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Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber

Swords Against Death (1970)

by Fritz Leiber

Other authors: Jordi Fibla (Translator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (2)

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English (15)  French (1)  All languages (16)
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ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Ho, Fafhrd tall! Hist, Mouser small!
Why leave you the city Of marvelous parts?
It were a great pity To wear out your hearts
And wear out the soles of your feet,
Treading all earth, Foregoing all mirth,
Before you once more Lankhmar greet.
Now return, now return, now!

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.

I listened to Swords Against Death on audio. It was produced by Audible Frontiers, introduced by Neil Gaiman, and read by 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.
More Leiber reviews at FanLit. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
I've given Fritz Leiber a good chance now, and I just can't get into this world and these characters. Given how much I've got to read, I won't keep slogging on througah. ( )
  shanaqui | Mar 15, 2014 |
"The second book of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser wherein two formidable young heroes embark on a quest to forget their sorrows, and make the acquaintance of two equally formidable old wizards." ( )
  Lyndatrue | Dec 8, 2013 |
Hands down the best adventure stories I've ever read. ( )
  Brendan.H | Jul 21, 2013 |
Apparently an expanded edition of Two Sought Adventure, a 1957 omnibus collecting the then-complete (save for "Adept's Gambit") tales, that edition evidently adopting the title of the first-published story itself. I speculate that Books 1 and 2 were in fact issued after the publication of what would become the third, fourth, and fifth volumes (each first published in 1968, after the 1957 omnibus but before the original 1970 publication of volumes one and two). Presumably sales of the 1957 and 1968 collections were strong enough to collect the stories left out, write a few more, and reissue as a chronological and complete edition.


"The Circle Curse" (1970 / newly written for this book)
The theme of loss, a recurrent undertone to the pair's adventuring. First encounter, separately, with Sheelba and Ningauble. These two are all the more intriguing for how infrequently they appear (most stories, they are not even in the background), and how elusively they exert their influence. Are they aliens, or human wizards changed, or eldritch creatures?

"The Jewels In The Forest" (1939 / Unknown)
The first-ever published tale, under the title "Two Sought Adventure". Wondrous how Leiber employs the set piece to build uneasiness. A tower, overgrown but luring adventurers from around Nehwon, juxtaposed with a farm family living next door.

"Thieves' House" (1943 / Unknown or Unknown Worlds)
Leiber in the story intro posits this as their third interaction with the Thieves' Guild: "Ill Met" clearly is the first, so this implies a second was not written out (assuming the stories truly are chronological as advertised). Strong echoes of Fritz Lang's M and the Threepenny Opera for Lankhmar's particular strain of honour among thieves.

"The Bleak Shore" (1940 / Unknown or Unknown Fantasy Fiction)
"The Howling Tower" (1941 / Unknown or Unknown Fantasy Fiction)
"The Sunken Land" (1942 / Unknown Worlds)
A sense of menace built from the Weird; atmospheric settings; profound isolation; and elemental forces such as storm or bleak landscape. So minimalist in description overall, yet the details Leiber does provide are precise and well-chosen. These could be plays, though there is very little dialogue.

"The Seven Black Priests" (1953 / Other Worlds Science Stories)
A creative re-setting of the standard running-the-gauntlet adventure, leavened with wry humour by Leiber and his characters, both.

"Claws From The Night" (1951 / Suspense)
Another inventive set piece, original title "Dark Vengeance". Raptors stealing jewels from the nobility, not merely a plot-driven mystery but fully exploiting the atmospherics and emotion of the premise. Without directly referencing the Weird, it is here in full miasmic force.

"The Price Of Pain-Ease" (1970 / newly written for this book)
Typical example of Fafhrd and Mouser separating, and having parallel experiences until they join one another and resolve the adventure. This parallel / separate plot device occurs repeatedly, part of Leiber's conceit they are "two halves of a greater hero". This case of a mirrored plot structure has Fafhrd and the Mouser each visiting the shade of his dead lover.

"Bazaar Of The Bizarre" (1963 / Fantastic Stories of Imagination)
This and "Claws" are seminal tales of Lankhmar, showcasing the distinct culture and style of Nehwon's crown jewel. The Devourers as manifestation of the Weird.

(Dates and original serial information from Leiber's notes in my edition, and wikipedia entry for the edition.) ( )
1 vote elenchus | Jul 17, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fritz Leiberprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fibla, JordiTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fainza, HeidiCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones,JeffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siudmak, WojtekCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, GeoffCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Sept prêtres noirs" et "Le bazar du bizarre" doivent être dédiés à deux merveilleux rédacteurs. ea Mahaffy et Cele Laly qui les ont inspirés. Mais d'autres rédacteurs m'ont également apportés une aide précieuse : feu le grand John W. Campbell Jr., et les très attentionnés Donald A. Wollheim et Edward L. Fermann. Ainsi que quantité d'autres personnes envers qui je me sens redevable.
First words
Un grand guerrier armé d'une épée et un autre, petit, sortaient par la porte du Marais de Lankhmar et suivaient la Chaussée de Pierre en direction de l'est.
A tall swordsman and a small one strode out the Marsh Gate of Lankhmar and east along Causey Road.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0583130879, Paperback)

Mayflower 1st paperback vg+

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:53 -0400)

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In order to forget their grief over the death of their lovers, Fafhrd the Barbarian and the Gray Mouser set off in search of adventure.

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