|This cover is all kinds of awesome|
With that in mind, you can probably see why I love Thieves' World so much.
Published in 1979, Thieves' World is a fantasy anthology set in the fictional city of Sanctuary, a wretched hive of scum and villainy located at the edge of the powerful Rankan Empire. Its a place where danger lurks around every corner and you have to be willing to lie, steal, and cheat if you want to survive. Each short story within this anthology also happens to be written by the top science fiction and fantasy writers at the time: Poul Anderson, Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Brunner, Joe Haldeman, Andrew J. Offut, and Christine DeWees.
I think it would be an understatement if I said I absolutely adored this anthology. Very rarely do I find a book and almost immediately fall in love with it after only reading the first few pages. While not every story within the collection is pure gold (I wasn't all that fond of Haldeman's "Blood Brothers"), most of the stories present their own, unique flavor and give us a different look at the city of Sanctuary and the world its located in.
For example, "The Face of Chaos" by Abbey and "The Gate of the Flying Knives" by Anderson give us a glimpse of the religious conflict happening between two different pantheons of deities and its possible affects on the city's citizens. "Shadowspawn" by Offut and "The Price of Doing Business" by Asprin reveals some of Sanctuary's underworld while "Myrtis" by DeWees shows just how important the city's Street of Red Lanterns and its brothels are to Sanctuary and keeping it running smoothly. Each story helps create an interesting world that feels alive and makes you want to learn more.
The share characters are also fantastic. We have Enas Yorl, a magician who changes his shape involuntarily because he lost a duel to another long ago; Lythande the Star-Browed, a mysterious individual who is just as skilled with a sword as he is with the magical arts; Cappen Varra, a minstrel and the only honest man in Sanctuary; Shadowspawn, a young thief who seems to get himself into big trouble; Myrtis, the madame of Aphrodisia House who never seems to age. Each character is interesting and helps add to the varied tapestry that represents the citizens of Sanctuary.
Thieves' World is easily one of the best books that I've read in a very long time. I love how it balances the grim reality of Sanctuary and its elements of dark fantasy with fun adventures that would be right at home in a Sword & Sorcery tale. Heck, Thieves' World is the thing that inspired me to make my current campaign an urban one and I'll probably be stealing a few ideas from it.
This is one of those books that I will probably recommend to everyone who loves fantasy, especially those who like dark fantasy and the grim settings. You are doing yourself a disservice if you don't track down this book and give it a read.