9 Rated Books Book Reviews Neil Gaiman Week

Gaiman Week – Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Title: Smoke and Mirrors

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy/Horror (short stories)

Stand Alone/Series: Stand Alone

Summary: Harper Collins says 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 fiction written by Neil Gaiman that were originally published in different venues (and some never even published before) and created for a different purpose – all brought together in this volume. The fun begins right in the introduction with an explanation of the title itself: how mirrors and smoke have been used by magicians since Victorian times and how mirrors appear to tell the truth but can be used to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate. For Neil Gaiman, in that sense, stories are like mirrors – Fantasy above all: “which we can use to tell ourselves things we might not otherwise see”.

Also in the introduction a short paragraph per story, that tells us how each of them came to be, whether they were ordered for a particular publication or came to life out of nothing, or how and where they were published if ever – most of all he talks about what inspired them and it gives an amazing insight into the mind of the author – provided that he is speaking the truth of course. Smoke and mirrors remember?

There are 34 short stories altogether – they can either be one page long or several. In different formats: most in prose, some in verse, one sestina. There isn’t one single theme – but they are all in the realm of the Fantastic – Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy, ranging from absurd and funny, to crazy and to the downright horrific but all of them have some sort of otherworldness feel to it, even the couple of Erotic tales. I read the book over a one month period, savouring one or two a day depending on my mood (I skipped the poems as they are not really my cup of tea, though) and some were better than the others or course, but quite a few were simply outstanding, about ten of them.

Like The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories which follows a screenplay writer (whose script was picked up by a Hollywood Studio), on his visit to LA and his surreal meetings with studio executives who kept changing his story – this is the funniest story in the book and perhaps the least Fantastic – I definitely can see that happening in LA!

Or for example, Chivalry, the opening story where an old English lady finds the Holy Grail in a Charity Shop ( oh , the allure of the British charity shops, one in every corner , you can find all sorts of treasures -and all sorts of trash too) which she immediately recognised for what it is and nonchalantly buys it because it would look really nice in the mantelpiece. Until she is visited by no other than Sir Galaad and let the bargaining begins! Or the terrifying Babycakes ,which was written for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and in two pages manages to both make the point of what animals suffer and disturb the hell out of anyone: what if the animals disappeared from the planet – what would we eat, what would we wear, what would be used for research. The answer? Too scary to say. A hint: it’s in the title itself.

My two personal favourites are the two last stories of the book. They are so good it is worth buying the whole book just for them. The first is somewhat part of Gaiman signature theme as once again, the author plays with the History of Creation and the parts Angels and Demons play – this theme is also present in the Sandman and in Good Omens. The story is called Murder Mysteries :

It opens with a young man stranded in LA whose flight to London kept being delayed. One night he sees an old fling of his and after a brief sexual encounter she takes him to the place he was staying. Unable to sleep he takes a walk, sits down on a bench for a smoke and then a man sits next to him and in exchange for a cigarette tells him a story: a story that starts with the Word that created all, including the Angels. As the story goes, we learn that one day this man , who turns out to be Raguel , the Vengeance of the Lord had been awaken by the Angel Lucifer (this is way before the fall, when the Angels were still working on the creation , in the Hall of Being, creating things such as Emotions, Colours, Death) to investigate the death of another Angel. I can not even begin to describe how incredible this story is – it not only presents us with a fantastic and imaginative retelling of the creation of all things but he does it so by following a death investigation in the style of Agatha Christie – pure genius.

The last story in the book and my second favourite is Snow, Glass, Apples , a new account of the Snow White tale from the point of view of the evil stepmother. Or is she? Evil, I mean. What if the whole “Snow White is Good” is a bunch of lies told by the princess who is not what we always thought she was? One thing is certain, I will never look at Snow White the same way again. I may cower every time I watch the Disney Cartoon.

If you like amazing stories, you can not miss this book. It is bloody fantastic.

Notable quotes/parts: I just love how Neil Gaiman both in this and in the Sandman gives Lucifer Morningstar a voice and a chance to appear as not the Devil but as the fallen angel who may have not had a choice in the matter. He used to be The First Among Angels , the most beloved of God, how must have felt when replaced in the heart of the being he loved the most? Neil Gaiman excels at giving him vulnerability and sentiment – making me feel sympathy for him. Sympathy for the Devil – that’s me.

There is one scene that Gaiman plays with what could have been beginning of his rebellion against God – once the Angel of Vengeance acts upon the murderer who killed for love:

“That was not right” , he said. “That was not just”. He was crying; wet tears ran down his face. Perhaps Saraquael was the first to love, but Lucifer was the first to shed tears. I will never forget that.
I stared at him impassively, “It was justice. He killed another. He was killed in his turn. You called me to my function, and I performed it. “
“But…he loved. He should have been forgiven. He could have been helped. He should not have been destroyed like that. That was wrong. “
“It was His will.”
Lucifer stood. “then perhaps His will is unjust.”

There you go. The beginning of his fall?

Additional thoughts: After reading the book, I found out that Murder Mysteries, my favourite story has been turned into a Graphic Novel!

Verdict: sometimes funny, sometime gritty. Always entertaining.

Rating: 9, Damn Near Perfection.


  • Thea
    July 2, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Yet ANOTHER book to add to my creaking-under-the-strain amazon cart.

    This collection of stories and poems, etc sounds wonderful. The ‘Babycakes’ story reminds me of that ‘Dumplings’ short film by the Old Boy director in 3…Extremes (you know what I’m talking about)!

    And I love the quote you took, for Lucifer Morningstar. I love the more sympathetic light that the fallen angel is cast in, not just with that quote here, but also in The Sandman series.

    Thanks for the wonderful review dude, now I have another book to throw on the pile 😉

  • Ana
    July 2, 2008 at 7:57 am

    Do you think we are creepy because we luuurv Lucifer? *wonders*

    I really must get the Lucifer Graphic Novels. It’s next on my list! I got Murder Mysteries today!

  • Tracy
    July 2, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Ok – you don’t get those “9 – Damn near perfects” on just all books. Alright…now I have to add more books to my TBB pile! 🙂

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