Recently I completed my reading of all of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. After I had put down the second or fourth collection (this depends on how you approach the editions from White Wolf, which collected the books doubly in single volumes, and these are the publications with which I began my survey), I made some faintly denigrating comment on Goodreads (if I remember it correctly), something about the quality of these stories being like flies caught in amber. This was a metaphor for Leiber’s soupy, languid, highly embellished prose style.
But a year or so later, as I got to the end of The Knight and Knave of Swords and then the termination of Swords and Ice Magic, I found that I had really begun enjoying these stories. I had even begun to admire the writing style. So I bought, without question, Robin Wayne Bailey’s Swords against the Shadowland out of interest to see who possibly could be so foolish as to try to meet Leiber on his own brilliant terms.
Before I get to a review of Leiber and then, specifically, to Bailey, I want to detail the kind of place I come from. As I become a regular contributor to Black Gate, I realize that there are quite a number of books that I really should have read while I was growing up. Now, I’ve read a lot of fantasy. That will be apparent. But sometimes I pick up a new volume, open the cover, begin reading, and ask myself, “Why didn’t I read this twenty-five years ago?” One of the answers might be because of my intense snobbishness, a youthful shortcoming that I slightly touched on last entry. Another reason is because, at the beginning of eleventh grade, I artificially arrested the sheer volume of my high fantasy reading by consciously “growing up” and turning my back on the genre in preference for established “literary” pursuits. But also, as I cast my memory back through the years, I’m coming to believe that I didn’t read a lot of these works then because a lot of these weren’t all that visible.