Of Musings and Wonderings

smoke and mirrorsI have to admit, I do love a good collection. Whether it’s by the same author or stories from a variety, there’s something pleasurable in moving from one story to the next, in a vastly different way than diving into a good novel.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Gaiman presents to us a number of different stories and poems, with a couple of cross-overs, some nods to Lovecraft, and some very, very strange scenes and stories that leave the reader scratching their head. Gaiman’s fantastic style and voice come through in all the pieces, but they all remain different and strong in their own right.

Delights, wonders and horrors – seriously. Some really creepy horrors that make me wonder what must be going through Gaiman’s head. But all of the stories are enjoyable, and the majority are memorable; what happens when humans can no longer test on animals, what happens when a radical cancer treatment causes people’s sex to change, the melding of memories during sex, a disappearing grandmother and a mysterious fox. Among these there are also the stories of a small town plagued with cultists, a writer trying to work on a screenplay and a twist on the traditional troll under the bridge tale.

Each tale captures the reader in a different way, and Gaiman does a brilliant job of introducing characters and settings quickly, allowing the meat of the story to really flourish. There are no punches pulled here and nothing really held back. It is, essentially, Gaiman doing what he does best. The whole collection feels like fairy tales for adults, even with a couple of warnings sprinkled throughout. He draws you right in, exploring different worlds and ideas and making you really believe in the magic, even if it only is for a few moments.

Smoke and Mirrors is brilliant, a wonderful collection, each story tied together in some small way yet still standing strongly out from one another. Well worth a read for any fans of fantasy, magic and, of course, of Gaiman himself.


{March 15, 2014}   Now You See Me [Film]

now you see meFour street magicians are brought together to perform, entertain and, more importantly, cause a stir. Together, they make up ‘The Four Horsemen’, and for their first show they transport a Frenchman to his bank in Paris, where he steals money from the vault and showers it over the crowd. The Horsemen follow instructions presented to them by a mysterious figure, and upon realising the money is actually missing, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes is partnered with Interpol agent Alma Dray to track down the Horsemen and figure out what actually happened.

They enlist the help of a former magician who specialises in exposing magician’s tricks, and a strange game of cat and mouse ensues, with the Horsemen always staying one step ahead of the authorities.

Now You See Me is a fun, entertaining film, with enough magic and trickery to sustain it through the length of the film itself. It’s got a brilliant cast, with both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine playing interesting, if slightly dickish, characters. The special effects work nicely to add to the sense of magic to the whole thing, with the Horsemen planted at the centre and showing off what they can do, even if this sometimes stretches the suspension of disbelief.

Most of the film focuses on Rhodes as he chases the magicians and tries to work out their next step, following their misdirection and realising more and more of the world they are all now operating him. There’s a budding romance between him and Dray, overshadowed at points by Rhodes passionate dedication to catching the people who constantly outrun him and the FBI. The film’s focus is on the authorities, but personally, I wanted to see more of the Horsemen, more magic and seen a bit more exploration of their characters, especially in terms of how they act together and how they work as a team.

NOW YOU SEE MESome of the strongest parts of the film come from the disasters people have experienced over the last few years. During their first show, the Horsemen speak of how the people were screwed over by the banks, how the recession has left people without jobs, homes, money, while the banks seem to get away with it. It forms the basis of their main act in the show, endearing the audience to them by convincing them that one man has been able to screw over his bank, with the money going back to the audience watching. In New Orleans, the audience are made up of victims of Katrina, all with the same insurance company, all of whom were, again, screwed over by them. And the Horsemen manage, in a small way, to help make it up to these people.

The revelation towards the end of the film feels a little forced, yet obvious at the same time, but it doesn’t detract from the sheer enjoyment of the movie. The magic is spectacular, absolutely wonderful to watch although very much unrealistic (but that’s what suspension of disbelief is for, right?). And the cast themselves, from Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine right down to James Franco’s brother (Dave Franco), are brilliant, adding real strength to the film. Like I said above, I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of the Horsemen themselves – who wouldn’t want more of Woody Harrelson? – but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise really good film.

night circusThe Night Circus starts off with a bet between two very unique men. In it, they agree that they will each put forward a protégé for a competition, testing which of their methods of teaching is the best. The protégés do not know of one another, and until the right time comes, they are unaware of the stage on which their competition will be set.

The Night Circus becomes that stage, a wonderful, magical place full of amazing displays and acts that leave the spectators spellbound. The circus is open from sunset to dawn. It arrives with no warning, and usually disappears just as fast. It attracts casual visitors and a group who follow it as much as they can.

And Cecile and Marco, the protégés, are the ones holding the circus together, their powers combining to make the circus what it is, though they do not know the power is held in the hand of the other. The game is played out like a game of chess, where the player cannot see the other make their moves but only the results. One creates a tent and the other responds with their own. And around them, the circus grows.

The one thing that struck me with this novel is how beautiful it is. Seriously. It’s mainly description, which is something I don’t usually like, but it’s description that is breath-taking and wonderful, drawing the reader in totally and completely. The circus itself, the scenery, even the weather, they all become characters in their own right, as Morgenstern lends them a weight rarely seen in other novels.

Of the two main characters, Cecile comes across the best. She feels stronger, more able, while Marco – due to circumstance – simply slips into the background and watches from the side-lines. As he does what he needs to do, Cecile keeps the circus going and faces up to her father, the man who set her out for the competition in the first place. Even when not quite there, he’s a constant presence in Cecile’s life, but one she is able to confront when she needs to.

Between the chapters of the story itself, there are sections dedicated to allowing the reader to almost explore the circus, as Morgenstern uses second person POV to walk us through parts of the circus, sometimes dragging us along to the next event that holds the key to what happens next in the plot itself. And the ending…well, it’s bittersweet and sad and joyful and manages to pump all these emotions out.

The Night Circus is, to put it simply, a wonderful, delightful and unique read. If you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, I’d strongly urge you to do so.

seventh nightA young woman rides to Pinnacle City on a winged unicorn, desperate to make it to the castle before her time runs out. But after running into bandits, she agrees to ride with Philip, a farm hand who is to become apprentice to the castle’s magician.

The pair arrive safely, and it feels like a happy ever after moment. But of course, things don’t just end happily ever after, and the pair find themselves thrust onto a quest to save not just a prince, but a kingdom.

The story is set in the same world as The Girl With No Name, and it works very nicely when coupled with Iscah’s previous novel. Like The Girl With No Name, in Seventh Night Iscah uses fairy tales as the setting, but manages to twist them into something new and different. We get to see glimpses of magic, but not so much that it makes it feel like every problem can be solved by it. We have a tyrant as a king in a land of (mostly) peaceful people, winged unicorns, thieves becoming magicians and a beautiful princess. There’s a love story at its heart, but it’s not the constant main focus, and the characters grow slowly together rather than just meeting and falling instantly in love like a traditional fairy tale.

The tension remains high throughout the novel, with Iscah keeping us constantly guessing what’s going to happen next. Even the love story isn’t clear cut, with it being up in the air about who is going to end up with who and how other characters might react. The characters themselves are brilliant to read, all with their own distinctive personalities, all standing out from each other and managing to bounce off each other in a manner that feels very natural.

If you like fairy tales with a twist, and like something a little different, pick up Seventh Night, published 07/11/2013.

Buy Seventh Night on Smashwords.

Find Iscah on –



Her Website

et cetera