River of Teeth by Sarah Gaiely. ★★★★
River of Teeth is more awesomeness than I thought could ever be packed into one novella. This little book is sheer fun!
I’ve been wanting to read this novella ever since I saw Sarah Gailey’s tweets about the history behind it. Basically, in 1909, America was facing two problems: a meat shortage and invasive plants in the Mississippi. Well, one U.S. congressman had a bright idea. We could import hippos to live in the Mississippi. They’d eat the invasive plants and provide a source of meat. Brilliant, right? The rest of Congress certainly thought so. The motion failed by only one vote. Presumably because someone finally pointed out that hippos are the most dangerous African mega-fauna. But if the vote had gone another way, what would America have been like? River of Teeth is a story of the American Hippo, although set earlier than the real world history that inspired it.
Enter Winslow Houndstooth, a former hippo rancher who is planning what’s most definitely not a caper. It’s an operation, all perfectly legal and above board! He’s been hired to move a bunch of feral hippos from damned off basin in the Mississippi out into coast, to open the river back up to shipping traffic. What the coast guard will think of this plan, no one’s bothered asking. Anyway, he’s got plans for how to transport these hippos in one fell swoop… and get some revenge in the process. But to carry off his plan, he needs a crew.
That’s right, this is a heist story! A hippo heist. And oh my goodness is the heist crew wonderful. They’re a bisexual hippo cowboy, a nonbinary demolitions expert, a French conwoman, and a pregnant assassin. Anyone of those character descriptions is someone I’d love to read about. Put them all together and this book practically explodes awesomeness and queer goodness. God, this book made me so happy.
I could have rushed through the entire novella in one sitting, but I parceled it out to savor it. Part of me wishes it was longer — I think the story could have benefited from being more in depth. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for shorter stories. Plus, Sarah Gailey’s writing a sequel! You can bet that I’ll be reading it.
In short, everything I’ve read by Sarah Gailey has been delightful, and River of Teeth is no exception. I’d heartily recommend it.