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In The Knight and Knave of Swords, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser's journeys have taken them from one side of Nehwon to the other, facing life-risking peril at every turn. Now, in a set of stories that feature the adventurers on their own and together, they will face some of their most challenging obstacles. Against assassins, angry gods, and even Death himself, the duo must battle for their very lives.
The late Fritz Leiber's tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser launched the sword-and-sorcery genre, and were the inspiration for the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.
BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by Neil Gaiman.
"Glowing imagination melds with gorgeous language to make this one of Leiber's very best...which is a better best than this poor world usually has to offer." (Harlan Ellison)
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When Heroes (and Authors) Age Past Heroic Feats
For decades I’d put off reading The Knight and Knave of Swords (1988), the last of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser collections, not wanting to finish them. After finally reading Leiber’s farewell to his “humorous darkside heroes,” I feel glad, sad, and disappointed because although the first three stories are mostly fine, the fourth is muchly repugnant. The stories begin a few months after the last events in Swords and Ice Magic (1977), in which Fafhrd--at the cost of his left hand--and the Gray Mouser try to save legendary Rime Isle, if not all Newhon, from a sea Mingol horde and Loki and Odin and then start living with their lovers Afreyt and Cif on the island.
Audiobook reader Jonathan Davis enhances the tales, doing his usual American Fafhrd and Australian/cockney Mouser voices and going to town with wizards and gods. But why does he pronounce Loki as Lo-kai?
Anyway, here is an annotated list of the stories:
“Sea Magic” (1977)
Missing the Mouser (absent on a trading mission) and “the sleazy grandeurs” of Lankhmar, the one-handed Fafhrd practices shooting arrows around corners and falls into a violet dream of adventure and a bone-white silver woman who may be a ghost or a princess or a fish, while the five gold Ikons of Reason go missing from the treasury. The short story is marked by Leiber’s cynical view (e.g., “A crooked Arrow of Truth and a rounded-off Cube of Square Dealing strike me as about right for this world”), alliteration (e.g., “No sign of a sail or hint of a hull”), and vivid, evocative descriptions (e.g., “Gale rolled it off ahead of her. The target-bag was smoky red with dye from the snowberry root, and the last rays of the sun setting behind them gave it an angry glare. Afreyt and Fafhrd each had the thought that Gale was rolling away the sun.”)
“The Mer-She” (1978)
The Mouser is feeling smugly pleased captaining the goods-laden galley Seahawk back home to Rime Isle when he is tempted by an appeal to his egotistical love of power and nubile waifs. Featuring a timber-laden galley, a chest of colorful fabrics, a sea demon fish girl, a Mouser doll, and a black leviathan, the climax is suspenseful and comical. This short story, too, is full of Leiber’s wit (e.g., “You could trust folk when they were trussed”) and rich descriptions (e.g., “she responded in a lisping whisper that was like the ghosts of wavelets kissing the hull”).
“The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars” (1983)
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are settling into unadventurous lives on Rime Isle with permanent mates, responsibilities, and homes, when their wizardly masters Ningauble and Sheelba, needing Fafhrd’s romantic credulity and the Mouser’s brooding malignancy in Lankhmar to make magic work, get the duo’s three gods (devious Mog, surly Kos, and limp-wristed Issek) to curse the men into returning to the city. The gods smite the pair with old age obsessions, setting the Mouser to collect mundane objects and Fafhrd to counting the stars. Meanwhile, two elite assassins nicknamed the Death of Fafhrd and the Death of the Gray Mouser head for Rime Isle. This suspenseful, amusing, well-plotted, and richly-written novella depicts gutter gleaning, star gazing, backgammon playing, and gender transmogrifying as it pokes funs at aging and plays with the two heroes being halves of a single ur-demon-warrior and their lovers halves of an ur-witch-queen. Leiber writes nice lines, like “Their existence was rather like that of industrious lotus eaters” and “the lovely litter, as though each scrap were sequined and bore hieroglyphs.”
“The Mouser Goes Below” (1988)
Middle-aging on Rime Isle, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are blithely enjoying sporting events like picnicking when life gets interesting: the Mouser’s lieutenant Pshawri dives after the Maelstrom-quelling gold Cube of Square Dealing (which is melded to a cinder of Loki), a mysterious “child ship whore” called Fingers appears with Cif and Afreyt’s nieces, and then during a Moon Goddess ritual the Mouser vanishes into the earth. The rest of the novella depicts the efforts of Fafhrd and company to exhume the Mouser by digging and dowsing, while the Mouser tries to breathe and Loki and Death’s sister Pain get involved and a former lover of Fafhrd’s comes calling in the sky. I like that the friends must face some of the consequences of their past womanizing. And that women like Cif and Afreyt are “women of power.” And I was impressed by Leiber’s still vivid imagination in detailing the Mouser’s descent into the earth and Fafhrd’s ascent into the clouds. And by his still fine language (e.g., “things went most grievously agley”) and philosophy (e.g., “Why does a memory wink off, whenever you try to watch it closely? Is it because we cannot live forever?”). But unfortunately the novella is deformed by excrescent BDSM sex. We hear about Fingers’ work pleasuring sailors with her moist hands, officers with her mouth, and the captain with her nether orifices; Fafhrd remembers erotic escapades with multiple long-limbed amazons, though Leiber mercifully doesn’t depict his seven-woman and two-girl orgy in the sky; and in by far the longest chapter in the book the entombed Mouser watches depilated, pert-breasted maids called Threesie and Foursie being degraded, punished, and pleasured by their mistress until Pain excruciates him with a drop by drop orgasm. None of this creepy kinkiness is vital to the plot.
Some readers have complained that there is little exciting heroic violent action in this book (and if you prefer action to language you will dislike it), but Leiber’s importance to sword and sorcery (epic fantasy) is largely due to his freedom from genre conventions. At their best, the stories here reveal an original, sardonic, and vivid vision. At their worst, they reveal a lecherous imagination. And readers new to the series should begin with the classic older collections Swords and Deviltry (1970), Swords Against Death (1970), and Swords in the Mist (1968).
1 person found this helpful
- Anonymous User
Oh, there's my introduction.
I was wondering where the introduction by Niel Gaiman was from the previous volume. Turns out this volume has the introduction for the last two books respectively.
- Amazon Customer
A fitting end to a great series.
Well done all around. The range of Johnathan Davis is extraordinary. I highly recommend the whole series.
Goodbye, Fafhrd and Gray Mouser!
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.
10 people found this helpful
- Kevin McLaughlin
Ugh, it hurts.
I have trying so hard to finish this book. After my glowing praise of the first books in the series, some part of me has a driving need to complete the set. However, it is very, very difficult.
I enjoyed the other books, even when they dragged in places. This last installment dragged from the start, and hasn't let up yet. Do yourself a favor, stop at the 6th book.
3 people found this helpful
You can safely skip this one
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.