From the back of the book:
In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion … and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman’s first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders – a place where an old woman can purchase the holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under “Pest Control,” and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality – obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible – in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.
Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories that Neil Gaiman has written over the years for various publications and collections. While the story matter varies greatly, they all do have a couple of things in common: some sort of fantastical content and a very accessible narration. These are two of my favourite things about Gaiman’s writing, so it’s a shame that I didn’t like this book as much as I had hoped to.
I suppose it is expected, in all honesty. It’s a common thing – I pick up a book of short stories, only to get frustrated by the fact that I only start caring about the characters and what is going on right before it ends. And then I have to start all over again. It’s a never ending cycle, and makes me wonder why on earth I keep attempting short story books.
But when I saw this on my brother’s bookcase, I begged and pleaded to borrow this. I thought for sure this time, with Neil Gaiman, he of the wonderful Sandman comics, he who wrote some wonderful Doctor Who episodes, surely it would be different!
That’s not to say that none of the stories were enjoyable – some of them were quite wonderful! Oddly enough, my two favourites were also the shortest in the collection: Nicholas Was… (a terrifying story of Santa Claus) and The Sweeper of Dreams (which was really both beautiful and chilling).
I particularly enjoyed Gaiman’s take on the Cthulhu Mythos in Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar – it fits in well with other short stories that I’ve read recently (the Cthulhu Lives! collection). In this particular story, the main character goes on a drinking escapade with a couple of acolytes of the Great Cthulhu, who spend the night bemoaning about the fact that Lovecraft got it all wrong. Definitely A LOT of fun.
Troll Bridge tells the story of a boy who comes across the troll living under a railway bridge. The boy outsmarts the troll time and again, only in the end to come across a very bit of a twist. This definitely played on my love for fairy tale creatures. (Though, it does also manage to get the Troll Toll song from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.)
The last story in this collection, Snow, Glass, Apples, tells the story of Snow White from the perspective of the stepmother. It provides a wonderful change to see the stepmother as the good guy – Snow White is … a vampire? I’m not sure exactly how it works from when she was about 8 years old until she was old enough for a prince to fall in love with her and it not be totally icky… Did she age at all? Anyway! I love that Snow White wasn’t the victim, she was totally evil. Wonderful, such a great change to this absolutely wonderful story!
The other stories in the collection were… well, they don’t stand out in my mind at all. They were somewhat enjoyable when I was reading them, but I’ve forgotten what most of them are about.
I guess the biggest thing is that I expected magic from this; I expected it to be as wonderful as his novels. I think the length of his novels and the depth of the Sandman comic books allows for more of the magic that I love to really develop in full.
The Bottom Line
I’m glad I read this because it’s Neil Gaiman, and because of the couple of really good stories… but it wasn’t the best of his works that I’ve ever come across.