Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Fritz Leiber
(2007, DH Press)
[original copyright 1968]

While escaping Lankhmar chased by mists and upcoming gods, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser come across the land of the sea king and are transported to an alternate reality, where they try to break a curse.


-- First reading (ebook)
February 21st to March 8th, 2024


I can’t say I was impressed by any of the stories presented in this book. The action seems like it should be funny, or at least tongue-in-cheek, but I was mostly annoyed. The earlier stories weren’t bad, where they are attacked by the mist and then separate to support different gods on the rise, but they didn’t leave me wanting more, or even enjoying the characters. The foray into the sea king’s domain is predictable, and takes way too long to get there, and in the end, they are neither disappointed nor overjoyed, despite the results. Their motivation is to get wine and women, but there is no follow-through, and the description is purely mechanical. This is highlighted even more with the longest story in the book, which is told by an ambivalent narrator that does nothing to make me care about the characters. It starts off reasonably well, but becomes interminable in the journey, reducing the gathering (stealing) of the items to a single paragraph, while another trek takes most of the pages. It then flips to a character who was previously silent spilling out a tale of her own, interrupted every several pages to note that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are still climbing the mountain. The climax wasn’t worth the plodding story. The experience of reading this trilogy (and more by other Grand Masters) shows me how I don’t appreciate early fantasy, but at least I’ll understand the references when somebody mentions them. I don’t expect to return to this duo.

Spoiler review:

While Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser got off to a very rocky start in Swords and Deviltry, it seemed to improve with telling in Swords Against Death. Unfortunately, Swords in the Mist goes mostly blah, and the stories it presents are very much uninteresting.

It starts with a cult of death expelling a green mist through Lankhmar, which seduces (or kills) everybody it touches, and it seems to search out villainous types who go on a killing spree. When it reaches Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, who are relaxing after a hard work (of what it doesn’t matter- mostly pillaging and stealing, I’d expect). They are somehow able to resist the mist, and kill the villains who are encompassed by it. The mist seems to dissipate after being rejected. It’s a short story that showcases their swordsmanship, but does nothing to make me like or dislike the main characters. It’s simply an action story with no real motivations.

One unfortunate part about this series of books is that the stories are mostly unrelated, so it’s a jump when we’re told the two had another falling out (worse, it seems, than in Swords Against Death, which led to a stronger bond). Here, the cause is left unknown, and we move on to the next adventure, where Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have gone into the employ (or worship?) of men who are preaching on the streets, and are moving up the hierarchy of Lankhmarian gods. It’s an amusing concept, but it gets old fast. Once again, I think it’s the storytelling, as it only gets mildly interesting when the Mouser is sent to collect taxes from the preacher Fafhrd is protecting. Fafhrd sleeps on the street with his preacher and is one of the main reasons this guy is advancing up the ranks, as he gains followers and donations. The Mouser gets fat in his tax collecting.

We see the Mouser’s true character, for what it’s worth, when he’s told to kill his old friend, such that he hatches a convoluted plan to get him out of the way instead. After getting him so drunk he passes out, Fafhrd ends up tied to a bed with his head shaved and a knife at his throat. The only part I ended up laughing at was when Fafhrd ended up emulating his preacher’s god when being pricked awake and thrashing on the broken bed, coming out into the open in the middle of the sermon, in exactly the guise the preacher said. The guy doesn’t end up being robbed as expected, except that Fafhrd and the Mouser are forced out of town on their getaway ship. And the barrel he’s been protecting ends up being rum rather than money.

They spend some time arguing at sea, and their getaway driver is deposited on land after they fight off pirates, and the Mouser is obsessed with finding the Sea King’s lair, on the one day when the king goes away, leaving his many beautiful wives alone –and who apparently make merry with sailors who find them so lonely.

Of course they find the little vortex to his lair, and the Mouser dives right in, while Fafhrd tries unsuccessfully to stop him. Predictably, after they make their way through the air tunnel under the sea, they find the women, who intend to trap them down there, even as they are being enticing. It's a wonder these rumors even start, as nobody would normally get away, and those who do should send a warning. They fight their way through the sea guardians and past the women, and to a back door as the tunnel collapses, flooding the realm again, and causing the barrier between the inner and outer sea to break. I don’t know what relevance this has to the story, except that they were trying to get to the outer sea, and as they are clinging to the rocky pinnacle after escaping, their ship is unmoored and they swim to it, taking it to the outer sea, and turning around almost immediately to go back to the inner sea.

Once again, although there is lots of action, it’s told in a way that makes it seem monotonous and uninteresting. Once again, I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be funny, but it isn’t. I was happy enough to leave that place, where the magic completely lacks the wow factor that I prefer.

The final story in this book is a wandering tale, and it goes on for way too long, changing focus way too many times. The second half barely features Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser at all. While at this point I would think that’s a nice change, the tone doesn’t show and difference from what came before.

It starts out very strange, but promising at least. The prelude to this story brings the pair to our reality, in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, the change of setting is completely wasted, as we don’t see any of it, and it makes no difference to what the main characters are doing. Fafhrd’s lovers, on a kiss from him, turn into sows, at which the Mouser laughs, until his girls do the same. This happens everywhere they go, except for one woman whom the Mouser fancies, and another said to be cursed.

Finally, they decide to visit an inhuman wizard, whom they have apparently visited before, and who sends them on a treasure hunt with the final destination being an evil wizard. Chloe, the cursed woman, shows up to help them, but is silent through the first half of the tale. I was looking forward to the antics of Fafhrd and the Mouser as they stole the items, but there is less than a paragraph about the entire thing. Why bother to ask for the items in the story, then, especially as they lose or are stolen or are destroyed in the second half? They make their way to the tomb of the evil wizard, and while Chloe laughs, he is resurrected.

A big swordfight ensues between the evil wizard and the Mouser. Finally, as Fafhrd watches from the sidelines, the Mouser is almost killed, but manages to prick the wizard’s heart, drawing a tiny bead of blood. Based on what happens later, I don’t understand why the wizard stopped fighting, as he’s already dead, and has no heart to pierce. Yet he does, but even then, the spell isn’t disrupted, as the inhuman wizard of the seven eyes sends them notes to do another errand. Fafhrd decides to go north, back to his homeland, with no motivation whatsoever. The trip takes them past a land that is almost dead, but they find a farmer and his family, the daughter of which tells them about the haunted mountain they live in the shadow of.

All the way toward the farm, Chloe tells them her story, as she and her twin brother were kept locked up because of her brother’s weakness in the sunlight. He is touched by magic, however, as he experiences her worldly escapades first through her stories, then through her eyes. When she’s almost abducted by a strange man, her brother is enraged when she escapes, and sends her back to bring the man as his tutor. Under the old man, he learns more magic, until he takes over her mind at times, putting her consciousness into his frail body. She manages to escape him by learning to hop back at the most inopportune time, as his body is outside, and runs away when she gets free. Her brother ends up being the evil wizard that the Mouser killed.

My favorite part was when Chloe used to escape their room to watch her mother’s strange and magical parties. Unfortunately, one party ends with a disruption by other magic users from her past, something she passes off as an illusion, and I get the feeling the parties were discontinued after that. It’s a very strange ending to that sequence, and just continued the sour taste these stories were leaving me with.

At the top of the mountain, they find out that her brother was already dead, and is haunting the mountain they are climbing. The old man greets them at the cabin, and Fafhrd kills him easily, making her brother angry when he reappears, even with the prick of dry blood over his heart. In another anticlimactic ending, he’s easily dispatched, even as Chloe continues to laugh at her brother, making him vulnerable.

Before sending Chloe away, the Mouser kisses her, and she doesn’t turn into a pig, so the curse appears to be broken. There is no motivation for this curse, no repercussions except to move Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser into a strange confrontation. Even the main characters were barely in the second half of the story, which was told completely by Chloe, with very brief interruptions to say that they were following the magical mist luring them up the mountain, every so often. They didn’t even have a chance to grow as characters, or even be interesting.

So the two main characters are sent back to their own universe, presumably to Lankhmar, for the price of a fake tale told by the Mouser. I won’t be joining them, as the tales were not very interesting to me, at least not enough to continue, and barely to complete the trilogy, which I was so happy to do. I don’t know if it was the characters, the situations, or the lackluster narrating style. I think it was a combination of all three.

I’ve heard this series as being a classic, referred to by other people, and this was my chance to test them out. I’m glad I did, just to know who these characters are, and what the city of Lankhmar means.


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