Review—River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

I’ll admit it. When I read that Sarah Gailey’s new book was going to feature hippos, I was incredulous. How could it possibly work? How could I put aside the disbelief of hippos being used like horses and pay attention to the story?

It’s a testament to Sarah Gailey’s skill as a writer that if was, in fact, quite easy–not to mention the fact that I actually sort of fell in love with the hippos as much as I did their riders.

The story itself was a gleeful, violent, Wild West Ocean’s 11-esque caper (yes, caper) on hippos, and it hooked me immediately. The characters’ names are amazing, as are their characteristics. There’s Winslow Houndstooth the Mastermind, Regina Archambault the “assets master,” we’ll say, Hero Shackleby the munitions expert, Calhoun Hotchkiss the card sharp, and Adelia Reyes the assassin (who I might want to be when I grow up).

Gailey’s mastery of her characters and story makes this slim novella crackle with life, and I found it nearly impossible to put the book down. The control necessary to integrate readers into the arc of such a complex cast of characters and their stories in a tight number of pages is immense, and Gailey pulls it off beautifully.

This is the first longer work from Sarah Gailey, but many of us have feasted on her previous short fiction and nonfiction (not to mention her tweets). I can only imagine we’ll see plenty more from her in the years to come. Check out her website and her list of publications (many of which I’ve used in the classroom, by the way) here.

About the Book:

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.

About Sarah:

Hugo and Campbell award finalist Sarah Gailey is an internationally-published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and she is a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. Her most recent fiction credits include Mothership Zeta, Fireside Fiction, and the Speculative Bookshop Anthology. Her debut novella, River of Teeth, comes out in May 2017. She has a novel forthcoming from Tor Books in Spring 2019. Gailey lives in beautiful Oakland, California with her husband and two scrappy dogs. You can find links to her work at www.sarahgailey.com; find her on social media @gaileyfrey.

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