Review of 'Swords and deviltry' on 'Goodreads'
The start of one of the best sword & sorcery series ever created.
While I personally feel that sword & sorcery heroes don't really need origin stories (Conan did fine without one), there are three presented here. "The Snow Women" introduces Fafhrd, "The Unholy Grail" focuses on The Gray Mouser, and "Ill Met in Lankhmar" shows how the two heroes joined forces.
"Ill Met in Lankhmar" is an absolute classic in the genre, and is a delight to read and re-read. While it left me cold, so to speak, when I first encountered it as a teenager, I gained a whole new appreciation of "The Snow Women" and the fraught gender politics contained within as a married adult.
I found "The Unholy Grail" to be the weakest of the three stories, and that's particularly disappointing given that The Gray Mouser is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. His origin story is pretty flat and disappointing. He starts off as a magician's apprentice little different from those seen in many other fantasy stories, and there's little hint of the wry sybaritic thief he becomes in the later stories. The ending has a hint of deus ex machina to it, as well. That being said, it's not a bad story, it's just not as good as its companions.
One thing that struck me during this reread was how Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser's ill-fated lady loves are presented in the stories here. It threw me off a bit when I was a teenager, but Fafhrd's Vlana and Mouser's Ivrian are not the idealized women so often portrayed in fantasy fiction. Vlana has been around the block a few times, and she displays a mercenary tendency to attach herself to any strong-seeming man that can advance her agenda. When Fafhrd calls her out on this, she immediately shuts him down, telling him that he hasn't a clue how hard it has been for her in a male-dominated world. Ivrian, on the other hand, is a bit frail and silly, and her presentation put me in mind of chivalric love, making me think that maybe the Mouser didn't love her so much as he did the IDEA of her and having an audience for his gallantry.
These stories are classics in the field, and worthwhile reads for any fantasy fan.