River of Teeth
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This review will be short. I don't recommend this. The premise was intriguing, but the execution left a lot to be desired. I didn't do any research on the idea myself, but I'll take Gailey's word that early in the 20th Century someone thought it would be a good idea to import the hippopotamus to America to be bred for its meat. Didn't happen of course, but Gailey presents it as an alternate history scenario, although the time period is moved back about a half century, so we get a story about hippo wranglers (hoppers) in the style of a western.
The main character is Winslow Houndstooth (alternately spelled Hounds-Tooth for some reason), an Englishman who emigrated to Georgia to work on a hippo ranch, later owner of his own ranch, which was destroyed in a mysterious fire. Now he's out for revenge. He supposedly has a government contract to rid an area of the Mississippi River of herds of feral hippos, but that may be a ruse to pursue whoever was responsible for the fire. He gathers a weird group of characters to help on the mission; an overweight French-American woman, nicknamed Archie, noted for thievery and cons; Calhoun, a quick-draw gunfighter who had previously worked on Houndstooth's ranch; Hero, a demolitions expert; and Adelia, a woman who is either a killer-for-hire, or else someone who is just fond of killing.
The major faults are rudimentary characterizations, illogical plot holes, and what I believe are innacuracies concerning hippo behavior. It is stated that they cannot travel very far on land, they need to be in a river or lake most of the time. Someone says they don't think there are any hippos in California since there are no marshes, which I'm sure is wrong, besides there are plenty of rivers and lakes. Just about everyone continues to do stupid things, the same type of stupid things repeatedly, and Houndstooth for one misses so many glaring clues right in front of him. Several characters are dispatched early on, prompting the question of why they were introduced in the first place. The biggest plot mistake is the author seems to think that a lake is formed below a dam rather than behind it, and one of the villains thinks it a good idea to blow up the dam when he is below it himself. I can forgive the anachronistic depiction of gay, bi, and gender fluid characters. It's an alternate world, one in which such behavior doesn't always have to be kept hidden. I also don't have a problem with the use of the singular 'they' for a certain character, except when it's presented in such a way that the others apparently know that's how they want to be addressed, when there is no indication they ever told others that's how they wanted to be addressed.
This is from the Tor.com novella program, which has seen quite a few very good stories over the past few years, several being award winners or finalists. This is also not the first of their novellas to have sequels, but I have to wonder why they weren't held for a single, novel-length edition. The links I'm providing are for the paperback editions, which I believe are over-priced, but the Kindle versions are more reasonable. I won't bother with the follow up to this one, but if anything I've said intrigues you enough to read River of Teeth, then you might be interested in Taste of Marrow.
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