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Return to Lankhmar
by Fritz Leiber (Orion Millennium, £6.99, 454 pages, paperback; published 1999.)

It's always a pleasure to return to Lankhmar and the exploits of Fritz Leiber's pair of devil-may-care adventurers, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. This book reprints two previous volumes, the novel The Swords of Lankhmar (part of which first appeared in 1961) and the short story collection Swords and Ice Magic (first collected together in 1977).

Leiber's two hero figures have become cliches in the hands of later authors. Terry Pratchett's first Discworld book started out as a parody of Leiber's characters, before Rincewind the incompetent wizard stole the book from under their noses. In Leiber's skilful hands, the originals, Fafhrd (winner of the all-Nehwon Conan look alike contest) and the small but perfectly formed swordsman and thief Gray Mouser, simply defy cliches, cutting them to ribbons with style and wit.

The joy of Leiber's fantasy work is in the never-ending sense of movement, of the ever-mounting difficulties facing the heroic duo, and the cunning combination of daring, skill and blind luck that extracts them unscathed from each ordeal, generally coming out with a bag of treasure, a bottle of wine and a girl on each arm.

Since Leiber unleashed this pair of hellions, nobody has come close to matching his energy, his economy or his wit. Leiber makes most other sword and sorcery writers look pedestrian, and he covers more ground in a few hundred pages than modern fantasy authors cover in a dozen fat volumes. Whatever Leiber has should be bottled and made available to aspiring fantasy writers everywhere. Better to emulate the masterly and concise Fritz Leiber's work than the flatulence that passes for fantasy work nowadays, so all the more praise to Millennium for making Leiber's books available again.

Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 6 May 2000