I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
Series: River of Teeth #1
Published by Tor.com on May 23 2017
Genres: Adult, Alternate history
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: A fascinating taste of alternate history involving hippos, full of grit, danger, romance and plenty of humor. And teeth, plenty of teeth.
Readers have been buzzing about this novella for months, and I was so excited to finally sit down and read it. What fun this was! Sarah Gailey has created something unique: a fast-paced story that feels like an old-time Western, full of dangerous characters who lie, steal and cheat to get what they want, combined with a little-known slice of American history. You see, back in the late 1800s, Congress came up with a plan to import hippos and use them as a meat source. Luckily, the plan never materialized, but fortunately for us, Sarah Gailey took this fascinating idea and ran with it. In River of Teeth, the hippo plan actually happened, and now “hoppers” are the norm, hippo ranchers who domesticate and breed hippos.
But in addition to domesticated hippos, feral hippos run wild in a section of the Mississippi River known as the Harriet, penned in by gates and rugged river banks. The story centers around Winslow Houndstooth, who has just been hired to solve the problem of the feral hippos once and for all. His job is to figure out a way to get them out of the Harriet, and in order to complete this task, he sets about hiring a crew to help him, including a pickpocket named Regina “Archie” Archambault, an explosive expert named Hero Schackleby, and a beautiful woman named Adelia Reyes who may or may not be wanted for murder. There’s plenty of gold for each of them if they complete their task—if they don’t kill each other first, that is.
There’s nothing like a good caper story—although as Winslow keeps telling everyone, “It’s not a caper, it’s an operation.” Gailey rounds up quite the motley crew for this story, and I loved how she made each one a fully fleshed out character in such a small page count. And if you’re a reader looking for diversity in your stories, then look no further. Winslow is bisexual and has a way of making most of the men in this story blush. But it was Hero who caught my attention, a gender neutral character referred to as “they” throughout the story. I have to admit in the beginning the author’s use of that pronoun was confusing, but once I caught on it simply became part of Hero’s character. There is a lovely relationship that develops between Hero and Winslow, and the ambiguity of their sexual and gender orientations flew right out the window the closer they became. Gailey accomplished something wonderful: a romantic relationship between two people that has absolutely nothing to do with gender.
But let’s talk about the hippos! In Gailey’s story, hippos come in all sorts of breeds and colors, and each of the characters in this story rides his own hippo. Winslow’s hippo is named Ruby, a Cambridge Black hippo, but there are many different types of hippos—just think about the variety of cows and horses we’re familiar with. This bit of invention (well, I’m assuming the author made up these hippo breeds because, yes, I did Google them!), coupled with the distinct personalities of each animal, made the domesticated hippos feel just like family. Believe it or not, though, the hippos actually take a backseat to the human characters. They are a big part of the story, but it’s not really their story, if you know what I mean.
When it comes to violence, Gailey doesn’t pull any punches. From the ferocious feral hippos in the Mississippi—and yes, she gives us some memorable feral hippo scenes—to the ruthlessness of the characters, this isn’t a story for the faint of heart. Winslow may be motivated by great piles of gold coins, but what he’s really after is revenge, and as we all know, revenge can get ugly. By the end of the story, each of the characters had surprised me in some way, which is a very good thing. I recommend you get in on the ground floor, because the sequel for River of Teeth—Taste of Marrow—comes out only a few short months from now. Funny, bloody, touching and just plain fun, this is one story you won’t want to miss.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.