I don’t get the appeal of pastiches. Sure, I can understand why people want more stories of their favorite characters, but the original stories were special for plenty more reasons than just the character. It’s virtually impossible to copy all aspects of another author’s writing style. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from trying. In Swords Against the Shadowland, the only Fafhrd and Gray Mouser novel not by Fritz Leiber, Robin Wayne Bailey comes closer than most. Unfortunately, he also misses the mark in certain major ways.
Humor was always a component of Leiber’s series, and it is present here as well, but Bailey’s lowbrow approach (dick jokes, etc.) leaves something to be desired. This book was published in 1998, a time when South Park and There’s Something About Mary were the height of American culture. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate crude and raunchy humor in its place, as long as it’s handled the right way. I really don’t need to read a scene where Fafhrd accidentally pisses on the Mouser.
Another distracting reminder that this book was written during the Gen-X era is the amount of unnecessary references. The novel’s villain is a wizard named Malygris (no, not that Malygris) who, from his lair in the Vaults of Yoh-Vombis—I mean, the Tower of Koh-Vombi—puts a curse on all magic-users of Nehwon in order to destroy his enemy Sadastor—er, sorry, make that Sadaster. I get it, Bailey, you like Clark Ashton Smith! (Who doesn’t?) Since this is a sword and sorcery novel we’re talking about, I guess I can let it slide. However, I’m much less forgiving about a scene late in the book where a guard quotes Animal House after getting punched in the face by Fafhrd.
I realize I’m making this book sound horrible, but the dumb stuff I’ve complained about is really only a small portion of the whole. Bailey is a talented writer who crafted a well-plotted sword-and-sorcery tale that even has a few unexpected and cool ideas. The problem is, when the dumb stuff shows up, even though it’s in small doses, it’s so jarring.
When I read fantasy, I want to feel like I’m reading ancient legends of forgotten lands. Anything that reminds me that I’m in the modern world spoils the reading experience. Sadly, too many current writers feel the need to include such material in their stories.