There are books that I ignore until I get a solid personal recommendation, those that win me over only with rave reviews, and those that I warm to, like, immediately. Sarah Gailey’s alternate history of an American west overrun by feral hippos is definitely the latter.
In her review of the first volume, River of Teeth, NPR reviewer and former Black Gate blogger Amal El-Mohtar said:
In 1909, the United States was suffering a shortage of meat. At the same time, Louisiana’s waterways were being choked by invasive water hyacinth. Louisiana Congressman Robert F. Broussard proposed an ingenious solution to both those problems: Import hippos to eat the water hyacinth; then, eat the hippos.
Luckily for the United States in our timeline, the fact that hippos are ill-tempered apex predators not amenable to being ranched was pointed out, the American Hippo Bill failed to pass by a single vote, and consequently, we don’t have hippos casually chomping on passers-by due to a lack of their usual forage. Sarah Gailey’s imagined United States, however, are differently fortuned.
Winslow Remington Houndstooth, former hippo rancher, current ne’er-do-well for hire, accepts a commission from the U.S. government to get the feral hippos out of a marshy, dammed up stretch of the Mississippi River. He assembles a motley crew of hippo wranglers — with ancillary skills involving demolition, poison, disguise, and murder — to assist with the job. Unfortunately for them, one man is quite invested in the hungry, hungry hippos remaining precisely where they are — and the bad blood between him and Houndstooth goes back a very long way.
I loved the atmosphere and dimensions of Gailey’s world… River of Teeth is a wonderfully original debut, guaranteed to cast long, sinister shadows over beloved family board games for years to come.
River of Teeth (2017) was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards; the sequel Taste of Marrow was published by Tor.com the same year. Last year Tor.com published both in a handsome omnibus edition, American Hippo, which also included two new stories and a brief timeline; if you know what a sucker I am for omnibus volumes, you know how irresistible this book was. I ordered a copy shortly after it was published.
American Hippo was published by Tor.com on May 22, 2018. It is 298 pages, priced at $19.99 in trade paperback and $7.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Gregory Manchess.