SWORDS AGAINST WIZARDRY
by Fritz Leiber
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The fourth volume in Leiber's Nehwon series, Swords Against Deviltry contains two stories and two interstitial pieces, one of which works quite well in linking the stories. These pieces also mean that the volume very clearly follows on from Swords in the Mist, providing a clearly defined timeline for the characters' adventures.
When Fritz Leiber collected his Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories in 1968, he wrote some short, interstitial stories to link the various stories together. Generally little happened in these stories aside from referring to the previous tale and hinting at the next one. "In the Witch's Tent" is strange because it links the last story from the previous volume with the first story of the new one, rather than just diving into the story cold, otherwise, there isn't much to it.
While passing through the city of Illik-Ving, the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd came across a scrap of paper with a description of the great northern mountain Stardock, located in the Cold Wastes where Fafhrd grew up. One of the few mountains which his father was unable to climb, the promise of treasure at the peak has spurred the pair to return to the north in an attempt to summit the mountain. Upon their arrival at the mountain’s base, they discover another pair of rogues who are also making an attempt, clearly the recipient of a similar letter. The first two thirds of the story provide the details of their climb, occasionally reflecting some of the humor which Leiber often included, but too often being a slow slog through the story as the pair make their cautious ascent up the mountain. By the time Leiber introduces real activity, he must break out of the tempo set in the first portion of the story, but his efforts are too little, too late. The pair’s contact with the other rogues doesn’t have enough build up to be climactic and too much of the story happens afterwards to make it feel like it is anything more than a waystation in the story. Their eventual discovery of the source of the letters comes with some problematic sexual politics, crowning the story with the feeling that it is a teenager’s fantasy.
“The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar” is another linking story, explaining what Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser did with the gems they collected on Stardock. While many of the earlier stories of the pair have them separated or focus more on one than the other, in this story, Leiber specifically notes that the two are not firmly bonded to each other and they have their disputes and need, occasionally, to have time apart from each other. Separately, the two try to fence their share of the treasures. While the title of the story is meant to be taken as referring to Leiber’s heroes, it quickly becomes clear that they will be bested by the actual thieves of the story’s title. Where the story fails is that rather than the characters seeking vengeance when they learn what has happened to them, instead, Leiber turns his attention to sending them on their next adventure, despite what he has shown of their characters in the past.
“The Lords of Quarmall” is distinct in being the only story included in the books published during Leiber’s lifetime that was partially written by someone else, notably Harry Fischer, who helped create the characters and world in a series of letters with Leiber. Although “Lords of Quarmall was one of the first Lankhmar stories written, it wasn’t published for several years. As with so many of the stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the two are separated throughout much of the tale. The Gray Mouser is serving as champion and sorcerer to Gwaay while Fafhrd is serving as champion to Hasjarl. Gwaay and Hasjarl are brothers, the sons of Quarmal, Lord of Quarmall, and Leiber’s heroes find themselves in the middle of a dynastic struggle, made worse by Quarmal’s realization that his latest concubine is pregnant and he would rather his unborn son succeed him rather than his adult sons. At the same time, Leiber’s main characters aren’t even aware that they are in the same location until near the end of the story.
Partly because Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are apart so much of the story, Fischer and Leiber were able to establish them as their own characters. Of the two, the Mouser is the more interesting. His role as Gwaay’s champion indicates his prowess with his swords and his ability to cast a Great Spell, which is aimed at taking out powerful wizards, demonstrates that he still retains some of his magical training, although his admission that it is his only spell makes him seem like something of a charlatan, especially as the spell was provided to him by Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. Fafhrd is established as the more compassionate of the two, working to rescue not only the torture victim Friska, but also Quarmal’s concubine Kewiss, thereby endangering his position with Hisjarl.
In fact, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser almost appear as incidental characters in the story, which focuses more on Quarmal, Hisjarl, and Gwaay and their various machinations to secure the lordship of Quarmall for their preferred candidate, Hisjarl, Gwaay, or Quarmal’s unborn child. The results of all the intrigue is not surprising and, of course, the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd eventually manage to connect with each other when they are thrown together to serve as their respective lord’s champions in combat against each other, at which time Leiber shows the bond between the two.
While Swords Against Wizardry has a strange feel since it only has two real stories, one of which was only partially written by Leiber, as well as two interstitial works, it is more typical of Leiber's stories of the characters than the follow-up volumes, The Swords of Lankhmar, which is the only full length novel Leiber wrote about the characters.
|In the Witch's Tent||The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar|
|Stardock||The Lord of Quarmall (by Harry Fischer & Leiber)|
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