Wednesday, 26 July 2017

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey is a novella that I was a bit torn about picking up. On the one hand, it features hippos, my favourite animals, but on the other hand, it seemed to be a bit of a western (although, technically, all the action takes place in the south, it definitely takes cues from westerns). In the end, I bought it because a) hippos and b) I had seen some good reviews.

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.

This is certainly the most diverse western I've ever seen, at least when it comes to the composition of the main band of misfits. The main group of five contains two women, two men and a gender queer person; only one of them is a white guy. This allowed the narrative to touch on a few things that would affect women and non-white people more than white guys. That said, all of the miscellaneous background and minor and/or antagonistic characters except for one (a bartender near the start) were male. A bit more variety on that front, like female henchmen, would not have hurt. That's a fairly minor quibble, though.

My main problem with this book was the violence. There was a lot of pointless bloodshed, cruelty and murder, and not just on the part of the bad guys. This is one of the general things I dislike about westerns (the other major one being the usual sausagefests). It's not that I object to violence in books, but I prefer it to have at least a bit of a purpose. And that's just the human-on-human violence. There was also a significant amount of hippo-on-hippo violence (mostly feral hippos in the background, OK, fine), (feral) hippo-on-human violence, and human-on-(feral)-hippo violence. That was pretty upsetting to read, especially the extreme bloodlust and oddly carnivorous nature of the feral hippos. So in that respect, this was definitely not a book for me. I just like hippos too much.

Also, there was a bit near the very end which, frankly, baffled me. It's a major spoiler, so spoiler shield ahead...

I just do not understand why the bad guy blew up the dam and destroyed all of his own boats. I understand why he wanted to screw the main characters over. I understand why he wanted the feral hippos to go up river, but surely the boats represented a significant portion of his wealth? How will he be a kingpin without his casino boats?

So I don't think I'll be reading the sequel. This wasn't a bad book. The characters were certainly interesting and I am curious about what happens next... but the cover and blurb of the sequel (Taste of Marrow) do not bode well for the hippos. Fans of westerns will probably enjoy it more than I did, and I highly recommend it to fans of westerns looking for diversity in their reads.

4 / 5 stars

First published: May 2917, Tor.com
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2 (so far?) of the River of Teeth series
Format read: ePub
Source: Bought from Kobo

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