River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey
Series: River of Teeth, Book One
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sarah Gailey’s wildfire debut River of Teeth is a rollicking alternate history adventure that Charlie Jane Anders calls “preposterously fun.”
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.
People of Color
Multiple Character Cast
Content Warning for:
Explicit Descriptions of Body Mutilation
Death/Murder of Secondary Characters, Including a Kid
Feral Hippos Eating People
Flashback of Death of Animals by Burning
This book has hippos. You need to read it. You’re welcome.
Honestly, though. This is one of my rare five star reads of this year. I had such a blast reading. It was funny, adorable and, um, also really violent. The book has a multiple cast of very diverse characters and did I mention that is has hippos, people?
Speaking of, the hippos and the interactions between them and the humans were adorable, especially in the first part of the book while the characters are introduced.
Her ears twitched back and forth, impatient, and she blew a bubble at him. He laughed, earning a long, slow blink of her slanting, hooded eyes. “Okay, alright, I know. You’ve got places to be, grass to eat.” Houndstooth crouched and put a hand on either side of her broad snout. “You’re my girl, Ruby-roo,” he cooed, rubbing her whiskers. “And you’re the best gull-damned hippo there is.” With that, Ruby sank into the water and was gone.
Now while there are cute, headstrong and intelligent hippos, unfortunately, there are also some who are feral. Writing this, I come to realise that I do actually not know why they are savage and, hmmmm, that didn’t bother me while reading but now I would quite like to know more about it. Maybe the upcoming sequel will reveal more.
River of Teeth does not end on a mean cliffhanger, the main story arc is brought to a satisfactory point, but the end also leaves a lot open and sets up the next part. Since the following instalment is already coming out in September, I don’t think that’s a problem, though.
The story is told from alternating point of views and it is done well. It’s not confusing and since they are distinct and often have their own way of talking, it was not difficult to tell them apart. Most of the characters are people of color. There are two kick-arse women—oh look at this quote here:
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.”
There’s a fat character, bi/pan characters and I especially loved the non-binary one. Their name is Hero and I have to say what really impresses me is that we don’t know anything about them at all that would refer to a binary gender. The author did not tell us how Hero looked or how their voice sounded like, for instance. Well, not with regards to gender characteristics. Maybe some readers would like to know more but I think it was a great idea because it’s actually no one’s business.
To top it off, there is a super cute romance arc in this book between Hero and Winslow. *sigh* It’s only a minor part of the book but I thought it was lovely and a really nice counterpoint, because this book is kinda temporarily really quite violent. Graphic too. I am usually not a fan of it and I can’t put my finger on why it didn’t bother me here. But if you are sensitive, then you should probably proceed with caution.
Sarah Gailey is a new-to me author and I will look into more of her work. Language, dialog, characters, setting and pacing are all well-crafted and play together to make this an atmospheric and unforgettable book. Basically, this was just a very fun and inventive read with strong and diverse characters and I am super excited for Taste of Marrow. It can’t come out fast enough.
Hugo and Campbell finalist SARAH GAILEY came onto the scene in 2015 and has since become one of the sharpest, funniest voices in pop culture online. She is a regular contributor for multiple websites, including Tor.com. Her nonfiction has appeared in Mashable and The Boston Globe, and her fiction has been published internationally. She has a novel forthcoming from Tor Books in Spring 2019. She lives in Oakland, California.
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