"This book was so much fun! I love historical history, but not so much alternative history...unless it is one like this."
Sarah Gailey’s novella, River of Teeth, finds its origins in a little known yet true bill Congress had considered passing in the 1800s. This bill would have imported hippos to the Louisiana bayous to breed as an alternate meat source to cattle. As the publisher’s blurb says, this was a terrible idea. Lucky for us, it clearly didn’t happen. In this alternate history, though, it did, and now things are going sideways. Some hippos in the novella’s past had escaped their farms and bred and expanded indiscriminately throughout the area. These feral hippos are tremendously dangerous and like to eat people. (Trying real hard here not to make a comment about how hungry the hippos were since I’m sure it’s been said many times. They were hungry...hungry hippos.)
Former hippo farmer and mercenary hippo wrangler, Winslow Houndstooth, is hired to herd these feral hippos out of the bayou and into a safer, contained region. If they are successful, he and his crew will make a fortune and Houndstooth will get revenge for a past wrong done to him.
This book was so much fun! I love historical history, but not so much alternative history...unless it is one like this. Gailey pulled off an engaging, boisterous tale with complex characters, complete with their own motives, skills, and backgrounds. Houndstooth was the primary character, but the others were extremely well developed, particularly given that the story was so short. Houndstooth was haunted, driven by the injustices of his past, and yet he grows beyond that and is a good person at heart. Hero, Archie, Adelia, and Cal all play off each other well and the dynamic of the team is by turns playful and deadly. It is a well-rounded and potent group of mercenaries, killers, and explosive specialists, to be sure!
One thing I really loved was how diverse the cast of characters was, especially considering that it is set in the 1890s South not long after the Civil War. Men and women work alongside each other nicely (mostly), there are characters of color, nonbinary characters, LGBTQ characters, and a woman who is about to become a single mother by choice. So many different people are represented and I loved it!
Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a fast, fun, diverse read.
© Kristen McQuinn