You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ill Met in Lankhmar

It is rare that I reread a book. I think mostly there are so many good books that I want to read out there that I generally don't make time to read something that I've read before. I suppose there are few books that are so great that they stick in my mind and are interesting enough to warrant a second look. One exception is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read twice as a teenager and again when the movies were released. Since I started this blog, the only book I've reread is Arthur C. Clarke's The Hammer of God, and that one was so unmemorable that I had totally forgotten I'd read it before until I was half way through it.

I read Fritz Leiber's Ill Met in Lankhmar years ago and immediately loved it. I never got around to getting the next three books in the series, I just added them to my wish list and thought about ordering them every now and then. When my sister gave me the next three books for Christmas (thanks Erin!) I decided I had better reread the first book before reading the rest. It was just as good the second time around.

The world of Lankhmar is a fantastic world full of thieves and sorcerers, adventures and treasures. Leiber's two heroes are Fafhrd, the tall lanky swordsman from the northern Cold Waste, and the Gray Mouser, the wizard's adept turned adventurer. The book is a series of stories about their adventures together, starting with each character's seminal story of how they left their homes and traveled to Lankhmar, the biggest, richest, most decadent city in the world of Nehwon. The action really gets started with the story "Ill Met in Lankhmar", where the two adventurers meet in a dark alley while pursuing the same booty off the same two thieves. They go on to carouse with their girls and several jugs of wine, but the night ends badly when they end up facing down the Theives' Guild and their sorcerer.

There are more fantastic and exciting stories. A fun one is "The Jewels in the Forest", about a scrap of writing that leads the two to an old stone house in a forest which hides an unseen danger. My favorite the first time I read the book was "The Howling Tower", where the two come across the titular tower and the Mouser must face an old wizard and his stories of ghosts in order to save his friend from a ghastly end. This time around I greatly enjoyed "Thieves' House", in which the two adventurers must sneak back into the Thieves' Guild in order to capture a prized treasure. As in many of the stories, they end up with little to show for their troubles.

Leiber's stories are well plotted and they always keep the reader guessing. The situations the characters end up in are exciting, and there's always some twist or surprise that comes along. Often there's a sense of dread or foreboding that fills the characters. This passage, from "The Bleak Shore" sets the tone for the rest of the story. A mysterious stranger in a pub speaks to the two:

'... Now I have heard tell that death sometimes calls to a man in a voice only he can hear. Then he must rise and leave his friends and go to whatever place death shall bid him, and there meet his doom. Has death ever called to you in such a fashion?'

Fafhrd might have laughed, but did not. The Mouser had a witty rejoinder on the tip of his tongue, but instead he heard himself saying: 'In what words might death call?'

'That would depend,' said the small man. 'He might look at two such as you and say the Bleak Shore. Nothing more than that. The Bleak Shore. And when he said it three times you would have to go.'

This time Fafhrd tried to laugh, but the laugh never came.

The two thieves are excellent companions and well drawn characters for such stories. They have their own foibles and at times quarrel with one another. Even when they are driven by others, their own personalities shine through. And the city of Lankhmar and the world it's in have their own personalities. Every story adds to the feeling of Lankhmar's tangibility. This was a book well worth rereading. A

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