Despite winning the World Fantasy Award for best novel of the year, Nifft the Lean is formally a sequence of four separate stories, connected by the central character, Nifft the Lean, and by a framework of commentary from the scribe supposed to be compiling these stories, one Shag Margold. Nifft himself is a character of relatively standard type within the subgenre of heroic fantasy. He is a thief, but one delighting in the daring and artistic quality of his thefts, and a hero, but one who takes an ironic attitude toward his own heroic role.
The four stories are titled “Come Then, Mortal, We Will Save Her Soul,” “The Pearls of the Vampire Queen,” “The Fishing of the Demon-Sea,” and “The Goddess in Glass.” In the first, Nifft and a partner, Haldar, find themselves by accident on a site of sorcerous power, from which a dead woman appears to urge them to bring to her, in the realm of the dead, the partner who joined her in a suicide pact but then failed to honor his promise. Haldar is smitten with love for her. He and Nifft kidnap the betrayer by ambushing the Guide of Ghosts and the Taker of Souls when they come to collect a dying man’s spirit; they take the betrayer with them down to the land of the dead. There, after many adventures, the dead woman rejects her former lover and chooses Haldar to live with her instead.
“The Pearls of the Vampire Queen” is a relatively straightforward story in which Nifft and a new...
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