I decided to review both of Sarah Gailey’s novellas—currently collected in the volume American Hippo—in one post.
What the publisher says:
River of Teeth:
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.
Taste of Marrow:
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.
Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
River of Teeth:
A delightful premise, a diverse cast of characters, and a heckuva lot of interpersonal conflict made this novella an enjoyable read. It’s basically a Mississippian western with hippos. A southern? It’s also a caper plot, something that the characters debate at length, much to the reader’s amusement.
Winslow Houndstooth once had a hippo ranch until it was burned to the ground with his beloved hippos inside and he was forced to leave that idyllic life behind and resume a less reputable one. He’s taken on a commission from the government to blow up the dam that keeps feral hippos trapped in the Mississippi so that the river can be reclaimed for travel and commerce. The owner of a riverboat uses the ferals for his own nefarious ends, however, and he’s not interested in letting Houndstooth and his crew achieve their goal.
And Houndstooth has ulterior motivation: the riverboat owner is also the man responsible for the destruction of his ranch. If he and his crew complete the commission, he can also exact his revenge.
Taste of Marrow:
This novella continues the story of Houndstooth and his crew after the events of River of Teeth. While the dam was destroyed, the chaotic events leading up to that qualified success leave Houndstooth and his crew scattered. Houndstooth is obsessed with finding his lover Hero, denying the possibility that they may be dead. The one crew member with him, Archie, worries for Houndstooth’s sanity.
Meanwhile, Hero travels with Adelia the—retired, she insists—assassin, believing that Houndstooth was blown up along with the dam. With Hero and Adelia is Adelia’s newborn Isabel and when their erstwhile employer kidnaps Isabel to coerce Adelia out of retirement for a very special assassination, it sets Houndstooth and Archie, Hero and Adelia, and the federal Marshall who’s been trying to bring Adelia to justice, on a collision course in Baton Rouge.
Four out of five stars for both!