I purchased this book on a whim, and shortly thereafter wondered if I had not made a bit of a mistake. For years I’ve owned the first paperback of Leiber’s Lankhmar tales published by Dark Horse, but at every attempt to read it, found myself unable to get into the opening story. I had chalked this up to Leiber’s uniquely florid style. It was the inclusion of Lovecraft’s critique and the fact that this is edited and notated by S.T. Joshi (who I am at times a mawkish fan boy of) that drove me to spend forty-five dollars on such a small tome. I am glad to say that my purchase is not one I regret.
As I came to find out, Leiber’s style was not a stumbling block for me when I sat down to read this story, as it had been previously. At first it was rough going, but I quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm. I now feel that my problems in the past with the Dark Horse volume are clear. This story jumps right into the relationship and lives of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, whereas the Dark Horse volume begins with a slow and methodical origin of each character, eventually leading up to their meeting. Also, while the draft of Adept’s Gambit found here is the earliest known manuscript and lacking a great deal of polish, the quality of storytelling, humor, action, tension and horror is undeniably high. If I have any quibbles with the story it’s that the climax is a bit too drawn out for my taste and the villain’s dialogue and motivation feels a bit flat.
This book ends with a reprinting of Lovecraft’s critique of the story. Having never read any of Lovecraft’s correspondence despite the multitude of collections available, I found his thoughts and feelings deeply interesting. In this short letter he displays a kindness, humor, knowledge, pedantry, insight, and humanity that I have not previously discerned in such a direct fashion; my knowledge of his person being previously obtained only through the filter of his fiction.
I cannot recommend this book enough to the Lovecraft and/or Leiber fans out there. I am now determined to read more of Leiber’s output and would also like to pick up a copy of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark.