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Sunday, January 7, 2018
RIVER OF TEETH, implausible, delightful, engaging and entertaining
RIVER OF TEETH
SARAH GAILEY (River of Teeth #1)
$3.99 eBook platforms, available now
Rating: 3.5* of five
The Publisher Says: 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.
My Review: Okay, there's this little-known weirdness about the Congress actually considering the importation of hippos for real in the early 20th century...see my four-year-old review of the Kindle Single for my take on that...but it went nowhere, thankfully.
Also thankfully Sarah Gailey got wind of this deliciously loopy piece of fucked-up thinking. This novella is a terrific playful use of reality's undercooked braining. I can't be any more pleased about that.
I could be a bit more pleased about the novella. No. WINKING! Not at all, not ever, not even the three times in this book. *ahem*
But the main source of my discontent is the slightness of the characterization of Winslow, our "British"-or-maybe-not hero. He's very intriguing which is the source of my mild disgruntlement. Just as we're getting to know him, *whiz* offstage he goes with Archie the stout and stout-hearted confidence trickster...and just as *she* is getting interesting, what with her tendresse for U.S. Marshal Gran! Who barely registers before his search for the evil Adelia fails and he has to get our non-binary fascinator Hero to medical help...
...am I making myself clear? There is a LOT going on in these pages, all of it fun, much of it necessary, and some of it far too glossed over. More room for Mama's goodness, please. Yes, there's a sequel and I will be reading it soonest, but this is literary coitus interruptus.
I was delighted by the comeuppance delivered to the very appropriate party at the end; I was hugely relieved that the author provided us with a timeline at the end of the book; but really, there's only one thing that I can't explain away or make better with rationalizations: Handwaving away the Civil War. This wasn't a fixable slip-up. The fact is that hippos in the Civil War would've changed things drastically given the location of the Harriet (our lawless, feral hippo-infested stretch of Mississippi marsh). Its construction in Louisiana would've made the economy of the state radically different; its slave or free labor demands would've changed the military calculus of the region in extremely significant ways.
So I'll accept a gayish hero, I'll go along with a non-binary person passing unchallenged, yup yup okey dokey mm hmm, but not the unchanged Civil War. That by itself would've cost a less gung-ho gonzo nuts author with a blah little idea all but one star. You, Sarah Gailey, disappointed me where a less talented writer would've made me snort derisively, roll my eyes, and Pearl Rule this bad boy. You're capable of better thinking than this elision of a central fact of US history.