Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Book Review: Swords in the Mist

Book cover for Swords in the MistThis one starts out well, is muddled in the middle, and then ends a bit disappointingly.

"Cloud of Hate" opens this collection. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are hanging out on guard duty for a benevolent patron when a malevolent fog rolls in. It seems that an enemy of the patron has invoked the god of Hate to murder said patron. Leiber switches back and forth from our heroes arguing over their financial predicament to the Cloud of Hate as it flows through the city, recruiting dangerous men for its violent task. Leiber excels here, juxtapositioning the witty exchange between our heroes with the visceral violence of the malevolent deity.

"Lean Times in Lankhmar" follows. While Fafhrd and Mouser are not strangers to bickering and arguing, it is a rare instance when the two let it overwhelm their friendship. In this story the two part ways. Mouser goes to work for a crime lord while Fafhrd forswears all of his indulgences and takes up a life of religious poverty, working as an acolyte for the sole priest of Issek of the Jug, a very minor god in Lankhmar (There's a bit explaining the difference betweens gods in Lankhmar and gods of Lankhmar). Mouser's boss gets a sizable chunk of his revenue via the protection racket. And as the religions in Lankhmar grow in popularity, so does his interest. Ultimately, Mouser is forced to target Fafhrd's newfound religion to exact tribute. This is another great one for Leiber. He crafts an excellent piece from start to finish.

But then the rest of the stories decline in quality.

"Their Mistress, the Sea" picks up right where "Lean Times..." leaves off. Herein it serves as a bridge to the next story. It's not really a story at all, just Leiber telling us what happened between stories.

"When the Sea-King's Away" is an odd tale. Fafhrd and Mouser hit a doldrum in the sea. No wind, no currents. They're stuck. Overnight, a hole in the ocean has appeared. Fafhrd wants to explore it in hopes of finding treasure and mermaids. Mouser is too nervous about drowning when the magic that holds the hole open collapses. Mouser stays on the boat while Fafhrd climbs down a rope to the bottom.

While there was some intriguing mystery, the storytelling dragged. The story is primarily told from Mouser's POV, and since he stayed on the boat, much of it is him fretting about his friend. When he does finally decide to follow Fafhrd, it's a little dull. There were some intriguing details, and I felt that maybe Leiber was trying to channel Lovecraft (He was a fan), but there just wasn't enough splendor amidst the muck. "The Sunken Land," which can be found in Swords Against Death was a far better usage of Lovecraftian elements and the sea.

"The Wrong Branch" is like "Their Mistress..." in that it serves as a bridge to the next big story. Leiber tells us what happened to our heroes as they sailed in a roundabout way across the sea back to Lankhmar, seeking out Ningauble of the Seven Eyes for help with their bad luck.

In "Adept's Gambit," Fafhrd and Mouser leave the world of Lankhmar and find themselves on Earth in Medieval times. Finding themselves cursed, the duo seek help from Ningauble in lifting the curse, which takes the rest of the story. Discovering their curse was humorous, at first, but then got tiring. The exchange with Ninguable restored the humor, but the quest to lift the curse went on for far too long. The antagonist was annoying, his story told by his sister. The story that was told smacked of Lovecraft in both style and substance. Now, I'm a fan of Lovecraft. When he had a character go off on a long-winded tale-telling, there was a payoff at the end that made it all worth it. What Leiber gave us lacked that. After building up to the climax, it fell flat.

Average of stories presented: 3 stars


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