By: Sarah Gailey
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Series: River of Teeth (#1)
I haven’t read a book I had this much fun with in a long while. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey is simply pure fun, filled with wonderfully memorable characters, and lots of hippos. It’s the sort of book you can get lost in, the one you can’t wait to finish but don’t want to end.
The main character is Winslow Houndstooth, a mercenary hippo wrangler living in 1890s Louisiana. In the swampland are hippos. Some live on farms. The rest live in the murky waters of the swamps, feral and dangerous. And its Houndstooth’s job to get rid of the ones who’ve made a home for themselves in the Mississippi river.
There are a decent number of characters, most of whom have a few pages of introduction before Houndstooth officially recruits them for his team. They are a wonderful, very varied bunch of people. Despite having little room page wise to set up so many characters, their backstory, and personalities. Yet, it works wonderfully. All of these characters are larger than life, all of them are the sort of character you want to read about forever. In particular I enjoyed Archie, a woman who can make anyone do anything, and Hero, a nonbinary mercenary hippo wrangler who comes out of retirement for one last mission.
While the world the story is set in is more or less our own, there are several major differences. Firstly, there are the hippos. The idea is actually one with the US government conceived in the early 1900s but ultimately didn’t think was a good idea. Here, though, hippos have lived in the marshes, swamps, and rivers of the southern United States for some time, used for everything from transportation to food. Secondly, it is a history with dapper hats and beautiful dresses and filled with queer individuals who aren’t discriminated against. So if you’re looking for lots of action, adventure, and no one being targeted due to their gender, sexuality, or race, this is a book you’ll want to pick up.
The actual caper (yes, Houndstooth, it is a caper) begins somewhere around the halfway point of the novella. It might take a bit to get there, but it is well worth the wait. The story is pure fun. It’s one of the best adventure stories I’ve read in a very long time. There’s danger all around – the hippos, the swamp, and some people who might not be exactly as they seem.
The art on the book’s cover by Richard Anderson is utterly gorgeous, capturing the eerie swamp and a shadowy figures on hippo-back. This unknown world is reflected in the story. The swamps are dangerous. No one knows precisely what’s underwater, and if it’s a feral hippo, you aren’t getting away. There is a real sense of danger before the group even makes it to their destination. The swamps are full of hippos, and even tame hippos are dangerous.
River of Teeth
River of Teethis more than just a hippo wrangling, though. It is a story of revenge, and maybe of love, too. We see the idea of revenge for past wrongs from several different perspectives. Some understand why Houndstooth is so driven. Others don’t. Some don’t understand until they, too, crave revenge. Seeing these differing and, at times, shifting perspectives on revenge and whether it is right or wrong, all consuming or a next logical step was really interesting and an aspect I loved.
Now, if you don’t like endings with cliffhangers I’d suggest picking up the recently released American Hippo by Sarah Gailey. This is a compilation of both River of Teeth and the second book in the series Taste of Marrow. In all, I loved River of Teeth and you can be certain I’m going to pick up a copy of the second book very soon.