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Swords Against Death is the second collection of stories about Fafhrd, the big northern barbarian, and The Gray Mouser, the small thief from the slums. For the past three years, the two have grown so close that they are now (as Neil Gaiman suggests in his introduction to the audio version) like two halves of the same person. They???ve been traveling the world together in an effort to forget their lost loves.
During their travels ???they acquired new scars and skills, comprehensions and compassions, cynicisms and secrecies ??? a laughter that lightly mocked, and a cool poise that tightly crusted all inner miseries,??? but they haven???t been able to assuage their guilt or lessen their feelings of loss outside of Lankhmar, the city which they swore never to return to.
But as Sheelba of the Eyeless Face prophesied (???Never and forever are neither for men. You???ll be returning again and again.???), Fafhrd and the Mouser are persuaded to return to Lankhmar where, it turns out, they have not been forgotten, and soon the duo is back to their old tricks and dealing with their former enemies in these stories: ???The Circle Curse,??? ???The Jewels in the Forest,??? ???Thieves??? House,??? ???The Bleak Shore,??? ???The Howling Tower,??? ???The Sunken Land,??? ???The Seven Black Priests,??? ???Claws from the Night,??? ???The Price of Pain-Ease,??? and ???Bazaar of the Bizarre.???
Some of the stories are better than others (my favorite was ???Bazaar of the Bizarre???) but all are ???classical rogue??? (Neil Gaiman???s term) and all are worth reading simply because they???re written in Fritz Leiber???s gorgeous prose, which is thick with alliteration, insight, and irony.
Jonathan Davis who does a terrific job with this series. His voices for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are perfect ??? Fafhrd sounds pensive, intellectual, and introverted while Gray Mouser sounds a bit greasy and common. I highly recommend this format; it adds an extra dimension to these fun stories.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
Swords Against Death (1970), the second book in Fritz Leiber's classic sword and sorcery series featuring Fafhrd (the pale giant barbarian) and the Gray Mouser (the dusky, compact ex-slum boy), is a collection of ten entertaining short stories assembled by Leiber into a fix-up that, with some strain, is almost a composite novel dealing with the attempts of the duo to come to terms with the violent deaths of their beloved lovers at the end of the first book, Swords Against Deviltry (1970).
In the first story, "The Circle Curse" (1970), the friends are so sick of grief, guilt, and loss in Lankhmar that they leave the city forever, they believe, wandering the world of Nehwon and living by "thievery, robbery, bodyguarding, brief commissions as couriers and agents… and by showmanship," gaining "new scars and skills."
In "The Jewels in the Forest" (1939), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser go on an amusing and suspenseful treasure hunt involving an architectural guardian, a quirky peasant family, and some rival rogues.
Multiple sets of characters compete for the possibly animated ruby-eyed skull and jeweled hands of an ancient Master Thief in the madcap "Thieves' House" (1943).
In "The Bleak Shore" (1940) a mysterious stranger puts a geas on the Mouser and Fafhrd to see if they can cheat Death, who commands sword-armed dinosaurs.
After their geas-quest, "The Howling Tower" (1941) finds the friends on their way back to Lankhmar, encountering belling ghost hounds, spooky bandages, and a cracked wizard.
In "The Sunken Land" (1942), Fafhrd catches a fish and finds an old ring its stomach: is he as lucky as he thinks or should he obey the Mouser's advice to throw the thing overboard?
In the loopy "The Seven Black Priests," still Lankhmar-bound, Fafhrd and the Mouser stir up a cult of black-skinned priests protecting a hill bearing an ominous stone face in the snowy Cold Wastes.
Back in Lankhmar, the friends are caught up in an avian crime wave that has left ladies of rank wearing protective gilded bird cages on their heads in "Claws from the Night" (1951).
"The Price of Pain-Ease" (1970) is an oddly moving story, in which the Mouser and Fafhrd take up housekeeping in a purloined ducal garden house set on the ashes of their former lovers. Although at first they enjoy their new digs (in which they find books of erotica and death), soon they are being visited by the ghosts of their loves, until they are compelled by impending madness to strike bad bargains with some mysterious wizards.
The collection closes with "Bazaar of the Bizarre" (1963), a satiric critique of mercantilism and consumerism. Are the inter-universal super-merchants who've set up shop in Lankhmar's Plaza of Dark Delights selling what the Mouser sees, lenses revealing "the blue heaven-pinnacle of the universe where angels flew shimmeringly like dragonflies and where a few choice heroes rested from their great mountain-climb and spied down critically on the ant-like labors of the gods many levels below"? Or what Fafhrd sees, "old bones, dead fish, butcher's offal, moldering gravecloths folded in uneven squares like badly bound uncut books, broken glass and potsherds, splintered boxes, large stinking dead leaves orange-spotted with blight, bloody rags, tattered discarded loincloths, large worms nosing about, centipedes a-scuttle, cockroaches a-stagger, maggots a-crawl"?
Despite ranging over roughly five decades (from the late 1930s till 1970), and despite Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser forgetting their dead lovers for entire stories, the tales in Swords Against Death mostly cohere in tone, plot, theme, and setting, unified by the rogue-adventure friends' relationship and by Leiber's baroque prose and sardonic vision. Leiber writes fresh and witty dialogue, as when the friends discuss a man who wrote poems daring adventurers to pilfer his jewels: "'The man's mind runs to skulls,' muttered the Mouser. 'He must have been a gravedigger or a necromancer,'" while Fafhrd chips in, "'Or an architect'" And he writes great descriptions, as in this one redolent with mood: "She stood breathless and poised, one hand touching a treetrunk, the other pressing some leaves, ready to fly away at the first sudden move. Fafhrd and the Mouser stood as stock-still as if she were doe or a dryad."
I enjoyed Jonathan Davis reading the third person narration of the stories in an American voice flavored by British and or Australian English and rare rolled Rs, and the Gray Mouser's lines in a quasi Australian-British accent and Fafhrd's in a straightforward American one, making it easy to distinguish between the two friends. His deeply intimidating Sheelba and purringly epicine Ningauble are spot on. Best of all, Davis revels in Leiber's rich and quirky prose, which percolates with alliteration and rhyme and archaic or obscure words.
Unlike Robert E. Howard's laconic loner Conan, Fafhrd and the Mouser are often a garrulous comedy duo, bantering about their different predilections and stratagems. Fans of the contemporary realistic fantasy of Martin, Erikson, Cook, and the like may not enjoy Leiber's old sword and sorcery, but I found that the dry wit, baroque style, anti-heroism, imaginative adventures, satires on religion and civilization, vividness of Nehwon and Lankhmar, and humor and horror, all make most of his stories (apart from their dated sexism, by which women--"girls"--are untrustworthy or "for dessert") entertaining.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
loved every minute of this book.
who would believe how long ago they were written?
they certainly hold their own against today's fantasy writers.
I wish he were still around to write more takes about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I recall reading this the late 70s and early 80s when good fantasy fiction was a rare commodity. My friend and I immediately took to the books and I especially liked the city of Lankhmar and its many faces described brilliantly by the author. Many years on and many other books later the stories suffer by comparison with the other fiction I have since read (Hobbs, Abercrombie, Martin, Pratchett) which is a little unfair since many of these authors will have been influenced by Leiber and improved on what he started.
It's not that the stories are bad (they are far from it: imaginative, funny, scary, intriguing and memorable for the most part), I just find there to be far too many dull moments where nothing of import happens. I guess these fill in the gaps in the characters' development (e.g. the trip at the beginning of the book to the ends of the world and back) but it's a bad sign when you find yourself writing down your weekly shopping list while supposedly listening to the story. Given there is only nine hours or so of listening, the tight fisted git in me is a trifle narked at losing an hour or so of this time to nothing very interesting at all.
The narrator is good and I think the voices he uses are perfect for the characters. I would recommend the book as a filler if you like fantasy and find you have some credits spare that need to be used up, or you can't think of any other book to read but want a good fantasy book. As I say, they are good but just lack the consistency to be brilliant.
0 of 1 people found this review helpful