Neil Gaiman, How The Marquis Got His Coat Back (Hodder Headline 2015)
I don’t really understand how this book came into being. Its 58 half-sized pages contain just one short story, hardly a book at all.
My copy, a gift from a friend who knows I’m a Neil Gaiman fan, has a Children’s Bookshop sticker on the inside cover, which suggests the book was published with reluctant teenaged (‘young adult’) readers in mind: a book this size isn’t too daunting, but at the same time the content isn’t babyish.
Another possibility is that someone thought that this story issued as a stand-alone would act as a promo for the 2014 anthology in which it first appeared – Rogues, edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois. If so, it seems not to have worked too well, as I saw that door-stopper on the Gleebooks bargain counter this week.
It would work well in the first scenario, though. It’s an elegant, intricate amusement set in a fantasy version of London and involving a mobster Elephant, sibling rivalry, mind-controlling shepherds, an excellent coat, an unexplained resurrection, a totally improbable rescue, the Mushroom, a beautiful young woman with magical powers, and more. My favourite bit:
‘Beg for mercy,’ said the Elephant.
That one was easy. ‘Mercy!’ said the Marquis. ‘I beg! I plead! Show me mercy – the finest of all gifts. It befits you, mighty Elephant, as lord of your own demesne, to be merciful to one who is not even fit to wipe the dust from your excellent toes …’
‘Did you know,’ said the Elephant, ‘that everything you say sounds sarcastic?’
‘I didn’t. I apologise. I meant every single word of it.’
‘Scream,’ said the Elephant.
The Marquis de Carabas screamed very loudly and very long. It is hard to scream when your throat has been recently cut, but he screamed as hard and piteously as he could.
‘You even scream sarcastically,’ said the Elephant.
Neil Gaiman always writes as if he can’t get over his luck at earning a living by making stuff up.