Back in the day, sword and sorcery was a huge genre. Forget hobbits. Forget Hogwarts. We're talking blades that slashed thugs and thieves in the dead of night and magic so sinister that no one in the right man dared practice it. Blame two of the best characters ever invented in fantasy--I'm talking Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Where to begin the adventure? A book called Swords and Deviltry.
From 1939 to 1988, author Fritz Leiber told many stories about Fafhrd, a northern barbarian, and his partner in crime and danger, the small thief Mouser. The stories were mostly published in pulp magazines with names like Fantastic and Unknown. Why the general public knows more about some ape-man or a guy from Cimmeria (is that in Ohio?), I don't know. The stories featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, are, in my mind, worlds better than anything written by Burroughs or Howard.
Swords and Deviltry does not contain the first published F & GM tale--that's the novelette "The Jewels in the Forest," which you can find in the second collection, Swords Against Death--but it does offers readers the all-important back stories about these two men.
"The Snow Women" offers Fafhrd's backstory. In the icy reaches of the far north, he gets into trouble with a girl (teen pregnancy! watch out parents!) and then gets into more trouble with a woman who works for a carnival.
In the story "The Unholy Grail," young apprentice magician Mouse must become something far more deadly if he wants to avenge his master and rescue the girl he loves.
Cap it all off with the novella, "Ill Met in Lankhmar" -- our pair meet and find themselves at odds with the deadly Thieves Guild in the ancient city of Lankhmar.
Black magic. Amorous adventures (this pair get into plenty of scrapes over love... err, maybe it's lust, actually). Lots of bloodshed. These stories should be the official bedtime reading for every boy in Cimmeria as well as the rest of Ohio!
A great many editions of Leiber's stories have been published. If not at the local B&N, copies can be found at any used bookstore or online for pennies.
I dare you to just stop at Swords and Deviltry.