A handful of stars
shine naked between fingers
I have to say, this is my favorite of the Lankhmar books so far, & by a wide margin. The two thicker novellas in this collection both really knocked my socks off, both for the concepts tossed around, the strength of the story, & the writing style. Very impressive all around-- or I should say top to bottom, since the first story, "Stardock," deals with ascent. Literally-- it is a story about climbing a mountain. That right there-- Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser climb a mountain-- is enough of a pitch to tell a hell of a yarn, but now we've reached a point where the overlapping layers of the serial story have sown a grand harvest. Fafhrd was raised in the cold north of Erewhon, son of a mountaineer. Are the conquering the peak that claimed Fafhrd's father's life? No! They are claiming the peak next to it, the bigger one! Of course. The climb is stressful in the best way-- taut writing, & sprinkled with unexpected touches. The snow leopard comes with them? Alright. The tale peaks with the Invisibles, the transparent people of the mountain...the princesses of which Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser sleep with, of course. This isn't wenching, though-- the girls are character, & the power dynamics aren't slanted. Plus, one covers herself with lace & a mask to sleep with Fafhrd, & one covers herself in green paint to sleep with Gray Mouser, & both of those options are kind of hot. The collection ends with "The Lords of Quarmall," another long piece, that is strong for a host of other reasons. Here, Leiber's worldbuilding is on display-- the arcology kingdom, all below ground, fed on mushrooms & rats, air circulated by fans attached to treadmills. Despicable characters for Fafhrd & Gray Mouser to consort with & ultimately overcome. Weird details, like the diseases inflicted on one of the wicked princes, or his conditional telekinesis. In this tale, our heroes are kept separate, & we're denied their camaraderie, but that allows a mirroring that really hits the spot. Fafhrd's bravery & strength & Gray Mouser's cunning & skill...gets them both the same thing, more or less, & just as fast. Just a whole lot of fun; I really think the series hits its stride here, though again...who knows what year these were written in. In fact, let me check: 1965 for "Stardock," & "Lords of Quarmall" was written in 1964.