When I heard that River of Teeth was a western with hippos, I knew I had to read it. It’s set in an alternate history where hippos were introduced to America as an alternate meat source. Apparently, this was an actual thing that the US government considered, and sensibly rejected.

It’s not a caper; it’s an operation.

However Sarah Gailey reimagines the Louisana swamps as home to these unpredictable beasts, and the people who wrangle them. The hippos replace both cows and horses in this “western” which isn’t set in the west but it certainly has many hallmarks of the genre.

Winslow Houndstooth is rounding up a team to take on a job, to clear out the feral hippos from the area and send them on their way down the Mississippi. Houndstooth also has a spot of revenge to take care of too and it all fits nicely together. The feral hippos lurk in the shadow of a floating casino, waiting for cheats and other unlucky fellas to be thrown overboard. As one can imagine, the owner of the casino isn’t exactly a nice chap.

It’s fun, how could it not be? I did find it a bit unsubstantial though, like it didn’t quite suit being a novella. There are quite a few characters and as soon as I felt I’d just got to know them all it was all over a bit too quickly. There’s a sequel so I wonder if reading them back-to-back would help solve this.

The idea was this: import hippos and raise them in Louisiana’s bayous. The hippos would eat the ruinously invasive water hyacinth; the American people would eat the hippos; everyone would go home happy. Well, except the hippos. They’d go home eaten.

The cast is diverse; there’s a point where they need someone to collect some explosives but it’s revealed no one is suitable because they are expecting a white man. I think that’s the first point race is mentioned, which challenges how you imagine the characters. There is also a non-binary character, described using the singular they, whose appearance is never described.

Read Harder: A western

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Book Source: Purchased