This omnibus collects the final three volumes (out of seven) of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales, respectively one novel (The Swords of Lankhmar)and two short story collections (Swords and Ice Magic and The Knight and Knave of Swords). The first of the three volumes, the novel, was really entertaining and up to the quality of earlier Fafhrd and Mouser stories. It had its really weird moments, though. At one point, when the protagonists are sailing the sea, they encounter (of all things) a German guy from another world riding a seadragon. Luckily, this person has a German - Lankhmarese translation dictionary with him and our heroes soon learn that the guy comes from a world called Tomorrow, where he works in a museum that displays mythical creatures. His job is to travel the worlds catching these beasts and now he's looking for a Scylla, a sea monster first encounter in the writings of an ancient fantasy writer called Homer. I kid you not. The two short story collections are more uneven, with most stories uneventful and boring. People say Leiber's later stories really showed a decrease in quality, with an increased emphasis on sex and weirdness. I agree to a certain point, but my main complaint was that the later stories just weren't so interesting anymore. Overall though, the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales are really entertaining (especially the early ones) and classics of the sword & sorcery genre. If you like s & s tales, filled with humour and written in lofty, alliterative prose, be sure to check them out. I would recommend you read them in chronological order, though, as there are often references to earlier events. It is also interesting to recognize the influence these stories have had on more recent fantasy writers. For example, Terry Pratchett's humourous writing style (especially in his earliest Discworld novels) clearly shows Leiber's influence. Feist also comes to mind, whose academy of magic in his Midkemia books, Stardock, is named after a mountain in Newhon (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser's world).
I first read this book, or rather the series of books which have been compiled together to make this volume, many years ago. Coming back to a cherished fantasy novel of years gone by can often be quite a painful process as the book hasn't aged as well as you have. But this is not true of Leiber and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. The stories are still wonderful examples of "sword and sorcery" fantasy, not as highbrow as The Lord of the Rings but nevertheless with a wicked cynical edge to them. They can be called pulp fantasy, but that is misleading as the term is so often used to denigrate. These are excellent stories. Having said that, this volume is where Leiber started to lose his edge. Starting with a rat invasion of Lankhmar, the stories go downhill, the ones following this being largely cameos of a few pages in length with only 3 reasonable length stories in the middle part of the book (the "Swords and Ice Magic" section. I remember the mixture of disappointment and sadness I felt on first reading them and realising that Leiber had lost his edge. The final section isn't much of an improvement, the action confined to Rime isle and our heroes on the verge of retirement. It is a disappointing end to a great series. ..
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Fritz Leiber's wake, according to those who attended, was around an open coffin. Leiber had a cigarette in one hand, a glass of scotch in the other. A smile on his face, too, no doubt, for he had a genuine relish for what he called 'gallows humor'. What lifts these books above almost everything else in the genre is Leiber's tolerance for death, his constant flirting with the Grim Reaper whom he seemed to know as an old friend from the beginning. Here's the inspiration for Terry Pratchett and for Roger Zelazny. They are unique of their kind and as distinctive and enjoyable as The Once and Future King or The Lord of the Rings. No adult fantasy reader can fail to be charmed by them. Congratulations to the publisher for putting all this fine books back in our hands again.
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