Book: River of Teeth
Author: Sarah Gailey
Genre: sci-fi / alternate history
What it’s about: In the early 1900s the United States Congress briefly considered importing hippos into the American South– this is the story of what might’ve happened if they followed through. Houndstooth is a hopper–basically a cowboy with a hippo–who, along with his merry band of friends and criminals, is planning an operation to take on a notorious gangster and hopefully get some revenge in the process. But with dangerous feral hippos prowling the swamps of the Mississippi, associates with old grudges and uncertain motives, and a whole lot of explosives there’s no way things can go that smoothly.
My thoughts: I want to start by saying that, yes, this was a real thing that Congress considered doing in the early 1900s to deal with a huge meat shortage. You can read the short version here or the longer version that first inspired Gailey’s story here. So, while this particular story of hippo cowboys might never have come to pass, there was a brief moment in history where the idea of hippo farms across the American South was a very real possibility.
This was such an interesting story, combining this possibility of hippos being imported to the U.S. with cowboys and tying it all together with a giant caper story. And somehow it all worked! I’m always fascinated by stories that create really distinctive worlds and play with surprising and inventive ideas. So hippos in America? Yeah, that was about all it took to sell me on this book. The characters were interesting and always more complicated than they at first–or even second–glance appeared.
I did find the story a bit difficult to keep up with at times. I don’t know if this was a by-product of the fact that it’s a novella and so some of the events and explanations are a bit more rushed than they would be otherwise or because I was listening to it on audio and would invariable get distracted. Who knows. That one might’ve been on me, but I would say it was my only big complaint.
Still, it’s an incredibly interesting story, if sometimes hard to follow, and has great bisexual and nonbinary representation–and does a lot more justice than most of the more ‘historically accurate’ cowboy stories of representing just how diverse (and non-white and non-straight) that group tended to be. Overall, quite enjoyable and a very, very fascinating thought experiment! I definitely think I’ll be checking out the sequel sometime soon.
TL;DR: Hippos, cowboys, explosions, alternate history– what more do you want?
“WINSLOW REMINGTON HOUNDSTOOTH was not a hero. There was nothing within him that cried out for justice or fame. He did not wear a white hat—he preferred his grey one, which didn’t show the bloodstains.”