SWORDS AGAINST THE SHADOWLANDS
by Robin Wayne Bailey
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When writing a story set in someone else's world, there are several pitfalls which await an author. Not only must the author remain consistant with what the original author has written, but they should also try to recapture the mood, style and spirit of the original work. This task is compounded when the new author is using the original characters. In Swords Against the Shadowlands, Robin Wayne Bailey attempts, and succeeds, in recreating Fritz Leiber's style with a new adventure of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
Swords Against the Shadowlands is a short book, under 200 pages, which adds to its resemblance to the original Lankhmar stories. Leiber's description of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser's first meeting with Sheelba is briefly discussed in the short story "The Circle Curse" (in Swords Against Death). Bailey begins his story with this same meeting, revealing it to be much more complex than Leiber hinted. Furthermore, in "Trapped in the Shadowland" (in Swords and Ice Magic), Leiber mentions that the two heroes have seen their true loves, Vlana and Ivrian since they were killed and Bailey uses this throughout Swords in the Shadowlands as well.
Set in the early years of Fafhrd and Mouser's association, the two are forced by Sheelba to return to Lankhmar where they are plagued by visions of Ivrian and Vlanna, their lovers who were killed in "Ill Met in Lankhmar." Once in Lankhmar, the heroes must stop a vicious spell cast by the wizard Malygris.
The story is reminiscent of Leiber's own tales. Although there is less of a feel of predestination about them than Leiber's story had, Bailey does raise the issue of predeterminism and particularly Mouser's reaction to the thought that something controls his destiny. Where Bailey most fully succeeds is capturing Leiber's ability for atmospheric descriptions. As one reads of Fafhrd & Mouser moving about Lankhmar, the tendrils of mist which cover the city are almost palpable.
At times, particularly towards the beginning of the novel, the action seems to be a bit slow. However, this is because Bailey is working at building the atmosphere of Lankhmar. Furthermore, he is laying the groundwork for pay-offs which come later in the novel. There are few surprises, and the basic plot is pretty straight forward, however Bailey makes up for this in the examination of both main characters.
There could have been a few more red herrings throughout the novel to help build the suspense, and Bailey also seems to do some things arbitrarily. When Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser first arrive in Lankhmar, they make the acquaintaince of one of the town guards, Nuulpha. Throughout the novel, Nuulpha refers to his wife, Sabash. Although she's never seen and only discussed in an off-hand manner, Sabash does play a role in the outcome of events which Bailey never really explains.
Bailey's story works as a tale of Lankhmar. It may not be as polished or philosophical as Leiber's original stories, but neither does it betray the stylistic methods used in writing the original tales. The characters remain as Leiber portrayed them and they move through a city which Leiber would have found familiar.
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