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Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
The Knight and Knave of Swords is the last collection of Fritz Leiber’s LANKHMAR stories about those two loveable rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I had read all of the LANKHMAR stories up to this point but it took me a while to open this book because I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Neil Gaiman says something similar in his introduction to The Knight and Knave of Swords and I’m sure that most of Leiber’s fans feel the same way. I know I can re-read these stories at any time, but it’s just not the same thing. It’s sad to know that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures are over.
The Knight and Knave of Swords, which has also been titled Farewell to Lankhmar (sniff!), contains these previously published novellas and stories: “Sea Magic” (1977), “The Mer She” (1978), “The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars” (1983), “The Mouser Goes Below” (1987) “Slack Lankhmar Afternoon Featuring Hisvet” (1988). The stories take place at the end of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s careers and, fittingly, are among Leiber’s final works. The Knight and Knave of Swords was nominated for the 1989 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
Last time we saw the duo, they were on Rime Isle with their current (and last?) lady loves and the men they now command. They had left their beloved and decadent capitol city of Lankhmar and traveled to Rime Isle when their help was requested by two “nubile” girls who asked them to come to Rime Isle to fight off the invading Sea Mingols. The boys and their crews were successful, but Fafhrd lost his left hand in the battle. During his convalescence, they just kind of stayed on and settled down with the two women they met there. Not only is this homey sedentary life surprising to F & GM, who are starting to feel a little restless and bound, but it’s very nearly scandalous! All of Lankhmar is talking about it:
“It is an old saw in the world of Nehwon that the fate of heroes who seek to retire, or of adventurers who decide to settle down, so cheating their audience of honest admirers — that the fate of such can be far more excruciatingly doleful than that of a Lankhmar princess royal shanghaied as a cabin girl aboard an Ilthmar trader embarked on the carkingly long voyage to tropic Klesh or frosty No-Ombrulsk. And let such heroes merely whisper a hint about a “last adventure” and their noisiest partisans and most ardent adherents alike will be demanding that it end at the very least in spectacular death and doom, endured while battling insurmountable odds and enjoying the enmity of the evilest arch-gods. So when those two humorous dark-side heroes the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd not only left Lankhmar City (where it’s said more than half the action of Nehwon world is) to serve the obscure freewomen Cif and Afreyt of lonely Rime Isle on the northern rim of things, but also protracted their stay there for two years and then three, wiseacres and trusty gossips alike began to say that the Twain were flirting with just such a fate.”
But it’s not just people who are scandalized; the gods are, too. All sorts of deities, including Loki and Odin (I don’t like the way Leiber tied Nehwon to our world that way), still have plans for the world’s greatest adventurers and F & GM’s retirement is not convenient for these selfish godlings. And so they send various trials and temptations that they hope will tear the guys away from their ladies. Thus, F & GM have to dodge beautiful (nubile) girls, assassins, stowaway princesses, and curses. They get tricked, captured, tied up, shaved, beribboned, and rescued. They even find out that they have children they didn’t know of.
It’s all quite fun for the first half of the book, but it starts to drag later as F & GM spend less time adventuring and more time reminiscing (again) about all the adventures they’ve had (even the “erotic” ones) and all the (nubile) girls they’ve known. One story (“The Mouser Goes Below”), in which Mouser gets buried under ice, goes on way too long and, regrettably, displays the kind of icky lechery I mentioned in my review of the previous collection, Swords and Ice Magic. It seems that the older Leiber got, the younger and more “nubile” became the girls in his stories. There are numerous mentions (mostly by Mouser) of budding breasts and girls playing erotically with each other while he watches. Just yuck.
Despite this, Fafhrd is one of my favorite fantasy heroes. He’s a big barbarian with an open mind, an appreciation of beauty, a sense of wonder about the universe, a bent toward philosophy and a pretty way of saying things. We often see him wondering what’s over the horizon, across the sea, or up in the sky. He’s not formally educated, but he’s observant like a scientist. In one scene he’s on a ship and a companion mentions the stars disappearing in the daytime. But Fafhrd, who watches, knows the truth:
“The stars march west across the sky each night in the same formations which we recognize year after year, dozen years after dozen, and I would guess gross after gross. They do not skitter for the horizon when day breaks or seek out lairs and earth holes, but go on marching with the sun’s glare, hiding their lights under cover of day.”
As you can see, not only are Leiber’s stories usually fun, but they’re also a delight to the mind and ear.
“Legends travel on rainbow wings and sport gaudy colors… while truth plods on in sober garb.”
I listened to the audio version of all of the LANKHMAR stories. These were produced by Audible Studios and narrated by one of my favorite readers, Jonathan Davis. He is at his very best in these productions and I highly recommend them in audio format. They are simply excellent. Each audiobook is introduced by Neil Gaiman (who also narrates his introductions).
Goodbye, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. I’ll miss you.
7 of 10 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I would change two things: 1. add some adventures like in all of the other books. There is virtually no battles or thievery in this entire story. And 2. remove the unnecessarily long and pointless sex chapters. None of these further the story or are even thrilling. I liked the naked romps in the previous books but these are just sad.
Would you ever listen to anything by Fritz Leiber again?
Yes, I would listen to anything and everything by Fritz Leiber.
Which character – as performed by Jonathan Davis and Neil Gaiman (introduction) – was your favorite?
I like how Johnathan Davis reads the Gray Mouser.
Was The Knight and Knave of Swords worth the listening time?
No. I will listen to all of the first books over again, but never this one.
Any additional comments?
You can safely skip this book, sadly. I didn't feel it closed the story or added to it at all. I got no more adventures of swords and sorcery.