Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Fritz Leiber
(2007, DH Press)
[original copyright 1970]

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser return to Lankhmar, where they raid a haunted tower, find lands over and under the sea, thwart a thieving crow-man, and vanquish an other-dimensional salesman.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
November 15th to 27th, 2022


I surprised myself by enjoying a lot of this book, because of the lackluster start to the series in the last book, and because it was a bunch of short stories barely connected (I’m not a fan of short story collections because I often read through one after another in a long session, where they deserve to be paused and thought over at the end, much like I enjoy doing after a longer book). The common theme of one of the pair running off and doing something stupid while the other had to rescue him was predictable, but the author’s writing style and the use of so many thematic words made the stories seem much more entertaining, maybe, than they should have been. The first stories were definitely a lot weaker, resembling the first book in this series more, but it grew stronger as it went on. My favorite was by far the Claws from the Night, where they went hunting for jewels at the same time as the trained crows, where it was more of a collaborative effort.

Spoiler review:

I stopped reading short story collections many years ago, because I like to digest a story, and it’s hard to do that when I’m sitting down to read for an hour, and go through two or three stories at a time. I was also worried to continue this series, because I didn’t find the opening book to be good at all. But I’ve heard good things about this pair of characters, and while there’s no magic per se, there is a bit of behind the scenes sorcery, making this an actual Sword and Sorcery book.

There is a common theme running through most of the stories, and that is one character going off and doing something stupid or being put under a spell, and the other has to bail him out. It didn’t alternate in the stories, and I think Fafhrd did more stupid things than the Grey Mouser, but for a lumbering lout I guess that makes sense. I also liked the way that even though the stories were distinct, they followed a continuous thread, in that the duo leave Lankhmar, return, get sent overseas, make their way back through the northern mountains, and return to Lankhmar after a long absence.

The first story, The Circle Curse, doesn’t do much at all. It’s a very high level account of the fact that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser traveled all over the world. Eventually, they get tired and Fafhrd feels the itch to return to the city.

The Jewels in the Forest gives us more of a story, as the pair go on a quest to find riches hidden in a sealed tower. It turns out that several maps were made to that tower, trying to lure people to their deaths. After Fafhrd is through with it, the tower has collapsed, but I’m not sure what happened to all the jewels. There was a big fight between the two and their rival, and while they do get inside, there is a ghost of some sort that brought the whole tower alive, a fluid filled with jewels that were like its mind. I wasn’t too impressed with this story, as it didn’t do much with the characters.

We get back to Lankhmar and the boring Thieves’ Guild in Thieves’ House, where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have teamed up with a thief to steal back the remains of a centuries-old thief, whose bones were covered in jewels. The head thief tries to take the jewels off the bones, but is strangled by his business partner, a witch who hides herself as the two swordsmen see her. The Mouser goes on a search of the city, and find her home, while Fafhrd gets lost in the old crypts of the Thieves’ Guild, and is hunted by the ghosts of those who await the return of the missing bones. They all come together and narrowly escape the revenge of the bones as the new head thief refuses to give them up.

The stories finally start to get interesting with The Bleak Store, which is told almost entirely from an outsider’s point of view. The witnesses tell of how Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are put under a spell and travel by boat across the endless expanse of sea to an unknown land, losing their crew one by one. It reminded me of Ulysses. When they get to the island, they have no crew left, so we return to their main perspective as they fight off strange creatures, until the Mouser realizes that one is controlling them all. He smashes the egg holding the controller, killing the old man within. It’s a lazy way of ending the threat, but something that’s been used often since, even to The Phantom Menace, all of which also seemed lazy.

It was nice that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser didn’t return to Lankhmar immediately. In The Howling Tower, they are crossing the desert, when Fafhrd gets the idea into his head that he has to go investigate the tower that is howling like the wolves in his old northern home. Despite the Mouser’s caution, Fafhrd is gone in the morning, so the Mouser hunts him down to the tower. It turns out that another man is luring people to his tower to satiate the dark spirits of the souls he has killed. This story is much better told than Jewels in the Forest, and the resolution is much more satisfying, with the Mouser forcing the poison down the throat of the man, who really was sorry, while he enters the dream realm to rescue Fafhrd.

It seems that they reached the water again by the time of The Sunken Land, which finds Fafhrd leaping from their small boat onto a longboat of his northern homeland, which has been caught in a spell as they search for a lost land that sank below the sea decades ago. Killing one of the slaves, Fafhrd is forced to take the place of the missing rower. He plans a mutiny, but they find the lost land, and Fafhrd reluctantly follows the pirates on land. The land is cursed, though, and Fafhrd barely escapes in time, awakened from the spell of following their leader, just in time to be rescued by the Mouser. The land sinks as they leave.

Back on the main continent, and not far from the northern wastes, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser come upon The Seven Black Priests when the Mouser recognises a light coming from the only mountain that is not snow-capped, and they climb it to steal the diamond. But the diamond and the priests were protecting the land from a demon residing within, the heat of which kept the mountain free of snow. As they escape, they kill the priests one by one, even to a silly snow-slide, and a cool cave set. Fafhrd takes possession of the diamond, falling under its spell, and returning it to the hot mountain, where he tries to awaken the demon. Fortunately, the Mouser manages to destroy the diamond just in time, waking Fafhrd from its spell and containing the demon (though I’m not sure how that last part works, as I thought the diamond was protecting the land against the demon).

The return to Lankhmar comes as birds are terrorizing the city in Claws from the Night, my favorite of the stories in this collection. It was written in such a way that the frame of the story was just as entertaining as the story itself. I loved the description of women’s heads encased in bird cages while the birds roamed free, because they wanted to protect their eyes from being gauged out by the jewel-seeking birds. The Mouser tries to steal a giant jewel that one rich money lender was going to give to his wife. Stolen from under him by the birds, Fafhrd sends an eagle out to hunt the bird. It returns successful, but is poisoned at the same time. The jewel is restolen from Fafhrd’s hand, and he gives chase. Once again, the Mouser has to rescue him, but for once, he’s not trapped or ensorcelled. He does get locked in away from the bird-men, but fights his way out side-by-side with the Mouser, who recognizes the woman who was to receive the jewel as one who could communicate with the birds and leads them.

The Prince of Pain-ease has Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stealing a garden house on stilts to make their own, but they are still haunted by the women they loved in the last book. So each goes on his own to seek the help of a sorcerer (each a different one), and are sent on a mission to steal the mask of Death, to fight anybody who gets in their way, which of course is their best friends –each other. The battle with Death’s minion slices the mask in two, so they each get half, and to which their respective masters are not thrilled, and set them harder and harder tasks. It’s not much of a story, but it’s fun to read mostly because of the writing style.

They each get the same mission again in Bazaar of the Bizarre, but this time they were to defeat an inter-dimensional merchant together. But the Mouser arrives first, and enters the magical bazaar, finding such rare items that he would buy the entire shop, from books on sword mastery to beautiful young women. Fafhrd, on the other hand, meets the two sorcerers who give him gifts, a cloak of invisibility and a filament for his eyes that show him the truth of what he sees. He finds that the bazaar is full of junk, and that they are majicked to look like magnificent specimens. Fafhrd fights the merchant, while the Mouser looks on enjoying what he thinks is a spectacle. When Fafhrd gets hit and starts bleeding, the Mouser is half-awakened, and helps Fafhrd defeat the merchant, who disappears back into his realm. It’s funny to see the Mouser cling to his hellucinations, especialy of the spider as a beautiful woman, while Fafhrd drags him out. It turns out that the merchant could have destroyed the world by selling his junk, which is why the two sorcerers joined forces to get rid of him.

I can take more like this, if the stories keep being as interesting as the later ones. From being a reluctant reader, I’m now looking forward to the next set of stories.


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