Monday, October 09, 2017

River of Teeth - Sarah Gailey



River of Teeth
Sarah Gailey
Tom Doherty Books

Alternate History

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s never been more true than now.  One of the great, unsung benefits to reading widely, in many different genres, is that you often learn about things that seem like they should be fiction, but are, in fact, true.  For instance:  back in the early 1900s, there was a serious meat shortage in the United States.  So, one enterprising Congressman from Louisiana came up with a truly unique plan.  He wanted to import herds of hippos into the American South.  The hippos would live in the swampy bayous, would eat a swamp plant that was a nuisance, and the people would eat the hippos.  This Congressman was clearly unaware that an angry hippo can move (and destroy) like a freight train, and snap a person in half with little to no effort.  The law never passed, of course, but if it had… well, if it had, this story might very well have happened.

This book tells the story of a ragtag bunch of misfits and mercenaries, hired by the government to clear feral hippos from a large section of the Mississippi River.  This section, called The Harriet, is a sort of no-man’s-land.  The feral hippos look at everything as food or enemy.  Pretty much in that order.  The leader of the group, Winslow Houndstooth, once had a hippo ranch.  He raised them; he loved them.  Then, his ranch was burned to the ground, hippos and all.  Winslow burns for revenge.  For himself, and for the animals who died so horribly.

To fulfill his contract, Winslow gathers his team:  Archie, a self-proclaimed “fat lady” and con artist extraordinaire; Hero, a demolition expert with a certain something extra; Cal, a former ranch hand, and degenerate gambler; and Adelia, the most dangerous killer known to anyone.   Of course, there are others whose interests run counter to the government’s.  Those others have a lot of money riding on their plans, and they intend to stop Houndstooth and his group by any means necessary.

This story is kind of a Wild West story, transplanted to the Old South.  With hippos instead of horses.  Here, hippos also serve as mounts and pack animals.  There’s humor, but there’s also a lot of unrepentant violence.  People die, horribly, no matter which side they’re on.  I’d go so far as to say that this story might not be for everyone, but if your mind is open enough to contemplate an alternate history, you’re probably going to enjoy this story of what might have been.

Rating: 8.5
May 2017

ISBN# 978-0-7653-9523-8 (trade paperback)

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