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Swords in the Mist (1968), the third entry in Fritz Leiber's set of sword and sorcery tales featuring the giant barbarian Fafhrd and his compact ex-slum-boy comrade in adventuring and thieving, the Gray Mouser, cobbles together four stories from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s in fix-up rather than publication order, along with two transition vignettes written for the collection. As in the other volumes in the series, the "blood brothers, tall and small," engage in supernatural, loopy, and eerie adventures, maintain their spirits (and ours) with plenty of snarky banter, and fully command the stage fashioned by Leiber's baroque and poetic prose.
In the amusing and creepy "The Cloud of Hate" (1963), the friends are desultorily debating why they are moneyless and homeless, Fafhrd boasting that it is due to their independence ("When we draw sword it is for ourselves alone"), the Mouser skewering his optimism, when they are attacked by four formidable thralls of an ectoplasmic cloud of hate ("human venom" empowered by religious fanaticism) that could "shake the city and land of Lankhmar and the whole world of Nehwon."
"Lean Times in Lankhmar" (1959) is a satirical, farcical, and perfectly plotted story that ambiguously plays with religion, friendship, and financial vs. spiritual paths to security. Hard times and the two friends' different personalities and interests have led the Mouser to become the paunchy lieutenant of Pulg, a racketeer extorting protection money from the priests of the myriad wannabe Gods in Lankhmar, and Fafhrd to become the acolyte of one of the most ascetic, pacific, and boring deities, Issek of the Jug, and his senile priest, Bwadres. Conflict arises when Fafhrd's imaginative story-telling sends Issekianity rocketing to popularity and riches, which attracts the attention of Pulg and company. An absurd chain of coincidences leads to a hilarious climax that seems to mock faith and religion, but mightn't the closet believer Pulg be right when he says that there are more things in this world than we know, like an unseen Hand guiding events towards a Second Coming?
"Their Mistress, the Sea" (1968) is a short and cute transition "story" in which the Mouser and Fafhrd get back into adventuring shape by cruising around in their sloop Black Treasurer, exercising, failing as pirates, and savoring their mistress the sea in all her moods.
"While the Sea-King’s Away" (1960) is a fantastic, funny, and absorbing story in which the two companions pay a submarine visit to the wives of the absent king of the sea, Fafhrd promiscuous and pomaded, the Mouser skeptical and reluctant. Leiber's conception is impressive, magical air tubes rising from the bottom of the sea to the surface, down one of which Fafhrd and then the Mouser climb on a rope tied to their sloop, and when the descending Mouser looks up, "the circle [of sky] overhead did grow smaller and more deeply blue, becoming a cobalt platter, a peacock saucer, and finally no more than a strange ultramarine coin that was the converging point of the tube and rope and in which the Mouser thought he saw a star flash."
"The Wrong Branch" (1968) is a short transition "story" explaining how Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser could have adventures on our earth, there being hidden inside the mazy caverns of Ningauble of the Seven Eyes’ cave doors exiting into other worlds and times and universes.
The final piece in the book, "Adept's Gambit" (1947), opens in Tyre, where the two friends are style-crampingly cursed: any woman they kiss turns temporarily into a sow or a snail. Ningauble of the Seven Eyes explains that a powerful black magic adept has targeted them because of Fafhrd's elder gods caliber laughter, and that they must purloin a set of legendary artifacts and wait for "the woman who will come when she is ready." They have no choice but to accept the fatal quest. But who is the charismatic, cryptic, and hermaphroditic young lady watching the be-spelled duo from the tavern shadows? This is a weird novella, being (I think) the only Fafhrd and Mouser story that takes place on earth, which gives Leiber license to pillage a host of ancient cultures, religions, myths, histories, cities, and figures. Reading by turns like a ribald comedy, a historical horror adventure, and a gothic family story and exploring love, power, knowledge, free will, and life, "Adept's Gambit" is redolent of mood ("certain of the scrolls seeming to smoke and fume as though they held in their papyrus and ink the seeds of a holocaust") and philosophy ("He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows").
Jonathan Davis does his usual masterful job of reading the stories, enhancing the pleasure of Leiber's prose, the appeal of his characters, and the interest of his tales. His Fafhrd speaks American English, his Mouser British-Australian English, and his loving and abused girl Ahura recalls Emiko from The Windup Girl. His strategic pacing adds much, as when the Mouser asks, "Am I right?" each time he impudently interrupts one of Ningauble's oracular statements, to which, though the text reads "You are not," the wizard answers, "You are. . . NOT," Davis' pause giving a moment of pleasurable suspense.
Finally, this third collection does not cohere as well as the first and second ones (Swords and Deviltry and Swords against Death), and, as with the other books in the series, female readers may be put off by Leiber's mid-twentieth century sexism, and readers who prefer violent action to stylish writing in fantasy may be bored. But if you enjoy lines like "Like an idler from a day of bowered rest, an Indian prince from the tedium of the court, a philosopher from quizzical discourse, a slim figure rose from the tomb," you might give Swords in the Mist a try.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
II really have enjoyed these works in this medium. A different experience from the books but no less entertaining. The narration and voice acting is supperior.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful