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Swords and Deviltry: Lankhmar, Book 1
Fritz Leiber
Narrated by Jonathan Davis, unabridged
Brilliance Audio, 7 hours, 40 minutes

Swords and Deviltry: Lankhmar, Book 1
Fritz Leiber
Fritz Leiber was born in 1910 to parents who worked in the theatre. After studying psychology and physiology at the University of Chicago, he spent a year at a theological seminary. He worked as an editor for the Science Digest, and as an actor and drama teacher, before turning to writing. He is well known for his fantasy titles such as the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, Our Lady of Darkness, Conjure Wife, and "Gonna Roll the Bones," which appeared in Dangerous Visions and won both a Hugo and a Nebula. He is also the author of 1958 Hugo winner The Big Time, and other SF titles in the Change War series. Fritz Leiber died in 1992.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The First & Second Books of Lankhmar
SF Site Review: The Wanderer
SF Site Review: The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Ottinger III

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This three-story volume is the first of several collections of Leiber's iconic Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. Organized chronologically according to the character timeline, Swords and Deviltry contains two origin stories for the unlikely duo and the Nebula and Hugo-winning "Ill Met in Lankhmar" that narrates the duo's first caper together.

 The book opens with an induction -- a way of introducing the listener to the world of Lankhmar, an auditory map of the lands and peoples of Leiber's original fantasy world. From there we move into the first story, "The Snow Women" which tells of how Fafhrd, a strong barbarian of the steppes, falls in love with Vlana, a southern prostitute and dancer come to meet the barbarians on their once yearly pilgrimage to the southernmost point of their lands.

The handsome Fafhrd is consumed with Vlana's tales of Lankhmar, and must find a way to escape the matriarchal society of the barbarian North to reach that fabled city. Always an outsider, Fafhrd finds his release and is thereby set on a collision course with the Gray Mouser. The story is highly erotic, if a bit slowly paced. It is more a slice of life description of who Fafhrd was before he became part of the action-adventure duo than a exciting tale in its own right.

In "The Unholy Grail" the Gray Mouser goes by another name and is wizard's apprentice to Glavas Rho, and illegal magic user in the lands of Duke Janarl. When the morally wavering Mouser returns from a pilgrimage to find his master dead and is made captive of Duke Janarl, he uses black magic to confuse his enemies and curse Duke Janarl to a slow but inevitable death. Near death himself, the Gray Mouser is found by Ivrian, the Duke's daughter, and nursed back to health through her secret knowledge.

The Gray Mouser is healed, only to be captured by the Duke again. The Gray Mouser stands on a cusp, will he commit himself to black magic and so live?  Or chose white magic and die? Like Fafhrd's story before it, "The Unholy Grail" describes the transition of a character, but whereas Fafhrd must chose only between life in the wastes and life in the city, the Gray Mouser must choose between evil and good, and is therefore a much more exciting story than "The Snow Women."

One night in Lankhmar, two thieves steal gems from the house of Jengao the gem merchant only to be separately ambushed on their way to the thieves' home by Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Successfully making off with the gems, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser see the advantages of forming an adventuring partnership (which includes their lovers) and chose as their first target the Thieves' Guild itself. But their enterprise may be their undoing when Krovas, Grandmaster of Thieves, retaliates. What a story! Well-deserving of its Nebula and Hugo awards, it is fresh, exciting and unpredictable, and is why Leiber tales have enjoyed longstanding popularity since the characters were first introduced in August 1939.

 This particular collection is the place to start if you have an interest in sword and sorcery (a term Fritz Leiber is credited with inventing). "The Snow Women" is rather slowly paced, but will be of interest to readers as an origin story, and "The Unholy Grail" and "Ill-Met in Lankhmar" are exciting adventures. Leiber has significant mastery over the adjective, making the stories very vivid in their detail, so the stories translate very well into audio form. The reader is easily able, with just Leiber's words alone, to see the setting and action in their mind's eye with relative ease -- though this can also lead to a slowing down of the plot as reader Jonathan Davies plows through Leiber's voluminous descriptions. 

Davies's careful and pleasant baritone gives the story a real life. His men are particularly excellent, with a wide variance of voices. Davies fails to really capture the women, as his falsettos carry too much of the masculine in them to really breathe life into Vlana and Ivrian. Still, Davies does make these stories entertaining with his vocal talents, and I wouldn't mind hearing him paired with a woman for future Leiber collections. 

If you like sword and sorcery, action-adventure in a pre-medieval world, then Fritz Leiber's Swords and Deviltry is an excellent addition to your collection.

Copyright © 2011 John Ottinger III

John Ottinger III's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in many publications including Publishers Weekly, Sacramento Book Review, and Tor.com. He is also the proprietor of the science fiction/fantasy review blog Grasping for the Wind.


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