I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Fallible Fiend (book review)

The Fallible Fiend is a novel by L. Sprague de Camp recommended in the Appendix N, which is why I bought it in the first place.

I had never read anything from the author (who wrote over 100 books, wrote and edited Conan stories, invented the term "E.T.", among other things), and I was pleasantly surprised.

The Fallible Fiend tells the story of the demon Zdim, bound to work for one year in the (earth-like) "Prime Plane". During that time, he gets constantly confused trying to understand human customs, subtleties, and contradictions. Amusingly enough, the demon is often more moral and reasonable than most humans he meets. After being summoned by a wizard, he is eventually sold to other masters, gets to see the wider fantasy  world, and embarks on an epic (if still funny) quest to save a big city from being destroyed.

The first few chapters are very funny, and I thought the book would follow a series of vignettes as Zdim gets handed from master to master, but by the middle of the book the demon gets embroiled in much larger matters. This second part is equally good if maybe not as funny - it could be the basis of an heroic D&D adventure by its own right.

The setting described in this book is very D&Dish, and you can see how Gygax might have been influenced - maybe this was one of the sources of DMG shamans. We've got underground cities, kangaroo riders, giant reptiles, mazes, and various wizards.

Each country visited by Zdim has its own customs, religions and forms of government. The author uses this an opportunity to mock some idiosyncrasies of human societies, somewhat like Gulliver's Travels. 

It is also comparable to authors such as Vance, Lieber and Clark Ashton Smith, both in theme and style.

The book is reasonably short and the pacing is great, never making me tired or bored. 

Overall, a great read, and I will definitely look for other books by the same author - probably starting with THE CARNELIAN CUBE.



  1. Allow me to recommend de Camp and Pratt's Incomplete Enchanter series. They're a lot of fun.