River of Teeth

Sarah Gailey. Tor.com, $2.99 e-book (192p) ISBN 978-0-7653-9522-1
Gailey’s debut novella is as intricate as her scheming characters’ plotting. In this alternate late 19th century, imported hippos have taken over the Harriet area (“not quite a lake and not quite a marsh”) of the Mississippi River. Right now the area is used for riverboat gambling, but the government wants to open it as a trade route down to the Gulf of Mexico, so former hippo breeder Winslow Houndstooth is hired to herd the feral animals into the gulf. After assembling a team gathered from the highest echelons of western novel archetypes—with some modern twists, including a genderless demolitions expert and a heavily pregnant assassin—Houndstooth develops a plan that will satisfy the requirements of the job and allow him to take revenge on the people who burned down his ranch 10 years before. The tight pace, complex relationships, and twisting motivations of the characters keep the reader engaged, and the alternate history of American hippo farming is clearly illustrated without clumsy exposition. Fans of seedy westerns will greatly enjoy this tale of gold-tusked hippos and the miscreants who ride them. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/13/2017
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