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Fantasy Index


A novel by Fritz Leiber
(2006, DH Press)
[original copyright 1970]

A swordsman escapes his magical village with a performer, a wizard’s apprentice escapes a warrior who killed his master, and they join up to destroy an evil magician intent on destroying souls.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
April 22nd to 30th, 2022


I was not impressed. After starting this book, I went back to check on some reviews, and am thankful to see that this seems to be considered one of the weaker books in the series. Because I didn’t like the writing, the characters, and the plots were pretty boring. The story of Fafhrd was strange, and I kept waiting for something to happen. At least there is a semi-plot in trying to save the girl from being sold, but for the most part Fafhrd just walks around getting pelted by snowballs by his mother. At least the Grey Mouser’s story was easier to understand –revenge, both by Mouse and by the Duke’s daughter. The revenge, though, wasn’t satisfying in any way. Finally, the story where they meet up in Lankhmar was much better written, but the plot was nonsense and made no logical choices at all. The characters are extremely lucky, at least until they lose that which they were fighting for. The girls were only interesting when they were interacting with each other. After this one, the other books in this trilogy have moved lower down on my reading list.

Spoiler review:

I’d heard a lot of good things about this author and these characters, but apparently this is not the first novel that should be read about them. It’s their origin story, and while the tale of Fafhrd is fairly original, the writing style is bland, the dialog is mostly terrible, and the plotting is mediocre. Still, there was something to like about the two main characters throughout, and maybe that’s the action. For a book about sword and sorcery, there is very little of the latter, but the former is well described, and that’s where the book gets its second star.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading in the first story, as Fafhrd gets pelted with snowballs by the women of his village, who are witches trying to keep their men loyal. Huh? This is the time of year when the circus comes to the village, and no women are allowed, because it seems that all the circus performers are naked or nearly naked women, and sometimes there are orgies. Fafhrd makes out with his pixie girlfriend, who admits she is pregnant, and then goes to observe the beautiful Vlana, main performer in this circus show. I liked the way his girlfriend caught him spying from the tree branch, but nothing really came of it. He meets up with Vlana, and manages to seduce her somehow, even though she is about to run away with another man from the village. She puts him off until later in the night, and when he returns, they make love.

The scenes with his mother were very strange, as she casts her ice net wide, even creating giant ice caterpillars that crawl up the outside of Vlana’s tent. Her magic can reach anywhere there is snow or ice, so it’s a pretty wide net. But Fafhrd can block her, at least a bit, and when he overhears the circus owner is going to sell Vlana to a man as a sex slave, he manages to get back and upset the man’s tent. But Vlana escapes with somebody else, and Fafhrd chases her, with the sex slaver on their heels. I think this was my favorite part of this story, as he chases them down the mountain slopes on skis, and finally battles all the men, when Vlana finally deals the death blow to set them both free.

Fortunately the ending was reasonably good, because everything else was lower than mediocre.

In the second story, we get the origin story of the Grey Mouser, apprentice to a mid-level sorcerer. Returning from a quest, he finds the sorcerer dead at the hand of a nearby Duke. Mouse seeks revenge, but the Duke easily overpowers him. The Duke’s abused daughter, Ivrian, whom he abuses and mocks at every opportunity, has spent time with Mouse, and can’t kill him at the Duke’s request, and at that distraction, when the Duke is berating her, Mouse escapes. He concocts some dark magic, to which he supposedly loses his soul (but only for this story, it seems), causing the Duke to get sick. When Ivrian finds Mouse, now the Grey Mouser, the Duke’s men capture him, and bring him back to the dungeons. But Mouse sees the desperation in Ivrian’s face, how she hates her father, so he gives her instructions, and when she follows them, Mouse escapes, and the Duke is dead.

This story was fairly dark, and while I didn’t like the characters, the dialog was at least better than in the first story. It left me with at least some hope that the book was getting better.

Finally, in the third story, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser meet in the city of Lankhmar, for which Fafhrd lusted all his life –civilization. But it’s a bland kind of civilization, I think. I’ve seen other books with a Thieves’ Guild, an Assassin’s Guild, and all other sorts of other legalized criminals, but I wonder if this was the first, the author being considered as the father of sword and sorcery. While the writing style grew much more sophisticated, and easier to read, the dialog was still terrible. From the moment the two met, they say stupid things to each other, and it keeps going to the end. Fortunately, when they get back to the women, Vlana and Ivrian, the dialog improves somewhat, but that doesn’t last long.

Getting drunk, they decide to destroy the Thieves’ Guild, something Vlana has been wanting to do since they stole her life away. But first they stop off to get more drunk. The infiltration of the Guild was horribly plotted, but at least yielded some results, as they found the man they were looking for, and his wizard. I’m still not sure what the purpose of the dark smog was, but after they escape, Fafhrd and Mouser return to find their girlfriends have been overcome by the smog and eaten by rats! Ugh! I didn’t see that coming, and the surprise was both disgusting and a welcome change to the rest of the bland story.

The two go back to the Thieves’ Guild and kill the sorcerer and burn the place down. And then they are off to their many novels of adventures, I guess.

I’ve read several Terry Pratchett books, and I think this was trying to achieve that kind of humor –no outright jokes, but silliness. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, at all. Like the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but less stupid, if I can say that, I just wasn’t amused. At least many of Pratchett’s books make me smile or laugh. This book had no real comedy element to it, or it bordered way below my comedy threshold.

I was expecting sword and sorcery, but not the attitude we got here. Besides mediocre plotting, bad dialog and stereotypical and sexist characters, I found some things that I liked. Unfortunately, the women who provided the best parts of the book were killed in the end. I hope the author can do better with his male characters in the next book.


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