In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.
Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
I was sold on this novella as soon as I read the premise. Based on an actual idea that was never executed by U.S. government, this book postulates a Wild West-era America in which hippos were introduced to the Mississippi River to be raised as a source of food. Unfortunately, some of these hippos have now gone feral, which means, Houston, we have a hippo problem. The government hires a crack team of hippo wranglers (who also have varied talents as demolition experts, assassins, con women and pistoleers) to clear a large area of the Delta of their mean, man-eating hippo swarms. Alas, as vicious as the hippos are, humans are even worse, and our heroes will encounter lots of opposite on their way to realizing their goal. I like to describe this book as The Magnificent Seven with hippos. It is a rip-roaring read with humor, violence, passion, revenge and a plausible alternate reality, all packed into a very compact story. Bonus points: The cast is wonderfully and refreshingly non-heteronormative, and nobody in this alternate Nineteenth Century blinks an eye. Of course, with man-eating hippos in the water, I guess they have more pressing things to worry about!
If you catch my thoughts here on Goodreads you might realize that I almost never give anything one star. I try to always find the good in something and if I manage to at least finish the book, the author accomplished something. But I got halfway through this novella and couldn't finish anymore. I got tired of rolling my eyes. There is no book this year that has a cooler sounding concept than this one: a bayou western set during an alternate history where the gulf is filled with feral, man-eating hippos. I mean, come on, how could I resist? But alas, big disappointment.
The book might appeal to some (or many), but the cutesy, trite approach was not up my alley. For a novella, it felt like it was taking forever to get to the point, spending most of time introducing the characters and trying in vain to make them memorable. I would've loved this if I actually cared about the people, if the interactions weren't terribly awkward and if the attempt to make them memorable didn't turn into useless character quirks. It was kinda like an action/adventure Royal Tenenbaums with hippos. And to some people, that would sound awesome. But not to me.
None of it felt sincere at all; I could see right through Gailey's attempts at vivacity and quirk, and the western conventions felt like cartoons rather than anything genuine. Like someone who watched a couple of wild west movies rather than showing a real love for the genre. And the non-binary gender neutral pronoun thing kept taking me out of the story, trying to gather when Gailey was referencing the group or just the character Hero themself. I guess I was hoping for something much more affecting. But to top it all off, I just wanted to get to some damn hippo action already! Is that too much to ask?
Hippos have been brought to the southern U.S., essentially replacing horses as transportation in the uncertain and watery in the 19th century Louisiana landscape. A fatter, more sedentary breed of hippos has replaced cattle as a meat source. There's also a secondary Big Idea, a broad range of gender and sexuality. Beyond the Big Ideas, there isn't anything new, with a plot that is a straight-up 'putting a gang together' for one big job.
Sadly, it should have gone through a bit more work to give the reader something besides HIPPOS. Novellas should be tight little stories, and there's a lot thrown in here that doesn't make sense. Though Gailey endeavors to be part of the 'show don't tell' school of alt-history world-building, she chooses the wrong bits of information to show. We witness overweight but adorable Regina (nickname 'Archie') picking pockets and running a con, but it doesn't explain why she would be needed for the hippo job. She then spontaneously brings along a new apprentice. When we meet the retired explosives expert Hero, they are always referred to in plural, and there's no explanation why--it's never truly clear if they are a multiple personality or a gender-neutral character whose description is limited by the English language. There's also a very pregnant but badass Latina assassin, and an incompetent card shark and shooter with Major Issues with a couple other characters. Really, when I think back, I can tell you their sexual preferences (or lack thereof) and their Heist Role. I'm not entirely sure why, as it's only germane in two of them.
Obviously, in the midst of this detail, the plot takes second fiddle. The reader--and the team--are too much in the dark (another traditional Heist device), and don't find out about The Plan until they're in dire straits. In fact, I'm not exactly clear why the government doesn't just step in with sharpshooters (or knife-throwers) and offer a bounty, they way they did with wolves. But I'll just go with that premise, because it's fun. Except the 'twist' then highlighted how nonsensical the situation was.
It wants to be fun (with hippos, names like 'Hero' and a ridiculous 'French' accent, how could it not?) but one gratuitous death and one messy one make it feel distinctly deadly. Then there's the very tired running joke of 'it's-an-operation-not-a-caper' that really needs to be re-done so the reader isn't eye-rolling by the end.
And the hippos. Well, they were engaging, but largely (haha) played a supporting role. They were their favorite mounts, the opposition, and part of the leader's reason for revenge. But it takes more than a Big Idea to make a story, and I mildly regret paying for this one. I certainly won't pay for the next.
I received an advanced copy of River of Teeth via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Sarah Gailey and Tor.
River of Teeth is an alternative history/fantasy Western adventure where the cowboys and mercenaries ride hippos instead of horses. Winslow Houndstooth is the main protagonist and he has been assigned a mission by government officials which involves brutal feral man-eating hippos and a shady gangster who runs a canal based gambling empire. For this mission, Houndstooth is able to assemble his own entourage which includes a chubby con-woman, an ex-best friend sharpshooter, and a deadly assassin.
This is quite a short tale that took me just over two hours to read. It is a highly ambitious premise and is one that, before picking up this book, I could never have envisaged in my craziest dreams so I have to compliment Gailey's amazing imagination. This alternative America is similar to what could have become a reality as is admirably explained by Gailey in the novella's forward. I won't try to explain as I would dumb the historical influence down compared to how the author presents it but it engaged me from the start.
Houndstooth's gang are an interesting enough bunch but unfortunately, due to the length of the narrative, they don't really evolve past the brief descriptions I mentioned in the second paragraph. River of Teeth includes a same-sex relationship (Edit-or does it?) Some moments between the couple are sweet and romantic but the relationship itself seemed unlikely to me from the characters initial interactions to where it ultimately leads in a short space of time. Unfortunately, the love depicted seems almost rushed.
This story is definitely an adult read. There are numerous grim and gruesome scenes from the very beginning, some of which incorporate those deadly feral hippos. There was one moment I found truly grim and upsetting. This alongside other harsh scenes infuses the story with a sense of dread. As well as these murderous beasts, Houndstooth's crew each have their own trained hippo and one of my favourite aspects of this story is the gangs' relationship with their 'steeds', who are even given cute names such as Ruby and Abigail. Furthermore, when our crew go off to complete certain sections of their missions they leave the hippos to play and hang out. Cute. One aspect of the story that confused me was the issue that one of the characters is referred to by everyone as if he is more than one person. 'They tried not to blink.' 'Their name.' I originally thought that he was perhaps schizophrenic but would friends refer to someone who has schizophrenia as 'them' instead of 'him'? The reason for this is not explained which is a shame as it could have made a cool revelation. I may have missed something yet I am usually quite attentive. (Edit - my friend on Goodreads advised this may be a gender-neutral character which is an interesting device and quite common in certain fiction apparently. If this is the case, which after analysing is probable then 1) this is the first book I have read with such a character and 2) what does it say about me that I read this individual as a man that was then involved in a gay relationship when nothing sex descriptive was discussed. Re-evaluating, this is a really interesting concept and I wish it had been more transparant during my initial read instead of leading me to a small degree of confusion.)
To conclude, I think some of the characters relationships could have been fleshed out a bit more. The finale of the book was brilliant and exhilarating. The book concludes nicely although it poses a few questions regarding what occurs next. This is an enjoyable and exciting hippo-fuelled fantasy western and I will be picking up Taste of Marrow when it is released in September. Not perfect but definitely worth a read.
In a world where the US government DID import hippos into the Louisiana swamp to raise for meat in the 1800s, Winslow Houndstooth gets hired for a caper, no, an operation, to get the Hippos out of The Harriet, a vast marsh overrun with feral hippos. Only one member of his crew is a traitor...
When I read about this on the Facebook, I knew I had to read it. A western with people riding hippos? What's not to like? Anyway, Tor denied me on netgalley but an early birthday present from the esteemed Richard saved the day.
Where to start? The book kind of reminds me of the part in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when Blondie and Tuco blow up the bridge. Only instead of the desert, it's in the Lousiana swamp. And they're riding hippos. And instead of Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, the crew is a bisexual English former hippo rancher, a rotund con woman, a pregnant professional killer, a gambler, and a person of indeterminate gender. And instead of a bridge, they're using explosives to get the hippos out of the Harriet. Huh, I guess it's only superficially like the bridge scene...
The mistrust among the crew is one of the drivers of the story, along with Houndstooth's quest for vengeance. It would make a great movie. What would you call a western set in the Lousiana swamp? A gumbo western?
Anyway, it's a lot of fun. While it uses western conventions and a western plot structure, the setting and the characters make it something else entirely. Something I want to read much more of. Good thing the sequel comes out soon. Four out of five stars.
I didn't think I would ever love hippos. They're not cute and furry like cats. Or happy and playful like dogs. But Sarah Gailey's alternate-history novella, River of Teeth, has forever changed the way I view these amazing, fierce, deadly -- and loveable -- creatures.
Set in the Louisiana marshlands, River of Teeth is built upon a relatively unknown fact regarding the history of America. Apparently way back in the day, the U.S. was facing a meat shortage and came THISCLOSE to bringing hippos to the country. The plan was to create "hippo ranches" in the great state of Louisiana and to use hippo meat as an alternative food source for Americans.
Obviously, the idea never came to fruition. (Whew!)
But Gailey takes this little piece of American trivia and runs with it . . . creating a fun, fast-paced, action-packed romp through the Louisiana bayou.
And I do mean FUN. I'm talkin' about gun-totin', hippo-ridin' cowboys kind of fun. It's so unique. I've yet to read anything quite like it.
My one issue, though -- it's a little "light." There's not much in the way of world building or historical background in the story. Albeit racially and gender diverse, the characters are not fully developed. And neither is the plot. It would've served the novella well, if Gailey had only taken the time to flesh the story and the characters out a bit.
You should still read River of Teeth, however. I really did like it --and I do, wholeheartedly, recommend it. In fact, you should know that I've already started reading the second novella in the series, Taste of Marrow. That fact alone should tell you something about how much I enjoyed River.
You should even just read it for the coolness factor alone.
You might want to take a deep breath before reading the following sentence. You're welcome.
Why this book which I read before the summer and consequently remember very little about—except that it was slightly not good—because I only have one grey cell left—bloody shrimping tourists be damned—should have been awesome because man-eating hippos and mercenaries and Louisiana and stuff, but wasn't and therefore kinda sorta disappointed me as you might have grasped from my not-so-wondrous rating:
① The Lackluster Yawn of Death (LYoD™): Okay. So this story should have been slightly exciting. I mean, feral hippos, my Little Barnacles, FERAL HIPPOS. And a pretty original Alternative Western Type US Setting Thing (AWTUST™). And and a promising bunch of super hot mercenaries. Well I'd assumed they'd be hot because they were, you know, mercenaries and stuff. But life sucks and all mercenaries are not Black Company ones and thank you Glen Cook for ruining me for ever I hate you okay not quite but almost. So anyway, these aren't the hot mercenaries you're looking for, nothing to see and stuff.
My pal Darthie just lent me a bunch of Stormies to help police my reviews. Pretty cool, huh? The guy might have terrible fashion sense sometimes, but you can always count on him to help with your tyrannical duties.
These are probably the mostest not-hottest mercenaries ever. And they're flatter than a herd of ironing boards. So are all the other characters in this book, by the way. I just couldn't bring myself to give a bloody shrimping damn about them. Team Total Lack of Depth 1 – Team Interesting Bunch 000. Okay, to be disgustingly honest, there were actually two pretty cool characters in the story: Ruby and Rosa. The hippos. Conclusion: you know there's a problem with characterization when the animals in your novella have more personality than the rest of the cast put together. QED and stuff.
Also, the story itself was Deadly Land of Meh Material (DLoMM™). There was some blood and gore, thank my Shrimpy Lord, but apart from that? So boringly predictable.
I'm hot and sexy, I know.
② The Non-Binary Gender Character Stuff of Doom and Destruction (NBGCSoDaD™): Before the PC freaks start trolling, please kindly note I am not making a judgement on the NBGCSoDaD™ itself, or on how people chose to define themselves. He/she/they/barnacle, it's all the same to me. My concern is about authors who choose to feature gender fluid characters in their stories just because it's cool/trendy/whatever to do so, even when it serves absolutely no purpose, and adds nothing to their narrative.
So. One of the characters here is referred to as "they" instead of "he" or "she." Which confused the fish out of me at first. Because, after spending so many years hidden in my subaquatic cave, I'd never heard of non-binary persons before I read this story. Not having a clue what this was all about, I'd assumed this was the author prepping us for some awesome twist or big revelation later in the story. Except that it wasn't. And I might have understood what was going on, had the author bothered to explore/develop this particular character further, but she didn't, so I didn't. And yes, I know this is only a novella which makes it hard to go into much detail, but still. This character being genderqueer should have added depth and meaning to the story, especially since they become romantilustically (yes, that is a word) involved with the male lead. But it didn't. And the whole thing ended up feeling completely pointless. So why add such a character to your narrative then? Because you can, that's why. Because you're hip, that's why.
My thoughts exactly.
» And the moral of this It Only Took Me Four Months to Write this Thing Wow Go Me and Stuff Crappy Non Review (IOTMFMtWtTWGMaSCNR™) is: I'm about to read the follow up to this story. A very special kind of nefarious masochist is obviously me.
She writes of rivers and swamps with an appalling ignorance of geography and physics.
Review of Kindle edition Publication date: May 23, 2017 Publisher: Tor.com Language: English ASIN: B01MRJW3OS
Fantastic idea for a fun alternate history romp ruined by poor prose, lack of character development, an ignorance of the traits, habits and physiology of the hippopotamus (an inexcusable failing considering that the story idea is based upon hippopotami or hippopotamuses, as you choose.), a complete ignorance of geography, an apparent ignorance of the direction in which water runs (that would be downhill. North to south when dealing with the Mississippi, its tributaries and related swamps. Water is contained on the uphill side of a dam, not the downhill side.). Throw in some twenty first century politically correct sexuality for seasoning rather than importance to the plot and you have an unpalatable mess. I say that the politically correct sexuality is not important to the plot but I may be wrong. Promoting the LGBTQ, etc. agenda seems to be one of, maybe the main, purpose of Ms Gailey's writing. She should have paid more attention to the plot
I can't say that it was boring. Being disgusted, amazed, unhappy, incredulous and a bit angry is not the same as being bored. I hope she doesn't go back and correct the geographic and physics problems. They are just too funny as is.
"I dont like reading cow-people stories" - Melanie, 2019 "hold my beer" - this fucking book, right now.
I loved this. A biracial (Korean/British), queer cowboy who is getting together with a fat con-artist and a nonbinary demolition expert to pull off a heist in an alternative history with feral and ranching hippos? Wow, my new favorite thing in this world.
Reminds me of Maverick (1994) and Wild Wild West (1999). Just suspend your belief system and have fun. Hippos are waiting. Carnivorous ferals are circling and snapping their teeth like crocodiles in a James Bond movie. 'A good time no alcohol required' by the Jeremy Jahns rating system.
Have I taken crazy pills? Has the world gone mad? No and yes.
This was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula. Kirkus calls it “delightful” and “fun” and “charming”. I kept hearing that a lot. “Fun!” people keep saying.
What. The. Actual. Fuck?
You tell me: hippo eats a dog. Fun! Hippo tears apart a delightful orphan. Charming! Then it takes a turn for the grim. This is, in fact, grimdark fantasy. Make no mistake about that. This is not Ocean’s 11 as numerous reviewers have stated, this is a badly-written mash-up of The Magnificent Seven and Bless the Beasts and Children.
I know that you haven’t seen the second film. Trust me that you don’t want to. It’s a movie about about a bunch of boys who want to save a herd of cattle from being slaughtered, so they run away from camp to save them. If you thought that Old Yeller was just too much of a feel-good comedy, then by gum Bless the Beasts and Children is the flick for you! I watched that movie as a kid because Billy Mumy, Will Robinson himself, was in it, and I have been traumatized ever since, lo these 47 years later.
I don’t know who Sarah Gailey is, but I can make a few assumptions. She’s white — like, extra white, the kind of girl who woohoos at a bar when the waiter brings another round of Chardonnay. She doesn’t know a single black person. I mean, besides Janel at work, but that doesn’t count.
This is an alt-Western set in the post Civil War South, yet there is not a single mention of slavery. It takes place along the Mississippi River and the swamps of Louisiana, yet there is not a single Native American in sight. Listen, sister, maybe take a trip to the bayou, where you will discover that there are more Native Americans than anywhere east of the Mighty Missus Hip. Or, you know, read a damn wiki. It’s so fucking whitewashed that this might as well take place in a 1950s John Wayne movie set in Norway.
Yes, the main character is bisexual. Yes, one of the other characters is intersectional and is referred to be everyone as “they”. Yes, there is a “woman of size” who is adept at pickpocketing folks.
The fact that none of these characters encounter any discrimination was easily the most fantastic aspect of this mercifully short novella. I suspect that people are so hungry for stories which show characters like these that they are being overly effusive in their praise, ignoring the serious story problems and the extremely problematic social aspects.
I never bought for a moment that the main character, Winslow Houndstooth, was constantly blushing at the touch of the attractive non-binary Hiro. All of those passages read like terrible erotica. I kept expecting a pizza delivery man to show up, so she could properly kick off the porno. If you’re looking for sex scenes, though, there aren’t any. This is the 15-year-old virgin’s idea of steamy. It’s the adult version of cringeworthy.
All of the characters are one-note stereotypes. What is it you lot like about them? The ending is a dumb deus ex machina. People behave stupidly merely to move the plot along. Hippos are gigantic, but two injured people can move one. An adult male hippo weighs as much as a Toyota Highlander SUV. A smaller female weighs the same as a Camry or Honda Accord. Go try pushing one of those around. It is constantly aggravating.
15 years from now, once we’ve actually gotten over all the current transgender hysteria over sharing bathrooms and we stop stupidly fighting over whether gay people should be allowed the same rights as everyone, people are going to look back at stories like this and shudder at how bad they are. But they’ll probably excuse them by saying, “But it was one of the early stories to have gay acceptance.” And they’d be right about how bad the book is, but completely wrong about “first.” Go read some of the New Wave from the 1960s. Michael Moorcock had queer main characters in his books back then. See 1968’s The Final Programme, for instance, with the gender-fluid protagonist. In 1979 R.M. Meluch published the Space Opera Sovereign, which has a gay main character who becomes a starship captain. The World Fantasy award winner of that year, Watchtower, features gay characters, written by lesbian author Elizabeth Lynn. “First” my firm tuchus.
Reading this because it is a Campbell nom for this year, I'm walking into this as a properly fascinated reader. I mean, it's a western alternative history where hippos are the next big meat and it was ACTUALLY A THING. It might have been a bad idea in the real world, but the concept for a SF novella is pretty spectacular.
So how did it pan out?
Well. I like revenge stories as well as anyone and having these big monsters that crunch people with a single bite always makes for great river fiction, but I found my attention wandering. I think it might have just been me. The concept is great and the writing is okay, but it just wasn't enough for me to hang my hat on.
I'm sure others might get more out of this! I DO recommend this highly for anyone who loves the whole Western thing. I think I might not have been in the right mood, unfortunately.
*sighs* Don't you just hate it when the description of a book shows a story with SO MUCH potential, but as soon as you read it, you just KNOW that it'll never live up to that promised potential?!
It was like this for me when I heard about this story. An 1890s USA that has introduced hippos into the wild as an alternative meat source - that was even an actual plan of the government (it simply didn't work out in reality). How cool is that?! And look at the pretty awesome cover! In one place, where the Mississippi is contained by a gate and dam (Harriet), some feral hippos roam in cooperation with a ruthless business man. A band of criminals band together to clear that part of the river of the feral hippos for the US government.
Amongst the cast are Ruby
and I have to say that the hippos really were the main attraction here (not just these two but mainly them). I liked the thought-out world in which there weren't cattle farms but hippo ranches, where hippos were also your transport instead of horses.
However, that is unfortunately where my positive feelings end. The human characters were very flat and the lengthy introduction of where they came from, why they joined the operation, and what their "profession" was just couldn't touch me. I didn't care for any of them. Add to that the fact that Hero, one of the gang, was always referred to as "they" and "them" without it ever being explained why. He could have been transgender or gay or whatever else, but it was never addressed in any sort of way, which is what gave me the impression of it just having been thrown in because it's "in", up-to-date with the most current politically correct cast. *rolls eyes* Also, along with Hero, we had the MC, Houndstooth, who was this strong and self-confident guy with the motto "I'llbanganythingthathasprettyeyes" regardless of the gender (I guess that is "in style" as well) one second and a teenager-like lovesick puppy the next. Not to mention that this "mastermind" of a leader, who was supposedly oh so intelligent, was actually an incapable imbecile. It just didn't add up. The bad guy, of course, was just as much a cardboard cut-out and uninteresting. Just meh. Don't get me wrong: a gender-fluid character can be a great inclusion, but bad representation is as harmful as no representation at all, in my opinion, and the author failed to make me feel anything at all for these characters (other than annoyance).
At one point, I was hoping for a nice twist -> but, sadly, the author didn't include any great twist and even left that statement open (I doubt it will get important in the next volume).
I actually can't believe this was nominated for any sort of award. And no, I won't read the sequel as I'm just not interested. *sighs*
P.S.: Yes, it really did take me this long to finish this novella - because I kept wanting to read other things in between as it just couldn't hold my interest.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
Rating: 3.5* of five, rounded up because HIPPOS!!!
Okay, there's this little-known weirdness about the Congress actually considering the importation of hippos for real in the early 20th century...see my four-year-old review of the Kindle Single for my take on that...but it went nowhere, thankfully.
Also thankfully Sarah Gailey got wind of this deliciously loopy piece of fucked-up thinking. This novella is a terrific playful use of reality's undercooked braining. I can't be any more pleased about that.
I could be a bit more pleased about the novella. No. WINKING! Not at all, not ever, not even the three times in this book. *ahem*
But the main source of my discontent is the slightness of the characterization of Winslow, our "British"-or-maybe-not hero. He's very intriguing which is the source of my mild disgruntlement. Just as we're getting to know him, *whiz* offstage he goes with Archie the stout and stout-hearted confidence trickster...and just as *she* is getting interesting, what with her tendresse for U.S. Marshal Gran! Who barely registers before his search for the evil Adelia fails and he has to get our non-binary fascinator Hero to medical help...
...am I making myself clear? There is a LOT going on in these pages, all of it fun, much of it necessary, and some of it far too glossed over. More room for Mama's goodness, please. Yes, there's a sequel and I will be reading it soonest, but this is literary coitus interruptus.
I was delighted by the comeuppance delivered to the very appropriate party at the end; I was hugely relieved that the author provided us with a timeline at the end of the book; but really, there's only one thing that I can't explain away or make better with rationalizations: Handwaving away the Civil War. This wasn't a fixable slip-up. The fact is that hippos in the Civil War would've changed things drastically given the location of the Harriet (our lawless, feral hippo-infested stretch of Mississippi marsh). Its construction in Louisiana would've made the economy of the state radically different; its slave or free labor demands would've changed the military calculus of the region in extremely significant ways.
So I'll accept a gayish hero, I'll go along with a non-binary person passing unchallenged, yup yup okey dokey mm hmm, but not the unchanged Civil War. That by itself would've cost a less gung-ho gonzo nuts author with a blah little idea all but one star. You, Sarah Gailey, disappointed me where a less talented writer would've made me snort derisively, roll my eyes, and Pearl Rule this bad boy. You're capable of better thinking than this elision of a central fact of US history.
This novella was excellent rollicking fun. It's a story that when I saw the cover and hear the synopsis, I KNEW I needed it in my life and it definitely didn't disappoint. Not only is the story sharp and witty and non-stop, it also has some of the best representation of non-gendered characters, female protagonists, older characters and more. The only white male character is quickly killed off (yay) and we're left with a cast of pretty great (albeit some are also reckless as can be) cowboy-esque hippo-riding and wrangling characters!
This is set in a version of America where the marshes and rivers have been overtaken by wild hippos. These hippos were imported and bred as part of a plan to use them to stop the meat shortages, but when it became clear that these were feisty and wild beasts who wouldn't be tamed, they started taking over the waterways.
The initial appeal of this was always the feral hippos and honestly I'm not much of a wild-west reader at all. I tend to find that the crazy over-enthusiastic and wild stories involving cowboys just bore me, but this story, with hippos as the focus, was the total opposite. I read it in one sitting straight through, chatted to my good friend Elena and had a solid adventure of twisty-turny awesomeness :) 4.5*s and I would certainly read more in this series or by this author in future. Highly recommended :D
THIS BOOK WAS SO FUN. Seriously, more people need to read it! The main character is a queer Korean-British hippo-wrangling cowboy who puts together a rag tag group of criminals featuring the most fabulous of fat French female con artists and a gender non-binary demolitions expert, among others. It's a fucking riot.
I just wanted MORE. The only negative critique I would give this book is that we simply don't get enough page time to really develop the characters and the plot. Gailey crafts a mean heist book, but the pace was too break-neck at times. The book would have been a full five stars from me if we were simply given a little more build-up time.
I loved the world. You would think that an alternate history involving feral hippos in the US would be difficult to get into, but Gailey expertly pulls you in. I also loved that this is Western genre fiction that actively puts those that the genre is notorious for ignoring--queer folks and POC--right at center stage. And she does it WELL.
I've seen several reviews that cite the use of they/them pronouns for the non-binary character as a flaw that made the reading experience confusing and I just.... No. Just stop. BE QUIET.
This book is just SO MUCH fun. If you're looking for something that is an original, funny, violent, wild ride, then this is for you.
Wildly, gleefully enjoyable. Alt-American history with hippos, for heaven's sake, as well as a gloriously diverse cast--our MCs are some or all of female, fat, POC, nonbinary, bi, pregnant, and not American--and lots of lovely romance with the banter, violence, and FERAL HIPPOS. And there's going to be another one, which I totally need.
It's a first book and you can tell--the style clunks occasionally, which an editor really could have dealt with, and the pacing's a bit rushed. It could have been a lot longer and benefited from the space. But the sheer fun of it outweighs the faults in a big way, and what a lovely cover. And **PEOPLE RIDING ON GOD DAMN HIPPOS**.
I think in the end, that I just had too high hope on this book. Sure it's good, with an interesting story and some really gruesome scenes. But, at the same time did I feel that this was not a book that I devoured. I loved the idea of this book, with hippos in the marshlands of Louisiana and the story was interesting, but it ended when it started to get really interesting. It's a short story only 152 pages long and that could be why I felt like I wanted more meat to the story. This is book one so it will be more of them and I will definitely read them.
I do think that if you like alternative stories should you really read this book. Personally, did I struggle a bit with keeping the characters (and hippos) apart, and I would have loved a deeper introduction into each and every one of the characters. On the plus side are they interesting characters and I'm looking forward to getting to know them more in the next novella!
I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a free copy through NetGalley for an honest review!
OMG so much fun! It’s a good ol time Western with hippos and queer characters, a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns and fat woman representation. Here for it. Starting the sequel in 3, 2, 1...
Thank you Emily from possiblyliterate for recommending this!
One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more novellas – and I tried, I really did, but I am not so sure the format works for me. Which is why you should take my rating maybe with a grain of salt because it might be a genre thing. But, I struggled here and if the book had been any longer I do not think I would have finished it – but the length itself is also possibly the biggest stumbling block I had.
This is an alternative fiction Western – a world where Louisiana imported hippos, both a source of meat and as a form of transportation. Winslow Houndstooth and his crew are running a scheme involving a crime lord and feral hippos. I like that premise but I don’t find it clever enough to sustain the weak plot. The plot never has time to breath as we rush from scene to scene and later death to death. The story is quite gruesome and there are a few running gags that did not quite work for me as a result.
The characters could have been fun but there is not enough room to get to know them and as a result their actions often come out of the left-field. I did like how diverse the crew was, but there could have been done so much more here. The characters never came alive for me in a way that would have made me root for them.
This is not the worst thing I have read and it did keep me moderately entertained on a plane but I will not be continuing with the series.
You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
So many mixed reviews for this book and honestly, I don't understand it! I loved it!
I listened to the audiobook and it was fabulous. I loved the colourful characters, the descriptive storytelling, and the amount of action packed into this short tale. I am quite anxiously awaiting the continuation of the story in the upcoming sequel, Taste of Marrow.
Fun fact: The hippopotamus is widely considered to be the most dangerous mammal in Africa, responsible for more human fatalities there than any other large animal. Although they don’t look very threatening, they are extremely moody and territorial, often known to attack boats in the water or people on land with little to no provocation. Another fun fact: Back at the turn of the 20th century, U.S. Congress actually considered a bold initiative to import these animals to the bayous of Louisiana, in the hopes of creating these “hippo ranches” to solve the nationwide meat shortage as well as the growing ecological crisis caused by the invasive water hyacinth.
Obviously, this wild scheme never came to pass. But you just have to wonder, what if it had?
Happily, author Sarah Gailey was awesome enough to oblige us in River of Teeth, her alternate history novella envisioning an America that might have been if the “American Hippo Bill” had been passed…along with an added few hitches, of course—like, say, if about a hundred hippos had broken loose somewhere along the way, resulting in an out-of-control feral population making safe travel along the southern waterways nigh impossible. Taking place in the marshlands of Louisiana, the story follows a diverse group of hippo riders who come together to pull off a caper—or rather, I should say, an operation—to help the U.S. government rid the Mississippi River’s Harriet section of its feral hippo problem once and for all.
However, as the leader of the group, former hippo rancher Winslow Houndstooth has other plans. Gathering a team that consists of Regina “Archie” Archambault, a corpulent master thief; Hero Schackleby, a gender-neutral demolitions expert; Adelia Reyes, a very effective (and very pregnant) killer-for-hire; and Cal Hotchkiss, a hard-drinking, cards-cheating gambler who just so happens to be the fastest gun in the west, Houndstooth is prepared to pull a few strings in his contract in order to accomplish his true goal of revenge. Floating somewhere on the Harriet is the riverboat casino where he will find Travers, the ruthless businessman who took everything from him. Houndstooth means to see his enemy pay—that is, if only he and his allies can somehow survive the never-ending barrage of obstacles, including double-crossing backstabbers, huge explosions, and a river full of killer hippos.
Hands down, the best part of this book is its concept, which is worth the price of admission alone. It’s just so damn cool! To me, this is what speculative fiction and especially alternate history is all about: taking an idea inspired by a real event—in this case, Congressman Robert Broussard’s proposal of the hippo ranching bill in 1910 (that fell just short of being passed, alas)—and running with it, creating a wonderful new world full of potential. I simply love picking up books like these, knowing that anything is possible. Not to mention, hippos are a great subject; for one thing, they’re fascinating creatures, and two, many people underestimate just how dangerous they are, but Gailey does both these points justice by highlighting the environmental, cultural and societal impact of these animals every chance she gets in her story.
My major complaint, however, is one that I often have with novellas—River of Teeth was just too short, preventing anything from being fully developed. World building, plot elements, and characters all felt a little sparse, leaving me worked up by the end, yet still feeling strangely unfulfilled. Part of me wishes that the story had provided more background information behind the process of hippo farming, or hey, maybe even a mention from someone on what eating hippo might be like (I’ve heard that hippo steak is delicious, but don’t take my word for it). I was also disappointed in the characters. Save for maybe Archie, whose charm I found irresistible, I felt no real connection to or interest in the rest of the cast. Thing is, while I love diversity in my books, I am less enamored with “diversity for diversity’s sake”, which often leads to characters becoming defined by labels and not who they really are, leaving their personalities themselves paper thin and forgettable—especially in the case of this book, where a good number of them are killed off or taken out of the picture rather quickly in a short period of time. It’s worth keeping in mind too that we have a relatively large cast for a novella, so opportunities to get to know each of them well were already limited.
However, as you can probably tell from the positives I highlighted, River of Teeth was still a book I enjoyed. While it didn’t draw me in as much as I thought it would, at no point did I find the story slow-moving or boring, and I can also see the world and characters becoming more fleshed out as more books are added to the series. Sarah Gailey has written a fun little adventure with lots of potential, and already I am eyeing the sequel Taste of Marrow with great interest.
River of Teeth is a fantastic alternative history book that was a joy to read and so unique. What was a blast is that she used a bit of real history as a basis! Only our crazy government would think of bringing hippos over to America! It didn't go through in real life but in this book it is a fun ride! Great story!
This is the most tedious book I’ve ever read about feral man-eating hippos. (There haven’t been any others, but it would be hard to set the bar lower than River of Teeth.)
Spoiler: it’s not about hippos so much as a motley crew of Wild West characters with as much depth as a movie poster. They bicker, they posture, they take fully half this slim novella to assemble and get started on the herding feral hippos bit. There is also, of course, a sneering villain and a very thin story of revenge. And a romance, which works as well as you might expect between characters who are caricatures to start with.
I wanted them all to get eaten by feral hippos, and very few of them actually do. Most of the hippos actually in the book are domesticated and act as bland horse-analogues for the crew during their plodding, joyless, stupid caper operation.
Also, Sarah Gailey seems to think that a French accent can be approximated by dropping all the h’s and inserting the odd ‘oui.’ Her British and Mexican characters are equally products of an author who has apparently never spoken to an actual person from either country.
River of Teeth could maybe have worked as a campy B monster-of-the-week movie (I totally want to see the feral hippos eat someone - team hippo all the way), but I found all of it thoroughly tedious. Even the hippos and the swamp setting feel like cardboard cutouts with nothing of the actually really cool science behind them.
I’m blacklisting Sarah Gailey. There was nothing in here that makes me remotely interested in anything else by this author.
The River of Teeth has a killer concept. It riffs off a cockamamie scheme to deal with invasive vegetation and a meat shortage in America by importing hippos en masse. In Gailey’s world, Congress went forward with the scheme (at a slightly different time than proposed), and instead of a Wild West we got wild bayous in Louisiana full of hippo-riding cowboys and riverboat casinos. How could you screw up such a great concept? Let me tell you in excruciating detail, gentle reader, because this book is terrible.
Winslow Remington Houndstooth is putting together the operation (never a caper, a joke that got old to me long, long before it got old to Gailey). He’s going to make a pretty penny driving the feral hippos infesting the lower Mississippi into the Gulf, but he has a more personal motive: revenge. Revenge for the arson that cost him his ranch and his beloved breeding stock of hippos. He is bisexual. This is not relevant, but is emphasized.
Four more round up the team for the operation (never a…nevermind). Archie is a con artist and thief. She is fat. This is not relevant, but is emphasized.
Hero is a demolition expert. Hero is evidently multiple people, as they are only referred to using a plural pronoun (I should cut Gailey some slack here; the limitations of the English language are not her fault).
Cal is a gunslinger. He is a drunk, cheats at cards, works for the big bad, and certainly betrayed Houndstooth previously. You would think any and all of those would be relevant, but the others mainly seem offended that he is a white boy (yes, really):
“‘We can’t do this without Cal.’ He began to pace the suite, running his hands through his hair. Hero didn’t look up from their whittling. ‘If you’re so beside yourself about it, Winslow, I can chew on toothpicks and sling racial slurs with the best of ’em. Might need to practice some, but I’m sure I can get in fightin’ shape by mornin’.’ Houndstooth laughed—a genuine, easy laugh—and then sat heavily on the bed next to Archie. ‘Look around the room, Hero. What’s missing?’ Hero glanced around the suite. ‘Palpable body odor.’ Houndstooth laughed again, but this time, the laugh seemed forced. Adelia and Archie exchanged a glance. ‘We’re missing a white boy,’ Adelia murmured, stroking her belly. ‘So what?’ Archie huffed. ‘If we need one so bad, I am sure I can drag one back up here for you, Winslow. There’s no shortage.’”
Really, you had better reasons to be a bit glad. Oh, and this is a western, if a weird one. A gunslinger is the sort of thing that would come in handy in, say, the fight at the end of the book. Of course it would have been good not to hand over your guns to the big bad too. (Don’t just hand over your guns is the most effective political message in The River of Teeth.)
Adelia is a contract killer. She is also very pregnant, which would seem pretty dang relevant, but has the main apparent purpose of giving her an excuse to say things like this:
“‘When my little nina is born, she will ride with me, and she will be just as strong as I am. Stronger, perhaps.’ ‘What if it’s a boy?’ Neville asked, clutching at the saddle. ‘It won’t be a boy.’ Neville stared at her for a few moments without speaking, his eyes lingering on her belly. ‘You are wondering about the father,’ she said, unsmiling. Neville stammered an incoherent denial, his blush destroying his credibility. ‘There is no father,’ Adelia said. ‘There is a man who gave me the child I wanted from him.’ Neville stared hard at his hands. ‘Alright ma’am,’ he whispered, mortified. She grinned at his embarrassment. ‘I am not ashamed, boy. I have no need of a husband. This girl will have no need of a father. Perhaps a second mother, someday—but if not?’ She shrugged. ‘It makes no difference.’
Contrary to what the movies might lead you to believe, contract killing is not conducive to single parenting.
There is also an evil casino owner standing in as big bad (so long as the ferals rule the dammed up Mississippi, it isn’t good for anything by casino boats). He doesn’t twirl a mustache, to my recollection, but he is otherwise a bland plot device, showing up exactly when and where you would expect him to, doing exactly what you would expect him to do.
Gailey does decent work when she can bear to be subtle. An unasked question about Hero calls back to and contrasts with an indirect question regarding the contrast between Houndstooth’s appearance and his accent early, and an unasked question about Hero a bit later. The romance between Houndstooth and Hero is touching and vulnerable. I love the fact that the Bureau of Land Management isn’t paying Houndstooth to solve the problem; they’re paying him to make it the Coast Guard’s problem.
But Gailey rarely has the confidence as a writer to make anything subtle. She usually opts instead to hit the reader over the head with it like a meteor hammer. And while it was the extreme wokeness that had me rolling my eyes, that’s a distraction from the fact that this simply isn’t a good book. I made the mistake of picking up The River of Teeth at the same time as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ At the Earth’s Core. Burroughs’ short novel zips along; Gailey’s novella drags despite its length. Very little happens, and what does happen is dull and trite. Reading without the benefit of a map, I was left very confused by the geography. The map clears some things up, but also makes clear that the climax relies on a 19th century remote detonator working at a distance of over 50 miles. The action set pieces are limp and too few. The plot twists are embarrassingly obvious. Instead of a fully satisfying conclusion, we get a hook for a sequel that, no, hard no.
If you’re looking for a weird western, you would be better off picking up The Builders, also published by Tor.com and edited by Justin Landon. Or picking up Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, which succeeds at much of what The River of Teeth tries and fails at.
The bottom line is that The River of Teeth never should have been greenlit as is. It is a book with major issues in essentially every aspect beyond the premise. It doesn’t work as a weird western. It doesn’t work as grimdark. The premise does make it work as alternate history, but I’m bored by alt-history that doesn’t have an interesting story to go along with the premise. And there is a meaness to it that turned me off, though it may appeal to the sort of reader who cheers when a character of the right ethnicity and gender dies.
But the hippos? The hippos are awesome.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of The River of Teeth from the publisher.
Wow traumatized imagining if we lived in this alternative reality
I’m grateful for WTBM’s reading challenge getting me to find a “genre bending” book, as I wouldn’t have happened upon this novella without it.
“Hopper” Winslow Houndstooth has just gotten a small fortune in US gold for a contract to remove the feral hippos from a massive bit of marsh along the southern end of the Mississippi river known as The Harriet. “Hippos?” You ask. Yes, hippos. See, this book is set it a horrific alternate universe where hippos were brought to the Americas in the 1800s to breed as a meat source. Something that we apparently narrowly avoided
Imagine if we had both hippos and those wild boar in the south? This country would have been lost long ago
Anywho, Houndstooth has plans for a grand Operation to complete the task of kicking these feral, man-eating hippos out of pure American swamp land and into the Gulf of Mexico, and it requires a group of the best.
Filled with money-hungry characters, contract killers, thugs, explosives, love, and hippos, this book is like a Western but set in a far more horrifying background. 4/5 stars it better have a sequel because That ending? whew