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Swords and Ice Magic by Fritz Leiber
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Swords and Ice Magic (original 1977; edition 1977)

by Fritz Leiber

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650None14,876 (3.71)1
Member:dalamb
Title:Swords and Ice Magic
Authors:Fritz Leiber
Info:Ace Books (1977), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library, Paperback Scifi/fantasy
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Tags:fiction, fantasy, fafhrd and the gray mouser

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Swords and Ice Magic by Fritz Leiber (1977)

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Originally posted at FanLit.
http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/swords-and-ice-magic/

“I am tired, Gray Mouser, with these little brushes with death.”
“Want a big one?”
“Perhaps.”

Swords and Ice Magic is the sixth collection of Fritz Leiber’s stories about Fafhrd the big northern Barbarian and his small thieving companion the Gray Mouser. The stories in the LANKHMAR series have generally been presented in chronological order, so we’re nearing the end of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s adventures in Nehwon and its famous city Lankhmar. The tales in this particular volume were published in pulp magazines in the mid 1970s and were collected in this volume in 1977. They are:

“The Sadness of the Executioner” — Death is required to kill two heroes before time runs out and he’s got Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser in mind. But Death is a sportsman and thinks heroes should go out with style, so when the duo outwits him, he refuses to pull a deus ex machina and the boys live on.

“Beauty and the Beasts” — In this vignette, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser see a beautiful girl who is black on one side and white on the other. Since they can’t decide who she should belong to, they say they’ll split her. Something weird happens when they pursue her.
“Trapped in the Shadowland” — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are dying as they cross a desert and Death is sure he’s going to get them this time because if they survive the desert, they’ll cross into Death’s territory. But Death is foiled again by Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s patron gods. Darn those dei ex machina!

“The bait” — Death baits the boys with the image of a naked “nubile girl.” This short vignette has Mouser saying the repulsive line “She was just the sort of immature dish to kindle your satyrish taste for maids newly budded.” (Ugh! I can’t believe I read this stuff!)
“Under the Thumbs of the Gods” — The gods, upset that the most famous thieves in Lankhmar no longer pay them any attention (not even bothering to use their names in vain!), decide that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser need to be taken down a few notches. They’ve been listening to the boys boast about their romantic exploits, so the gods decide to hit them where it hurts and arrange for the duo to be rejected by every (naked and nubile) female they’ve ever loved.

“Trapped in the Sea of Stars” — While sailing, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser became enchanted with a couple of shimmer-sprites who appear as young nubile girls. (Yes, again!) The sprites have drawn the guys into uncharted waters where no land is in sight. Eventually, after philosophizing about the nature of the sun, moon, and stars in space, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser realize that the sprites may have nefarious motives.

“The Frost Monstreme” and “Rime Isle” — Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are bored and reminiscing about past loves in their favorite tavern, The Slippery Eel, when two beautiful (nubile, but not naked) girls walk in and ask them to help the Rime Isle fight an impending invasion by the Sea Mingols. In this novelette and novella, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are possessed by the gods Odin and Loki and they once again cross paths with the two invisible ice princesses who we met a while back in the novella Stardock. Together, these two stories make up most of the page count of Swords and Ice Magic. There are plenty of young nubile girls in this one, and lecherous men fondling their breasts, but there are two strong women, too. I didn’t think the Odin and Loki angle worked very well (Leiber has attempted to tie Newhon to other worlds, including our own, in a few of his stories). There’s a big twist for Fafhrd at the end of “Rime Isle.”

At the time the stories in Swords and Ice Magic were written, Friz Leiber was in his mid 60s and had been writing these adventures for more than 30 years. Now Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser are getting older and talking about retiring and settling down with mates. Generally, this batch of stories is not as exciting or creative as the earlier ones, the setting of decadent Lankhmar plays a disappointingly insignificant role, and Lieber’s prose seems less brilliant. I’ve always had an issue with the way Lieber portrays women, but this volume seems to have an inordinate number of young nubile girls with small breasts who get fondled by older men, and there are numerous references to, for example, a “delicate tidbit of girlflesh.” In “The bait,” we’re told that the girl looked no older than 13 though the expression on her face suggests she’s 17. In the first story, Mouser tames a young female warrior who’s trying to kill him (she shoots spikes from her pointy metal bra) by “ravaging” her. Leiber certainly isn’t the only speculative fiction writer whose writing grew more lecherous as he got older, but it’s disappointing to find it in a series that I have enjoyed so much.

Even with these issues, there’s no doubt that fans of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser will want to read Swords and Ice Magic, especially the last two stories about Rime Isle because of what happens to Fafhrd. I highly recommend the wonderful audio version produced by Audible Frontiers. Jonathan Davis narrates these and even though he manages only one female voice for every female he reads, his voice is beautiful and his ear for the dialogue and pacing is exceptional. I love the way he portrays Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
"The sixth book of Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser wherein the gods, the sea, and Death himself conspire to lure our heroes into the Shadow Lands, but they follow their true mistress, Adventure."

Remember when we used to haunt the bookstores, looking for books that we knew were about to be published? When we hoped that something wonderful would show, perhaps another marvel from Asimov, or Heinlein, or (Poul) Anderson, or (Keith) Laumer? The list is endless, even now. Bookstores, sadly, are far fewer than they were.

I remind anyone who pats themselves on the back for having digital copies that they can vanish overnight (Amazon has done this to me enough times for collections that I purchased, that I only get Kindle books now when it's something I'm likely to read only once). ( )
  Lyndatrue | Dec 8, 2013 |
Swords and Ice Magic is the sixth and penultimate volume and differs from the previous ones in having been first published after a seven year hiatus and collecting stories written in the seventies. It is generally considered to mark a decline in quality for the series, and indeed the volume is not off to a good start.

It begins with a series of vignettes, similar to those Leiber used in earlier volumes to embed his stories into some kind of coherent continuity by connecting previously published works. The earlier vignettes weren’t exactly successful for the most part, and the ones in Swords and Ice Magic, having not even that bridging purpose, seem entirely pointless. They also continue a tendency that was already observable in Swords of Lankhmar, namely of Fafhrd’s and the Grey Mouser’s adventures becoming increasingly over-the-top to the point where, in this volume, they cross the border into the outright silly. Now, I don’t mind humorous Fantasy, and this series always had an underlying comical strand, but it used to be just that – underlying. But it is very much on the surface in these vignettes, and, at least as far as I’m concerned, not to their benefit.

The bulk of the volume, however, consists of the connected novelette “The Frost Monstreme” and novella “Rime Isle” – together, they’re long enough to form a short novel, and indeed its structure (first part mostly taking place on sea, then a longer part on land) is rather reminiscent of Swords of Lankhmar. Different from that novel, though, and in very sharp contrast to the preceding stories in this volume, humor is almost completely absent from “Rime Isle” and its companion story – in fact, they are by a wide margin the grimmest tales in the whole Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series so far.

There are reasons for this darker tone: one of them is – as Leiber emphasizes on several occasions in particular during “The Frost Monstreme” – that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have left their youth behind them and entered middle age, that their carefree lives are over and they are bearing the burden of responsibility now. Which, as a concept, is very fascinating – usually, you might see Sword & Sorcery gain in power but you never quite get the feeling that they’re actually aging and changing (King Conan would be a case in point here, I think, and most heroes in this genre do not even get that much development). There is also a sense here, which was largely absent in the earlier stories, that the actions of our heroes have consequences, and Fafhrd in particular will have to pay a steep price for his heroism. So everything seems set for “Frost Monstreme / Rime Isle” becoming one of the best stories in the series…. and yet they aren’t. They are good stories, mind you, and definitely an improvement over the vignettes opening this volume, but they come nowhere near earlier highlights of the series like “Bazaar of the Bizarre” or “Lean Times in Lankhmar.”

One reason for this is, I think, that the exuberance and sheer fun was just a huge part of what made this series what it is, and while toning that down towards a more realistic and darker attitude might be commendable in principle, it also cuts into what is essential for the enjoyment of this particular series. A grown-up Fafhrd and a responsible Grey Mouser might be more mature and better people, but they are also a lot less fun to hang out with. Another problem is that for heroes, they both have a surprisingly small amount of agency – and that’s even before the big reveal at the end when it turns out that everything that happened was part of an elaborate plot set in motion by a devious mastermind and that everyone was only a pawn in his scheme. Both Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser barely seem to act in those stories, but only ever re-act and generally are markedly more passive than we are used to (which of course might tie into the growing-up motif). Again, this might enhance realism, but at the cost of putting a dampener on the reader’s enjoyment, too. And finally, a smaller and more personal niggle – Leiber is up to his dimension-crossing ways again as he was way back in “Adept’s Gambit”. This time it is two gods from our world crossing over into Lankhmar, and while watching a tired, pedophile Odin and a fiery, manipulative Loki is not completely without appeal, overall it’s mostly irritating.
1 vote Larou | Dec 4, 2012 |
This time I read this book backwards (or almost so). I began with 'Rime Isle' the best and most developed story in the book, with 'The Frost Monstreme' as its direct prologue. Rime Isle is up there with the classic Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales, though it is set far from Lankhmar city. The two heroes have matured and now seek wives, commands and eventual retirement from the adventuring life. The island and its inhabitants are nicely detailed, as are their enemies, the wizard Khaahkht and the Sea Mingols. And the shonky Norse gods Odin and Loki are a nice twist.

I'm glad I read 'Rime Isle' first because some of the earlier tales in this volume are a bit disappointing upon this reading, especially 'Beauty and the Beasts' (barely a couple of pages in length) and 'The Bait', which repeat the idea first expressed in 'The Sadness of the Executioner' of Death trying to catch the two heroes by teleporting beautiful girls and deadly berserks into the sleeping chamber of the twain. However 'Trapped in Shadowland' is an interesting variation, where Death extends Shadowland to catch the heroes.

This volume probably suffers because of the close proximity of all the Death-is-after-the-heroes stories. Perhaps it is not as clumsy in the larger omnibus The Second Book of Lankhmar. But 'Rime Isle' is a gem, and several of the other stories have some nice Leiber touches.

Some of the acknowledgments in the front list authors other than Fritz Leiber. However I'm not sure if 'Sadness of the Executioner', 'Trapped in the Shadowland', 'The Bait', 'Under the Thumbs of the Gods' and 'The Frost Monstreme' were written by Leiber or simply had different copyright holders (ie. Leiber sold the rights to those individuals). ( )
  questbird | Jun 11, 2010 |
Compared to the previous five books in the series, this one clearly shows signs of starting to wear down. Its not as fresh, original or interesting as the others. Additionally, several of the stories aren't written by Fritz Leiber, they are written by other authors. Also, while this won't matter to some, they tend to be shorter, with 8 stories in this book. ( )
  Karlstar | Jan 18, 2009 |
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Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In Swords and Ice Magic, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser discover how the sadness of The Executioner creates a macabre dance from the point of view of the choreographer. Beauties and beasts explain the dual nature of all life's creatures. And trapped in The Shadowland, our dogmatic duo find the duality of swords and needles, maps and territories, girls and demons and gods, they learn of the mischievous vanity of the gods. Lost at sea, Gray Mouser becomes a natural philosopher, drifting, captive of the Great Equatorial Current. He wonders about fire and ice, about women and men until they arrive at Rime Isle, a tragic comedy of a place, wandering gods and restless mortals, a comedy with puppets and puppet-masters.… (more)

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