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.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Return to Lankhmar

Return to Lankhmar is Fritz Leiber's third installment in the Lankhmar series. It consists of two previously published books: The Swords of Lankhmar, a short novel, and Swords and Ice Magic, a collection of short stories.

It was refreshing to read a novel-length adventure of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Leiber excels in the short format, and I was a little unsure whether he could pull off a longer story. But The Swords of Lankhmar is an exciting story from end to end. It starts with the two rogues taking a job as guards on a flotilla taking loads of grain in payment to Movarl of the Eight Cities for removing the sea of pirates. The mission is complicated by a young lady named Hisvet and her dark slave girl Frix. Hisvet is transporting twelve white rats as an additional gift to the foreign ruler. In fact, it soon becomes an issue whether there are eleven rats or twelve in the cages, after one of the ships in the flotilla sinks amid a swarm of rats--one of them white. Both Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser fall under the sway of the alluring Hisvet. Hisvet's father Hisven arrives to lead the rats to their takeover of the ship, but the rats are foiled by a traveler from another world.

Even after they see the rest of the grain safely transported to its destination, things continue to go wrong. Hisvet and Hisven have hurried back to Lankhmar's ruler Glipkerio with stories of how they saved the ships from the rats. The Gray Mouser has to play a careful game with Glipkerio and Hisvet and the rats. After taking a potion given to him by his magical mentor, he shrinks to rat size and must navigate the rat underworld to figure out what is going on in Lankhmar. After avoiding trouble over and over, he finally is backed into a corner when Fafhrd returns at the last moment to save him. I enjoyed the trouble that the Gray Mouser gets in and out of, and Fafhrd's long trek from the Eight Cities to help him. It's a great adventure with alluring characters in tough situations.

The stories in Swords and Ice Magic start off short and get longer. One of the memorable ones is "Under the Thumbs of the Gods", which has the adventuresome pair encountering a vision with all of their lost loves, courtesy of the gods who feel miffed. The last two stories form a pair. "The Frost Monstreme" provides two women from the Rime Isle who claim that their island is soon to be attacked by the Mingols. They offer gold to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to each bring twelve barbarians or thieves to the island in three months. As the fateful day approaches, the two men sail their ships through a great fog, not realizing that a powerful spirit is plotting evil and conniving to get them to fight each other.

The final story is a "Rime Isle", about the two adventurers' struggle to protect the island against the invading Mingols. But first they have to deal with a town full of folk wary of them, two wayward gods, a vast whirlpool, and the invisible flyers from Stardock. Fafhrd must deal with the women of Stardock when his past comes to haunt him. The Gray Mouser finds himself in the strange situation of being a leader of men, when he's used to being a loner and somewhat of an outcast at that. But he excels in his role, including in a hilarious scene when he blacks out and can't remember what he said in his speech to rally the villagers.

Leiber is playful in his fun plots. He's not afraid to bring in a strange element from outside the story, or sometimes two or three. Finding Odin on Rime Isle is both a pleasant surprise but also just part of the story. And in many ways Loki and the Gray Mouser are two parts of the same element. I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second part, though both were fun. B+

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