This is a collection of short stories and poems that Neil Gaiman has either written for publication elsewhere or had lying around for other reasons and collected in this volume. The stories are extremely varied, many are dark and involve magic (as one might expect), and there are even a few fairy tale retellings. A few of the stories pay homage to other writers and the explanations for these are given in the introduction, which is extremely helpful as one goes on.
I found this collection to be a bit of a mixed bag. I really enjoyed a lot of the stories, but I’m not a huge fan of poetry, and these didn’t strike me as particularly good. This may just be my own personal defect, but I enjoyed the prose short stories much more. I found myself at a disadvantage occasionally because I hadn’t heard of the author Gaiman was imitating or honoring, but for the most part these were interesting selections.
I haven’t read Gaiman in a while and I was surprised by how sexual some of his stories were, too. One was particularly explicit, describing virtually everything that goes on in a bedroom scene, and I hadn’t really expected that at all. Another one is about a man obsessed with finding a girl photographed naked in a magazine, always aged nineteen no matter when the pictures appear. I didn’t remember if this was typical of his work or if he’d just made exceptions here. A lot of the stories were creepy and had dark or ambiguous endings. As I was going along, I thought this would be perfect for the RIP challenge, even though it’s a long time until the next one.
I don’t really have any deep thoughts about this collection, but I think it speaks volumes that while I normally take forever to read short story collections (I’ve had a different one going for a couple of weeks), I finished this one in a couple of days. The stories are often very short, two to three pages, and Gaiman writes well. The stories go oddly well together, often picking up on themes, like magicians’ magic (hence smoke and mirrors) and using various bits of mythology to make his reader think.
Overall, Smoke and Mirrors is recommended, especially if you enjoy short stories and creepier fantasy.
I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.