I was really disappointed by this book. Granted, I read it immediately following The Pugilist at Rest, and I feel like anything I read next would have seemed a bit less than it might have otherwise. I remember enjoying Fragile Things -his other story collection- and American Gods, although they weren’t exactly cracking my top 20.
I enjoyed “Chivalry” and “Bay Wolf”, although I feel like most of my enjoyment was derived from clever use of reference and allusion rather than by the merits of the storytelling or prose. I never felt any real connection to a character and I rarely felt any sense of a character that transcended the sum of the passages describing the character. There’s nothing remarkable about the prose, either. It’s workmanlike, never distractingly bad but never really doing anything impressive, either.
The title is apt. Gaiman does some funny tricks, like retelling Beowolf -in verse- set in a futuristic Baywatch universe, with a werewolf detective playing the lead role, or by imagining Saint Nick as a terrified prisoner of inhuman elves, cursed by his immortality. Some of the best short story writers take advantage of the form, writing stories whose pace and progression are equal in effect to the best novels, unequal only in scope and length. Smoke and Mirrors just shows us some funny sleight-of-hand. It’s impressive in the manner of a novel party trick and just as insubstantial.