This is the second book of short stories I’ve read by Neil Gaiman. The first was "Fragile Things". This one is much older than "Fragile Things", having been published a good eight years before. While they’re both anthologies of stories that Gaiman has written throughout his career, I think it’s probably a safe assumption that most of the stories in Smoke and Mirrors are older.
Which really shows, I think. Though there are certainly some mighty fine stories in this collection ("Chivalry", "The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories", "We Can Get Them From You Wholesale", "The Sweeper of Dreams", and "Murder Mysteries" are the fantastic standouts), the overall quality seems much rougher. As a sort of testament to that, I found myself skipping some of the poetry in this one as opposed to "Fragile Things" where the poems are every bit as enticing as the prose stories.
Noticeably, it seems like almost all of the stories in this book feature sex: and it’s usually creepy and disturbing sex. So, be warned: there’s a lot in here that just made me uncomfortable*. I don’t remember sex being such a big deal in the later volume (though I could be mistaken and the sex was either not as disturbing or the writing was so much better that I didn’t notice it).
It’s certainly unfair for me to judge this book harshly by comparing it to the one that came after. It’s only natural that an author would improve his craft over six years of constant writing, after all. But I can’t help it. I read these out of order and I’m a human being subject to cognitive biases just like everyone else. That’s just the way it is.
If you’re thinking of reading this and you haven’t read "Fragile Things", put this one on the shelf for a while and pick that one up. If I’d read "Smoke and Mirrors" first, I don’t think I’d have moved on to the other.
*I don’t find the topic of sex to be uncomfortable, as a rule. But dark, creepy sex? That’s not my style. I prefer sex, even literary sex, to be light and airy and happy and enjoyable. Your milage may vary, of course.