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 "Smoke and Mirrors" by Neil Gaiman

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PostSubject: "Smoke and Mirrors" by Neil Gaiman   Sun 11 Oct 2009, 8:14 am

I gave this book to a friend for her birthday not too long ago. Upon reading it for the first time (i.e. yesterday), I became immediately jealous and wished that I had kept the book and given her $20 instead.

Neil Gaiman has previously written Stardust, which has been adapted into one of my very favourite films, of the same name. He teamed up some years ago with someone near the top of my long list of favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, to write Good Omens, a parody of sorts of the Apocalypse as foretold by the Bible’s Book of revelations. He also has graphic novels, children’s books and novels to his credit.

Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories, with a few poems thrown in for good measure. There is no particular overall theme, although similarities can be found between several stories; there are a handful of stories based on Biblical tales. They aren’t setting out to condemn or promote religion, but use the ideas to their own advantage. This includes a murder mystery set using angels, and a brief but entertaining take on what could (and should) be the last book of the Bible. For those who haven’t had an upbringing involving the Bible like I have – which was by no means fanatical or detailed – they are merely good stories, but having a little background makes them mean just a little more.

Gaiman is noted for the darkness he brings into even his children’s stories, and Smoke and Mirrors is no exception. There are plenty of vampires and werewolves, brought to life chillingly in a way that restores my faith in monsters in a post-Twilight world. He doesn’t just rely on these, however, sending a cat to battle nightly with the Devil, and a young boy to barter for his life with a troll – not to mention a wonderfully creepy back-to-front version of a fairytale that puts the Disney version to shame.

His poetry, too, is quite dark, though excellently written. It is not poetry with a deep message about humanity, but poetry that paints vivid, haunting images in the mind. And yes, there is one about vampires.

There are lighter pieces too, including the first story of the collection that quickly became one of my favourites – that of an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail in an op shop. This story combines a fantastically real character with a bizarre and otherworldly plot. One of the hallmarks of Gaiman’s work is that somehow, he succeeds in making this actually work, and well, in just a few pages.

As a writer, this collection is the sort that one can only envy and aspire to. There is so much to admire about Gaiman, from his dark takes on fairytales and humanity’s quirks, to his skill with the words themselves – made especially apparent in his poetry – to his ability to experiment and embrace different ways of putting a story together. He presented many concepts and provoked me to think deeply, even on a weekend. This is something that I admire most in any author – an ability to make a point about the way we live, but disguising it skilfully in a story that you can’t put down. Gaiman delivers all this seemingly effortlessly. Also, in the introduction is a brief note from Gaiman about each of the pieces, explaining inspiration, intention or even the story itself. This is especially interesting to me from a writer’s perspective, and adds an extra dimension to the individual stories when you can turn back and read why they were written in the first place.

From anyone’s perspective, however, Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of fantastically written pieces, suitable for those just discovering Gaiman’s work, or those wishing to discover more. It is perfect to dip into occasionally for a few moments to read a couple of pieces – although I did read it nonstop from start to finish. I would recommend this to fantasy and sci-fi readers, with a warning: strictly MA-15+ for some very adult parts. It would make a valuable addition to anyone’s bookshelf – regrettably, not mine just yet.

I AM the Dark Side...AND I am DARTH ROSIE, the UBERLANE

"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt.
Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth."
~ Mark Twain


"Just because you have a scar on your forehead, it doesn't make you magical."

Last edited by aloneandfree_alien on Sun 11 Oct 2009, 8:15 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : I don't need a reason. I am the Goddess of Editing.)
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