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The best Sword and Sorcery stories ever
on 6 December 2002
OK, the title is hyperbolic but justified. Two things. One, these stories are Sword and Sorcery, more similar to Conan than to Lord of the Rings. Two, they're different from Conan in a number of ways, better in my opinion.
For those who've not heard of them, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are, respectively, a northern barbarian and a city slum kid who get together in the third story (the first two stories introducing them seperately.) Despite being two very different people they get on and after tragedy strikes in the third story go wandering off around the world engaging in various types of (usually illegal) business. Thus far they're similar to Conan. But the stories differ in being more cerebal, exotic and entertaining than Conan. Lets face it, Conan's response to any problem is to hit it. Fafhrd and the Mouser do hit things but, and this sounds terrible, are usually more thoughtful about it. What I'm trying to say here is that the appeal of Conan (and I am a fan of Conan) is his brute fury, his barbarian rage. That's not the case here, the characters are far more thoughtful and realistic, they do get angry but it isn't their central characteristic, there's more to them than that.
And the writing is wonderful. Leiber was able to describe the weird, the wonderful and the exotic in ways that hold your interest and never becomes overblown. The world in which Fafhrd and the Mouser live is magical and yet also deeply sordid and decadent and Fafhrd and the Mouser too are ocasionally engaged in sordid and reprehensible deeds. The result is to have a world and heroes which are both more realistic and more entertaining than most of the current crop of Fantasy writers.
These are the best of the Lankhmar stories. The second volume consists of later stories in which Leiber has clearly lost his edge. Despite that, I would reccomend volume 2 to anyone, as Leiber, even not at his best, is far superior to most of the current Fantasy writers around today. But this volume, the best of Leiber's Lankhmar stories - this one's a must.