantasy--a world I find much more comfortable and compelling than the good professor's esteemed--but rather dull--Middle-Earth.
Profile Image for carol..
1,538 reviews7,881 followers
August 26, 2012
Leiber is one of the fathers of sword and sorcery fiction, and it shows. Reading these stories feels a little like sitting at the feet of an old, old storyteller while he reminisces about childhood heroes. There's a feel of both age and timelessness about these stories--tall, fur-clad barbarian and short swordsman-thief who can vanish in the shadows--this is like reading the origin myth for characters we've known for decades.

The four stories (three novellas and one vignette) within describe the adventures of Fafhrd, a giant barbarian from the frozen wastes, and the Gray Mouser, a youth who has apprenticed to a hedge-wizard. 'Induction,' covers a meeting between the two in a famous city. 'The Snow Women' is Fafhrd's origin story, and how he came to leave his tribe. 'The Unholy Grail' covers the Grey Mouse's origin, and 'Ill Met in Lankhmar' is when they meet again and become true companions. 'Lankhmar' won a Hugo and Nebula for best novella, and it is plain why.

These are the tales that influenced the greats of fantasy. There's a tone of wry humor, perhaps a little mocking at youth and noble intentions, and early in the stories I wondered if the narrative would remain tongue-in-cheek. Then Leiber would suddenly twist it, and the frustration, the rage, and the fear in his characters would come into play. It's well done.

Leiber does, perhaps, show his age in these stories, both personally and culturally. Woman have no likeable roles, playing controlling mother-witch, junior controlling fiance-witch, Lady Macbeth, and Ophelia. Still, there is something of sophistication in their character as Leiber gets inside their emotional landscape to explain their actions, or lack of. As the stories of Fafhrd and Gray span 50 years, I'm interested to see where they end up.

Learning Leiber was one of the fathers of S&S sent me on an internet hunt, and I find my appreciation for his stories growing. His parents were both Shakespearean actors, and a reoccurring theme through his writing was acting and the life of actors. Late in life, he received royalties from D&D, who used Fafhrd and Gray as characters.

A note for Pratchett fans out there: Lankhmar was apparently an indirect inspiration for Ankh-Morpork and Pratchett has two characters in the first Discworld based on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

A solid three and a half stars.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
January 9, 2020
Wayne’s World!

Wayne’s World!

Wayne’s World!

Party on! Excellent!

Wayne: OK, welcome to our show, today we’ll be talking about some swingalicious sword and sorcery action, specifically Fritz Leiber’s 1970 collection of “prequel” stories, beginning the chronological adventures of his AWESOME heroes Fafhrd and Gray Mouser.

Garth: Yeah, they’re sword and sorcery heroes kind of like we’re rock heroes.

Wayne: Ha! Yeah, Garth, I’m kind of like Fafhrd, muscular and testosterone oozing swordsman and you’re like the Gray Mouser, a street smart and mercurial stealthy thief.

Garth: I … I thought I was more like Fafhrd. I have blond hair.

Wayne: Ok.


Wayne: Ok, well super cool Fritz –

Gartyh: NOT the cat!

Wayne: Ha! No, not the cat, schwiiiiiing! Frtitz Leiber joined the prequel stories, The Snow Women: A Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Adventure, The Unholy Grail: A Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Adventure, and Ill Met in Lankhmar: A Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser Adventure together with an excellent introduction to get readers on their way for a smoking hot journey with the dynamic duo of swords and sorcery.

Garth: The dynamic duo, right. They could also be like the Laverne and Shirley of swords and sorcery. Or the Barney and Fred of fantasy writing.

Wayne: Or the Hall and Oates of Dungeons of Dragons. Kind of gives a new meaning to … Maneater.

[both laugh]

Wayne: OK, that’s our show, so stay tuned for our next show when we’ll ask the question, “Is too much ever enough?”

Garth: Good question.

Wayne’s World!

Wayne’s World!

Wayne’s World!

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews869 followers
January 3, 2022
"None can inflict suffering without enduring the same. None can send death by spells and sorcery without walking on the brink of death’s own abyss, aye, and dripping his own blood into it...”

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser Deserve Their Own Sword & Sorcery Buddy Movie - B&N Reads

Fritz Leiber's Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #1) is a landmark of swords and sorcery fantasy. In Lankhmar and the areas around this great city, Leiber vividly created a world that is dangerous, intriguing and lots of fun. [Here I insert the first of a couple personal asides] His works might have been what inspired me to become a Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons, and create what I hoped would be a fun and challenging world for my players. For those looking for swords and sorcery fantasy in an immersive world, this is a great place to start.

I liked Neil Gaiman's introduction stressing the importance of Leiber in the development of the genre. I see other editions have an introduction by Michael Moorcock that I would love to read as well. Swords and Deviltry features several Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, both before they knew each other through their meeting and original adventures in the city of Lankhmar. I read many of these adventures (if not this specific collection) when I was younger and am happy to have greatly enjoyed Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser's adventures yet again!

Fritz Leiber's Writings [The Scrolls Of Lankhmar]

[Full disclosure and another personal aside:] Late elementary/junior high, I was reading lots of Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. At the time, I was also reading Michael Moorcock and Ursula LeGuin, but Leiber was a hero. I wrote to Leiber and, amazingly enough, he wrote back. I was elated, but it didn't stop there. Leiber and I exchanged a couple dozen or so letters over the next seven or eight years. He would wish me a happy new year and tell me about the writing projects he was currently working on or he would offer some advice on one of my writing efforts. Every time I recall Fritz Leiber, I think of a great writer, and remember how generous he was with his time. Many many years later, I am still grateful that he corresponded with a farm kid from rural Indiana.

“I'll never stop writing. It's one occupation in which being crazy, even senile, might help.”
― Fritz Leiber, The Best of Fritz Leiber
Profile Image for Karl.
3,258 reviews264 followers
August 13, 2017
This beautifully, illustrated by Tom Kidd, version of the book also contains additional material.

007 - Introduction by Michael Moorcock
015 - The Original Appearance of the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd of the Blue Eyes by Harry O. Fischer
019 - Authors Introduction by Fritz Leiber (1973)
021 - "Swords and Deviltry" including:
021 - I - Introduction
023 - II -"The Snow Woman"
116 - III - "The Unholy Grail"
149 - IV - "Ill Met In Lankhmar"
227 - Introduction to "The Childhood and of the Youth of the Grey Mouser" by Fritz Leiber
228 - About This Tale by The Editors of Dragon Magazine (1978)
229 - "The Childhood and of the Youth of the Grey Mouser" by Harry O. Morris (1978)
236 - ""The Grey Mouser" poems
239 - Interview with Fritz Leiber by Jim Purviance in Algol (1978)
256 -Copyright and Acknowledgments

This is copy 40 of 300 signed copies printed and is signed by Fritz Leiber (Facsimile Signature) and Tom Kidd

Profile Image for Markus.
473 reviews1,526 followers
June 14, 2016
Fritz Leiber is another of the early defining authors in fantasy, mostly because of the coining of the term 'Sword & Sorcery'. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is the tale of a companionship between a mountain tribe barbarian and a failed wizard's apprentice, and their journeys together in Lankhmar and the surrounding lands.

Swords and Deviltry is the first book (actually first collection of short stories) in the series, and introduced the two protagonists with one origin story each, then ends with Ill Met in Lankhmar, the tale of how the unlikely friends first meet.

This was an acceptably enjoyable fantasy tale, but its quality seems to have withered a bit as time has passed. It doesn't stand up to other genre classics or newer fantasy books, and I would only recommend it to those who, like me, want to read the whole fantasy canon.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,737 reviews649 followers
January 7, 2019
"In the midst of the table an alembic was working. The lamp’s flame—deep blue, this one—kept a-boil in the large crystal cucurbit a dark, viscid fluid with here and there diamond glints. From out of the thick, seething stuff, strands of a darker vapor streamed upward to crowd through the cucurbit’s narrow mouth and stain—oddly, with bright scarlet—the transparent head and then, dead black now, flow down the narrow pipe from the head into a spherical crystal receiver, larger even than the cucurbit, and there curl and weave about like so many coils of living black cord—an endless, skinny, ebon serpent."
"The floor was marble, the ceiling blue as lapis lazuli. The side walls were thickly hung, by ring and padlock. One was covered with all manner of thieves’ tools, from a huge thick pry-bar that looked as if it could unseat the universe, or at least the door of the Overlord’s treasure-vault, to a rod so slim it might be an elf-queen’s wand and seemingly designed to telescope out and fish from distance for precious gauds on milady’s spindle-legged, ivory-topped vanity table; the other wall had on it all sorts of quaint, gold-gleaming and jewel-flashing objects, evidently mementos chosen for their oddity from the spoils of memorable burglaries, from a female mask of thin gold, breathlessly beautiful in its features and contours, but thickly set with rubies simulating the spots of the pox in its fever-stage, to a knife whose blade was wedge-shaped diamonds set side by side and this diamond cutting-edge looking razor-sharp."

This book marks the beginning of a fantasy saga that Fritz Leiber crafted over a period of fifty years. As you might gather from the above, Leiber was a master of this genre. If you love this kind of description; if you crave a walk on the wild side; if you need to explore a world where human desires confront strange rituals, powerful shaman and gods, and where good and evil are palpable; then, you must follow me through this book and beyond.

In Swords and Deviltry, we are introduced to the two main characters: Fafhred and the Grey Mouser. One is big, somewhat naïve and impulsive. The other is on the small side, a former magician’s apprentice and very meticulous. They are an odd couple. This book begins by giving us the threads of both characters before they meet in the urban cesspool of Lankhmar, a major city in the world of Nehwon. Both have suffered and survived and brought their paramours to Lankhmar. They meet in the midst of a theft and then find reason to celebrate, at which time their lovers are introduced to each other.

Women are not mere playthings, but this is another sexist world where women avail themselves of certain means to even the distribution of power. “A woman must always keep all ways open, can you understand that? Only by being ready to league with any man, and discard one for another as fortune shifts the plan, can she begin to counter men’s great advantage."

And the women chastise the men for failing to act on promises made...“I am not a coward!” he cried. “I’ll dare Thieves’ House and fetch you Krovas’ head and toss it with blood a-drip at Vlana’s feet. I swear that, witness me, Kos the god of dooms, by the brown bones of Nalgron my father and by his sword Graywand here at my side!” He slapped…"

The story becomes darker and Leiber shows how much of H.P. Lovecraft he has integrated into his own unique style.

"In their drunken preoccupation with the project at hand and mere locomotion, they did not look behind them. There the night-smog was thicker than ever. A high-circling nighthawk would have seen the stuff converging from all sections of Lankhmar, north, east, south, west—from the Inner Sea, from the Great Salt Marsh, from the many-ditched grain lands, from the River Hlal—in swift-moving black rivers and rivulets, heaping, eddying, swirling, dark and reeking essence of Lankhmar from its branding irons, braziers, bonfires, bonefires, kitchen fires and warmth fires, kilns, forges, breweries, distilleries, junk and garbage fires innumerable, sweating alchemists’ and sorcerers’ dens, crematoriums, charcoal burners’ turfed mounds, all those and many more…converging purposefully on Dim Lane and particularly on the Silver Eel and perhaps especially on the ricketty house behind it, untenanted except for attic. The closer to that center it got, the more substantial the smog became, eddy-strands and swirl-tatters tearing off and clinging to rough stone corners and scraggly-surfaced brick like black cobwebs."
"The wizard lay just inside the buckled door. And he had fared as his house: the beams of his body bared and blackened; the priceless juices and subtle substances boiled, burned, destroyed forever or streamed upward to some cold hell beyond the moon."

By this time you should be able to decide whether this sort of story suits your temperament. Leiber can rightly claim that he was one of the developers of the “Sword and Sorcery” genre that has fueled the imagination of many devoted to “Dungeons and Dragons.” He is pitch-perfect in how his stories roll out and this series is particularly notable for its character development over the long haul. I know I will find it hard to resist re-reading it in its entirety.
Profile Image for Raquel Estebaran.
293 reviews176 followers
July 31, 2022
Novela de fantasía épica de espada y brujería donde los dos primeros relatos nos presentan la vida previa de ambos protagonistas mientras que el tercero nos cuenta cómo se conocen.

Una trama llena de acción y cierta picardía narrada de forma amena y original, con unos carismáticos personajes que me ha sorprendido muy gratamente.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books703 followers
November 9, 2019
I'm sorry, I have nothing good to say about this. ETA let it not be said I don't listen. I will say something nice. I can see in this the seed that so many people watered into the staple of troupe based fantasy and I understand the draw of the band of brothers story.

Okay, back to my rant, now that I am chastened. At best I'd say it's amateurish wish fulfillment, smut of the swashbuckling variety. Please only continue reading if you're looking for a good rant. Otherwise, allow me to politely disclaim this was not my favorite, and have a great day.

CONTENT WARNING: (just a list of topics)

Biggest offenders:

-The treatment of women. Zero agency. None. All women are users, vile, petty creatures whose only real powers are sex and riling their men to stupidity and violence.

-The writing. Adverbs loom hugely throughout this deceptively short book. There are meaningless phrases throughout like "It was indefinable. No not quite, *then defined*." or "But the unexpectedness seemed more intense now." And let us never forget the great backhanded uppercut debacle.

-Trite. If I gave you a three sentence summary, one for each "story" in this book, you could write the whole thing yourself. There were no surprises, and the loathsome interactions made it a chore for me to read, rather than giving me that feeling of pleasant expectation that comes from new attempts at classic tales.

-The protagonists would be more endearing hanged. Seriously. They're such assholes! I wish them zero happiness in life based solely on their origin stories. I'm angry their women (real spoiler) for them to be this miserable, but I take some solace in the knowledge that they deserve only the worst. I hope Leiber continued to beat the ever-living tar out of them in subsequent stories. And it will have to remain a hope because I hope my brain is never stained with this duo again.

I started skimming after the home invasion fantasy in the first story, and still this short book took too much of my energy. No good for me. Sorry! 1970s genre fiction tends to do this to me. There's something willfully malicious in the way it seeks to impersonate the fiction from the 50s and 60s that inspired it, a sort of fetishizing of the loutishness of men and the nagging docility of women that makes every "victory" make me roll my eyes and every embrace feel a bit like assault, or maybe a crusty sock. It is crude, it is obvious, and it's behind me thank God.
Profile Image for Kat  Hooper.
1,583 reviews398 followers
September 11, 2009
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

I must confess that I had some preconceived notions about Fritz Leiber’s work. Because he’s credited with coining the phrase “Sword & Sorcery,” and because I never hear women talking about his stories, I imagined that they appealed mainly to men who like to read stuff that has covers like these:
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But, four factors made me decide to give Fritz Leiber a try:
1. I feel the need to be “educated” in the field of fantasy, which means that I should read novels that are out of my normal repertoire.
2. A few guys I know are fans and I tend to enjoy what they enjoy even though they have Y chromosomes and probably like those covers).
3. The fantasy shelves are glutted with urban and teen fantasy and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic.
4. And (this one’s the clincher) Audible.com has recently produced audio versions of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

So, I downloaded Swords and Deviltry to my MP3 player and pressed play. Within two minutes, 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.

I was engrossed in the tales of both of these young men, so when the audiobook reader 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 downloaded 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.

Read more Fritz Leiber reviews at FanLit.
Profile Image for Lizz.
221 reviews52 followers
May 23, 2021
I don’t write reviews.

What can I say about this legendary series? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are brave and loyal and deep. This book tells their main backstories and the situation which led to them joining forces and becoming the closest of friends. You get the fun of learning more about them as the books continue.

I love that although they are the consummate sword and sorcery adventurers, they are still very human characters. They make stupid decisions because of love. Or bravado. It’s easier to root for them consistently (compared perhaps to Conan).

Leiber paints a vivid world of nature and city, thieves and heroes. I can see it, hear it and unfortunately, sometimes even smell it. I’ve gotten lost in these stories and last night suddenly realized it was 2:00 am. I had to force myself to put the book down. “Just one more story” wasn’t cutting it as an excuse because Morning Me would have had angry words with Evening Me.
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews763 followers
July 24, 2011
Ah, sexism, we meet again. And in such an unexpected location: a pulp fantasy novel!

I don't know what Leiber looked like, but I'm picturing that sickly-skinny kid from The New Guy. This book is every bit as embarrassing to read as Piers Anthony, although it has a slightly lower number of naked women per page. What it has to make up for this is SCREAMINGLY stereotypical and degrading female characters. Women fit conveniently into one of two boxes:

(1) Old, jealous hags,
(2) Young hotties who put out.

Not only is this division of female roles strictly enforced throughout, the women all inevitably serve as foils for the male characters. In case any of you are foolish enough to read this waste of paper and time, I won't spoil exactly how this manifests itself, but it's clear that every female involved in the plot is being used as a vehicle for setting up the male characters.

In the one and only scene where two women were having a conversation without a man present, the conversation was summed up in this sort of fashion:

The two women sat on the couch, giggling and talking of girlish things.

It was one line, while the men were talking on the other side of the room about something much more important which had several pages dedicated to its explication. The wives of our two protagonists are ENTIRELY dependent upon their men, and horribly impractical and flighty. This, in spite of the fact that one of the women has seen much of the world on her own, and should understand the city they are in better than her husband: upon marriage, she apparently decided to let her man deal with all the thinking.

Uhh, so, about other aspects of this book. . . . Skip the first two stories if you choose to bother with this. They're crap, clearly written to extend the Farvhrd and the Grey Mouser series, yet creating absolutely no tension, nor developing characters. There's not even anything notably interesting about the fantasy world being presented in these two stories. The final of the three stories, "Ill-Met in Lankmar," is definitely the high point. . . although the "high-point" is relative in this case, like pointing out the "high point" in Kansas. It is significantly more entertaining, although it is as believable and realistic as Duck Tales, and caters to about the same level of intellect.

Overall, my opinion of Lieber--based only on this book, mind you--is similar to my opinion of Robert Howard, the other author credited with starting the Swords & Sorcery genre. They both sucked.

They stumbled across a genre that a lot of people have enjoyed, though, and that can't be taken away from them. Even if it is a stupid genre. I prefer the nuance, depth and world-building that's often found in the fantasy authors who came much later, like Peake, Tolkien, Martin, and to a lesser extent, Bakker and Abercrombie. But, this is just a matter of preference, which isn't based on anything scientific.

Similarly, you can't scientifically prove Bob Marley makes better music than Kriss Kross. . . but I can maintain a bullheaded opinion about it. I know who makes me wanna jump.
January 16, 2023
Why 1970s Fantasy always feels so ridiculously outdated is one of the greatest mysteries of the universe, methinks. The next time I'm in the mood for some good old sword and sorcery, I'll just reread my Cimmerian Boyfriend's most scrumptious adventures. Because there's nothing quite like seeing my Barbarian Cutie Pie fighting villainously hideous and hideously villainous ancient beasts and/or crushing his enemies' skulls with a recently gnawed-on beef bone, if you ask me. And all that wearing only a loincloth, too.

Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews9,782 followers
January 13, 2009
Though Leiber wasn't the first to write swords and sorcery adventures, the imagination, verve, and whimsy of his writing not only set him above his contemporaries, but have made him one of the most influential authors in epic mythological fiction. He is responsible for Thieves' Guilds and Wizard Scrolls, as well as numerous elements of characterization and tone.

However, he didn't simply pluck these concepts from the waiting air. Like Howard, Leiber enriched his work with details from ancient tales and histories, thereby adding forgotten traditions of literature back into the modern style. He took Thieves' Guilds from an adventure story of Cervantes (himself the innovator of the modern novel and adventure story), taking hold of a disparate and forgotten thread and weaving it back into the pattern.

As modern offers, we should gratefully accept these gifts, and there is no better way to thank the grandmasters than to reinterpret their ideas for a new readership. However, we should also take a further lesson, and recall that Leiber was not satisfied to simply rewrite Howard's tales, but also looked to change and challenge his own style. Too many authors, particularly in fantasy, seem happy to write the same stories that have already been written, with only the names changed to protect the guilty.

This first collection presents the way in which Leiber's most famous creations, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, met; and also presents stories of their origins before their portentous meeting. They are as imaginative and fast-paced as any of Leiber's stories, but are not Leiber's best work.

These stories were actually written much later, when Leiber began to try codifying and structuring his world more deliberately. Unfortunately, this did not prove to be a fruitful direction for Leiber, often robbing his stories of their characteristic unpredictable energy. The next three collections of earlier stories show greater wit, depth, and willingness to experiment with plot and characterization.

Despite their weaknesses, they are certainly superior to the sad wane of the last two books of the series. So read this book for fun, or for completeness, or because you're tired of the scores of less audacious fantasy writers treading water in his wake.

My Fantasy Book Suggestions
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,255 reviews178 followers
April 17, 2023
This ruled. I wish someone had taken me aside as a thirteen-year-old and told me to put the Star Wars EU novels away and pick up some Fritz Leiber.

Three origin stories here. The first two are about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, respectively, setting out and winning their first loves. The last is the story of how they met and became partners (though there's a hint that they met previously?) and also how they lost their first loves.

Really pleasantly surprised at how well Leiber captures getting drunk with your friends and feeling invincible as a young person in "Ill Met in Lankhmar." Also really liked the snow tribe in "The Snow Women," it's just its own thing, not trying to copy or comment on any existing culture, and most of the snow stuff is just a chance to pun and play with words.

"Thieves' Guild" stuff used to piss me off so bad when I'd read stuff along those lines as a kid, but I guess I didn't get that Leiber, at least, is playing the concept for laughs.

I'm seeing a lot of other reviews complaining that the writing is misogynist, to which I would say it's certainly not 'feminist,' but I think what makes these stories (and in particular the comedy) work is that instead of depth, the characters are caricatures who must reliably choose vice over virtue, and that has to extend to the women (and to our heroes' attitudes towards them) as much as anything else.
Profile Image for Gary .
200 reviews184 followers
May 14, 2014
This book is like a trip back in time to the beginnings of the sword and sorcery era. Yes, the language is dated. Yes, the viewpoint is clearly outmoded and outdated in terms of male/female relations. But if you look at this book as a snapshot of history, it is exactly what it should be-a formative piece of writing that inspired generations of writers and is a subterranean root drawn on by many of our current fantasy authors knowingly or unwittingly.
There is a degree of callousness in the collection of short stories that form this book. Mothers plot the death of sons, husbands are brutally killed, even a child is run through by one of the protagonists at one point. It is definitely not politically correct material, but it is interesting and often entertaining. Personally, I like the moral ambiguity of the central characters. A hero that isn’t always a good guy is a refreshing change from the more-often-than-not flat and static characters we find in modern fiction. Shakespeare understood this principle, and often his central character (I hesitate to use the word “hero”, protagonist is more apt) would commit a cold blooded murder or something of that nature When this type of older literature is adapted for film, these scenes are inevitably deleted to purify the protagonist and make him more of a “good guy”. I personally always liked the mix of good and evil in the central characters. I think it adds an air of unpredictability.
So, yes, I like this. It’s not for everyone, though. Read this if you are interested in a snapshot of the past and want to explore the roots of this genre. Pass it by if you are easily offended.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,496 reviews962 followers
July 1, 2011
I picked this up in order to fill one of the gaps in my fantasy education. I kept seeing references to it everytime discussions turned towards sword and sorcery fantasy books. I can now add one more flag on the road mapping the transition from Poe to Howard, to Thieves World to [for example] Riyria.
I'm glad I have finally got to know Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser - two spirited adventurers through highly magical and dangerous world of Newhon. This introductory collection of stories presents the heroes as young men at the moment they start in the journey to discover the world. I was expecting a lighter tone than Robert E Howard, and in the beginning there was quite a lot of humor and banter. The story turns a lot darker toward the end, showcasing the full range of the author abilities. Feminists might be turned off by the portrayal of some characters, ranging from harpies to temptress, and Leiber seems quite fond of the fantasy equivalent of strip joints, but once again toward the end, the feminine characters gain depth and subtlety.
The language is quite flowery and full of adjectives, but I got used to it very fast and I was able to enjoy the scenery and the action.
I hope to return soon to the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser exploits
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,866 followers
October 23, 2019
A bit of late-60’s/early-70’s era sexism aside, this is a wonderful combination of rollicking adventure, delightfully droll dialogue, and crystalline action, which also features a welcome sprinkling of heartfelt pathos. It’s my first encounter with the SFWA Grand Master Fritz Leiber’s work, and it won’t be my last. I see now why his two supremely famous rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, are so famous: they are depicted with utter charm and humanity, featuring an authentic blend of rakish, sometimes hilarious behavior that almost belies their unerring ability to also act with profound reserves of heartfelt courage. And all of this adventuring is fueled by Leiber’s vigorously poetic and stylishly original prose, which paints with utter clarity every twist and turn in the thrillingly vivid fight scenes, and infuses the carefully-wrought darker, bittersweetly emotional moments with true dread and poignancy. I’m thoroughly enchanted by this all-too-brief collection of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s earliest antics, and will definitely continue reading the other volumes that capture the adventures of these two legendary rapscallions.
Profile Image for Jemppu.
500 reviews91 followers
September 14, 2022
Well, that was a jolly enough origin story for the duo, I suppose.

Included were some glaring gender politics (the usual resulting mix of world/personalities portrayed, era of conception and originally intended target audience), and drunken stupor used to promote charismatic personality (again, as a part of the characters portrayed, but which in me personally tends to cause more irk/pity rather than mirth).

The most enjoyable aspect of the whole was by far the originality of the prose; the almost poetic use of language creating a unique tone to the narration, and heightening the comedic impact, when mixed with the plain sailing action and the characters' audacity.

This first book was a rather brief intro to the duo's initial encounter, so I'm left quite curious for how the comradery might develop, or the individuals grow, along further adventures.

Reading updates.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
645 reviews79 followers
September 2, 2022
Swords and Deviltry is the first book in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fantasy series.

Although I didn’t really know anything about this series before I started reading it, I somehow went into it with misconceptions. I’m not sure if it was due to comments I’d unconsciously absorbed from other people talking about it over the years, or if it was purely based on the title of the series, but I was expecting some sort of entertaining relationship between whoever “Fahfrd” and “the Gray Mouser” were. Buddies, reluctant comrades, something along those lines. I was hoping for witty dialogue and humor, and the type of characters that you love just because they’re so much fun to read about. That’s not what I found in this book, at least not in my opinion. Maybe the series has more of that in the later books.

Fafhrd and Gray Mouser are both youths (I don’t think we were given their ages) who grew up separately in different types of environments, each facing some sort of adversity before traveling to the big city which is where they meet. This book is made up of three stories. The first story tells Fafhrd’s story, the second tells the Gray Mouser’s story, and the third tells of their meeting and an adventure they have together. So I definitely don’t recommend that anybody read this book in hopes of a story with lots of witty banter, because the characters don’t even meet until you’re about two-thirds in. Even after they met, I didn’t find it particularly witty or humorous.

It's a really short book and there isn’t much world-building. I was especially left with questions about the place where Fafhrd grew up. Since it’s a series, I’m sure things get fleshed out more in later books. There is some character development, yet I never felt like I had a strong understanding of the characters and I definitely didn’t develop an attachment to them. Some of their decisions irritated me.

I didn't think it was a terrible book, but it was easy to put down and it never grew on me as I’d hoped it might. In fact, I was probably the most interested in the first story and the least interested by the third. It’s possible the series might improve as the main characters get to know each other better and go on more adventures, but I didn’t care enough to want to stick around for that, so I don’t plan to read further.
Profile Image for Malum.
2,226 reviews127 followers
June 19, 2018
Its Swords and Deviltry, a CLASSIC of sword and sorcery fiction! A GIANT amongst the pale imitators!! The PINNACLE of fantasy adventure fiction!!!

Aaaaaaand...I didn't care for it as much.

It is broken up into three stories. The first one is about Fafhrd and, looking through the reviews, even some of the people that like this book say that this isn't a terribly great story. Yeah, it's a slog where almost nothing happens.

Next, we get a story about the Gray Mouser. It is a little better, but maybe only because it is shorter than the last story and I didn't have to suffer as long.

Finally, we get the story where the two meet. While this tale didn't blow my socks off (there is just too much of nothing happening in between brief action scenes), if all three stories had been at least this good then I would have given this collection at least three stars. But, by this point, I was just ready for this book to be over and this story wasn't good enough to save it.

So, I'll just be here hiding, clutching my "Sword & Sorcery Fanboy" membership card in case any of you try to snatch it away from me because of this review!
162 reviews30 followers
May 25, 2017
Before I say anything about this book specifically, I must flat-out state that Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are my favourite on-going fantasy series. I don't generally read huge, sprawling multi-volume sagas of anything, just because I can't imagine how a writer could possibly keep up interest or inspiration over thousands and thousands of pages for the same world or set of characters and maintain a consistent enough quality to make the undertaking a worthwhile experience for me. Life's too short, you know, and I am a ponderous, thoughtful raeder who takes his time with everything. This series isn't like that; the seven volumes are slim (or perhaps you bought them in two nice omnibus editions), and they are themselves made up of shorter tales, except for The Swords of Lankhmar, which is the only Nehwon/F&GM novel. I think this is the ideal format for a number of reasons, but mostly because we're never in any doubt that what we're seeing are in fact "snapshots", so to speak, of the lives of this eminently lovable pair, and you bet, they have loads of adventures and complications that we'll never read about. This is a good thing, not for opportunistic fan fiction writers (are there F&GM fan fiction writers?), but for all of our imaginations. We don't mind watching these characters grow, because even if they are sometimes prone to funks, quarrels and can even occasionally be obnoxious people, the glimpses are brief and they'll probably eventually get over whatever crisis has caused them to behave poorly, and do it in a natural way. Finally, I just love reading short stories; it isn't that I haven't the attention span for novels, but I enjoy reading things in a single sitting and I like to take stories with me on trips, or even on my way to work in the mornings as I ride public transit.

SO, since this marks the beginning of my favourite long-running fantasy series, why did I only give this book three stars? A three star rating is still a pretty good book as far as I'm concerned, so I've got nothing much bad to say about Leiber's work here, except that it just gets a hell of a lot better. I really mean that: Start with this book, yes, but if it doesn't rock your world and put a huge grin on your face, persevere, because once the troublesome twosome have really developed a rapport after wandering and adventuring together for years, the stories become marvelous. This is the beginning, though, and the comfortable rhythm doesn't quite seem established yet. Also, the first two stories establish the backgrounds of Fafhrd, the hulking northern barbarian with a lust for travel and a hunger to see the sights of the world and learn as much as he can, and the diminutive Gray Mouser, a wily and cunning rogue who started off as a magician's apprentice but soon turned to thievery and underhand means to get by in the teeming city of Lankhmar. These two stories are certainly worthy, and it's good to have the tale told of where each of the twain originated and why they left their homelands.

However, the first story, "The Snow Women", does not start very auspiciously. Leiber seems to think that he can convey the harsh coldness of this land largely by making adjectives out of "ice" and "snow" and adding them to as many commonplace nouns as possible. The first couple of times, one hardly notices, but especially in the opening pages, it gets pretty excessive and I'm reminded of much poorer fantasies of which I have far less favourable opinions, and I know damn well that Leiber is actually far above this, even though he pulled the same sort of trick in the later story "The Adept's Gambit" (he used it in a much more self-aware/clever way in that tale). I suppose modern readers might, too, have a problem with Leiber's portrayal of women in this story, as all the ladies of Fafhrd's tribe turn out to be witches (a favourite theme of his early work), and the whole establishment seems to be set out to trap him and turn him into another ineffectual man like all the other males in his clan. I think though that it's important to remember that this is, basically, part of a rite of passage for Fafhrd (the second part of this rite takes place in "Ill-Met in Lankhmar(, and that this is relating events taking place in Fafhrd's seventeenth year. he's a young, brash lout, and he's bored. He wants to travel far, but the men in the tribe generally always return home, unless they win the disfavour of the women, in which case they tend to meet unfortunate ends. He's also lain with a girl he doesn't seem to love, thinking it something very casual and meaningless (or so it seems), but she has other ideas. Indeed, Fafhrd is not always too sharp in his interactions with people, but he does his best, and his hungers are pretty understandable, especially in a youth of seventeen. The writing does get a lot better as the story goes on, and Leiber thinks up dozens of ways of telling us of the grimness of this land, and also Fafhrd's reasons for wanting to leave. When a travelling show comes into town and Fafhrd hooks up with one of the carnival girls, the events are set in motion. I loved the way everyone in this land travels around on skis.

The second tale is "The Unholy Grail", and it details the Mouser's fall from grace and employ of dark magics in order to rescue his loved one. This shows a side of the Gray Mouser we don't often get to see, and it's strange to see Leiber put him under so much stress so early on. Nevertheless, it feels a little bit inconsequential compared with Fafhrd's tale, and in a way it is a shame that we hardly get to see Mouser practise any magic later in the stories, though given what he has to go through here, I can well understand why he'd want to turn away from the Arts!

Finally, "Ill-Met in Lankhmar", the meeting of the pair and the birth of their long, fruitful relationship. Right away we're thrust into a fight on the street, and the two meet by helping one another out of sheer instinct and respect based on seeing the other's style. Soon they're having a big party in Mouser's room, but now they've gotten mixed up with the Thieves' Guild, and will have to be careful where they tread in Lankhmar, the thriving, filthy metropolis where anything is possible, from hence forth. It's a good, breezy tale, with a kicker ending, and the first Fafhrd and Mouser story I read, a long time ago on a long bus trip. I enjoyed the story then, but didn't exactly rush out to read the others. I'm not even sure I was aware there were loads more of them. I only really grew to like this a lot more in the context of the other stories, and I suspect the same will be true for many. It's interesting to see references to Thieves Guilds and such here; at the time I first read this I was pretty much in my "contempt of the fantasy genre" phase, and I thought, "ah great, more RPG-inspired crap", but of course, it's the other way around; I'm sure Lankhmar was the model for many games of the future...the taverns, inns, guilds, magicians in strange edifices on the outskirts....all those things would much later become cliché. But once I realise where something originated, I'm pretty good at severing it from its feebler offspring, and I'm always interested in where and how conventions got started. There are a lot of them here, but there's so much more to the stories in general.

SO yes, while this isn't exactly F&GM at their best, I strongly advise reading everything in order, for then you can experience the true growth of the characters and live their stories as they lived them. I could suggest some of what I feel are the best stories in their entire span (most of which come after the second book), but I think that would be cheating. Savour and devour these, and know there's much more yet to come!
Profile Image for Dawn F.
496 reviews64 followers
December 2, 2019
Well this was a fun romp. I have a weakness for anti heroes, for partners in crime, and these two fit the bill. I was at times reminded of Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing, the language was exquisite, classical, just old enough to make you feel like you’ve properly stepped into a different era altogether. The stories themselves are perhaps a bit naive or simplistic - I had to snicker a few times at the unlikely plot twists in Ill Met in Lankhmar - but nomatter, I was entertained by this plucky short story collection.
Profile Image for Gary Sundell.
342 reviews52 followers
August 11, 2019
The book contains three shorter works. The first features Fafhrd before he leaves the North. I have read it before, but it was slow going until near the end of the story. The next tale deals with Mouse before he becomes Gray Mouser, more enjoyable than the first story. The gem in this collection is Ill Met in Lankhmar,a tale well deserving its awards.
Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews268 followers
May 15, 2015
Swords and Deviltry: The origin stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
If you want to read “sword & sorcery” tales, why not go back to the source? Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser 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 he and Vlana heading to the city of Lankhmar to exact revenge on the Thieves Guild, which wronged Vlana earlier.

“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 Janaarl, 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 Grey Mouser prevails with the use of black magic. He and Ivrian 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 a kindred spirit, the two men form a friendship and share the loot. Returning to the Mouser’s hideout, they introduce their women Vlana and Ivrian to each other. They all celebrate with drink, 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 plunder it for more riches. However, when they return to their lair later, they discover [spoiler removed]. In a rage, they charge into the Thieves’ House intent on revenge, and 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/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.

Honestly, it’s hard to judge this first installment of the Fafhrd and 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 roleplaying 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.
Profile Image for Warren Fournier.
585 reviews62 followers
August 1, 2022
In all the years of reading fantasy in high school, college, and medical school, and for all the sessions of D&D with my fellow neckbeard friends who lovingly hand-crafted and painted their Hill Dwarves and Feral Tieflings and Dragonborn, I never came across or even heard anyone talk about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Even my well-read wife hadn't heard of them, which in retrospect is surprising, because when we met in 2007, she was the Southern Illinois Queen Wench of everything involving science fiction and fantasy, and the crush of all turn-based role-playing gamers, sword and sorcery lovers, connoisseurs of homebrewed mead and kvas, worshipers of Blackmore's Night, belly dancers and renaissance fair actors, and people who thought they were werewolves. But lo and behold, I came across her battered copy of "Ill Met in Lankhmar" the other day on our shelves. She acted like this was the first time she'd ever laid eyes on the book, and it certainly wasn't mine. I saw this as an act of fate, and pledged under the Sigil of Scoetia that I be struck down by the blade of Andúril if I did not at least read a few pages of Fritz Leiber's influential novella.

Well, a few pages led to finishing the whole thing, then moving on to the other stories that precede it in the collection "Swords and Deviltry." Contained in this omnibus are three novellas setting up how a barbarian of the snows and a sorcerer's apprentice come into their perspective careers as loveable rogues, and eventually team up to form one of the greatest partnerships in literary history. Farfhrd and Grey Mouser have appeared in stories spanning almost a whopping 50 years from 1939 to 1988. The novellas in "Swords and Deviltry" are not the original stories of the series, but prequels that come first chronologically.

Now, I've been familiar with Fritz Leiber as a horror and science fiction fan for a long time, so I knew what to expect from his writing. I was not disappointed. I love his quirky prose, stylized in the fashion of all timeless epic adventures, but with a jerky and stumbling cadence that you'd think would make the book hard to read. Yet somehow the words accommodate the reader effortlessly, transporting one fully into the world Leiber has weaved with such depth and realism that I swear it is Deviltry itself. There is a Cabellian quality to the fantasy as well. It is quite sexually focused and explicit, but it always stays classy while exploring deeper psychological themes within the characters that go far beyond the romantic exploits.

The first novella, "The Snow Women", focuses on an 18-year-old Fafhrd and his conflict with his sorceress mother and his oppressive matriarchal culture. "The Unholy Grail" is the second story and focuses on the Grey Mouser. It is the weakest of the bunch, exploring his character's reasons for channeling hate and revenge into black magic. Leiber's writing is more opaque here, and I honestly can't understand what happens at the end of the story.

In these two tales, we are introduced to Leiber's use of color representing the spectrum of soul, whether good, evil, or neutral. The more romantic pollyanna, Fafhrd, wears the traditional white of his people, while the more cynical Grey Mouser is ambivalent to both white and black magic, with grey being the resulting color of his mixed allegiance and personality. However, both characters are good-hearted while capable of some destructive behaviors, as they are stunted in adolescence emotionally. We are also privy to the individual backgrounds and struggles of these two characters that lead them both to their eventual pairing in "Ill Met in Lankhmar," which is the final story already mentioned. It won a Hugo and a Nebula, and is a fine cautionary tale about hubris.

These are not the kind of stories that involve a lot of quests to fetch a mystical Macguffin from the clutches of a fire-breathing dragon or three-headed dog. There are no monsters, no all-powerful evil wizards bent on destroying the world, and no goblin hoards. At least, not in this volume. Therefore, the fantasy setting is largely subservient to the human drama, freeing the author from the constraints of natural law in our real world, and providing the framework for allegory. Lankhmar represents all of "civilization," where unspoken rules are more important than written law, but Leiber's use of symbolism isn't always very subtle, nor does it require extensive academic backgrounds of readers to figure out. For example, the thieves of the Lankhmar "Thief's Guild" have their headquarters on Cheap Street, while other street names include Cash, Silver, and Gold. There are other streets in Lankhmar with names even more on the nose, like Whore Street. "Dinner at my place? Great! I'm at apartment 666 in the building on the corner of Filth and Whore! Hello? You there?" I mean, what kind of civic planning do they have in Lankhmar? Apparently our heroes don't mind.

My overall feeling about this collection is that I would recommend them even to readers who are not necessarily fans of fantasy. In fact, I am generally not a big fantasy guy myself. I will occasionally dip into such fanfare to cleanse my palate, while I remain a lover of all things Cabell, and enjoy tales of Tolkien's Middle Earth, Lewis' Narnia, and Howard's Hyborian Age. But I don't gravitate to such books like I may have in my first 20 years of reading. Leiber's work, however, is certainly something special, and so I think it will keep anyone with half an ounce of imagination engaged and happy.

Of course, now that I've read a few of these stories, I now understand where some of the character types that appear in D&D and other fantasies may come from, such as "hedge wizard." Leiber also seems to have codified the behaviors and attributes of certain character classes, such as all thieves carrying a "regulation thief's knife" and being skilled at lockpicking. For me, Leiber will always be one of my favorite sci-fi and horror writers, but in the realm of overall fantasy he is clearly a juggernaut, and his stamp on sword-and-sorcery as well as role-playing games is timeless. So this collection comes highly recommended for anyone looking to get away for a few moments with a good book.

I'm very pleased to say that Fafhrd, the Grey Mouser, and I are very well met. Let me know what are your favorite stories from this series. Also, are there any other literary dynamic duos that you'd recommend?

WORD OF THE DAY: Punctilio
Profile Image for Marc *Dark Reader of the Woods*.
783 reviews133 followers
December 4, 2020
Eleven months later this was still in "review to come" status, and I don't have anything to add beyond my original brief comments. My overall impression is that this chronological approach is not the best way to introduce these characters. These stories were written decades after the characters were created, and as first published most readers would already be acquainted with them, so reading them first goes against the original intent. On their own, I was not particularly interested in the characters, plot, or worldbuilding. I would much rather read the stories in publication order. Volume two has several ~1940 tales so I am looking forward to those, as the real introduction to these sword-wielding legendary adventurers.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
June 25, 2010
3.5 stars This novel collects the first of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. The first two stories, The Snow Women and the Unholy Grail introduce us to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser individually. While these are decent stories, the real magic is when the two meet for the first time in Ill Met In Lankhmar which is a superb story in the classic sword and sorcery meets buddy book genre. The last story is a 4.0 to 4.5 star story. The relative weakness of the first two stores is what brings the overall rating to 3.5. Recommended
Profile Image for Edward.
362 reviews916 followers
February 15, 2022
Bursts of fun action and dialogue but it felt too slow for me to really become immersed or enjoy wholeheartedly.
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