The Swords of Lankhmar is the fifth book in Fritz Leiber's collection of tales revolving around the barbarian Fafhrd and the diminutive rogue the Gray Mouser. Clearly two of Mr. Leiber's most famous creations, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser belong to the genre of swords and sorcery; the setting is a fantasy where men of swift blades and loose morals do battle against impossible foes for their own personal aggrandizement. This is not the realm of Tolkien. Not only is Leiber's world of Nehwon lacking in the usual elves and hobbits of Middle Earth and its many imitators, but also missing is the clear delineation between good and evil. The primary conflict is between the sadistic and decadent rulers of Lankhmar, the most famous city of Nehwon, and an army of miniature invaders. Neither side enjoys anything like moral superiority over the other. The reader certainly isn't encouraged to root much for one side over the other. While our sympathies might naturally lean towards the status quo which clearly benefits humanity, the picture painted of a city ruled by the invaders is too intriguing to simply dismiss.
So our sympathies naturally incline to our heroes, and what a pair they are. The first chapter of the book is about the best introduction to these characters you can probably find, as they return to their sometime home base of Lankhmar after a lengthy, and not entirely voluntary, absence. Their welcome back to the city is both comic and brutal; this is the stuff of Dumas' musketeer stories without the brooding angst. Death and comedy walk hand-in-hand through Leiber's stories, and the delicate balance he maintains between the two, especially in this longer tale, is a great example of his proficiency as a storyteller.
Unlike most of the previous books chronicling the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Swords of Lankhmar is a single story, a novel-length adventure over 300 pages long in my 1982 edition. All of the others books, except Swords and Ice Magic (also published as Rhime Isle), are collections of short stories and novelettes. Mr. Leiber is, of course, no stranger to the longer format, and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser make the leap to novel-length adventures without missing a step. In this writer's estimation, Swords of Lankhmar is the best of their stories. If you read nothing else by Fritz Leiber, you should read this one.