“Years ago, in an America that never was, the United States government introduced herds of hippos to the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This plan failed to take into account some key facts about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
By the 1890s, the vast bayou that was once America’s greatest waterway belongs to feral hippos, and Winslow Houndstooth has been contracted to take it back. To do so, he will gather a crew of the damnedest cons, outlaws, and assassins to ever ride a hippo. American Hippo is the story of their fortunes, their failures, and his revenge.” (via Goodreads)
Oh American Hippo, do you know how kick-ass you are? Gailey’s book collects two novellas, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, as well as two short stories, Worth Her Weight in Gold and Nine and a Half. I’ve already reviewed Sarah Gailey’s tremendous debut novella River of Teeth, so this review will cover the remaining three tales.
Taste of Marrow picks up not long after where River of Teeth left off. Things aren’t looking good for the Harriet crew. Adelia is wandering through swampland with her newborn and a still-recovering Hero. A group of men ambush them and run off with baby Ysabel, leaving Adelia furious and vengeful . As much as Hero wants to find the love of their life, it wouldn’t be much of a life worth living if it meant abandoning a bereft mother and potentially orphaning an innocent child. Meanwhile, Winslow Houndstooth is desperate to find Hero. All his time is spent pouring over maps and theories. Archie hasn’t yet given up trying to drag him out of his black hole of obsession, but she’s running out of options and patience. An old enemy reappears and tries to do what Travers couldn’t: use Houndstooth, Archie, Hero, and Adela to consolidate power over the Harriet swamp. For the quartet, finding their way back to each other is harder than it seems when kidnappers, mercenaries, blackmailers, swindlers, law enforcement, and feral hippos stand between them.
The short stories are set before the events of River of Teeth but directly reference Houndstooth-related things mentioned within. While not vital to the novella duology, they are both great little tales that add to Gailey’s fascinating world. Neither work very well as standalones- you really need a grounding in the world of American Hippos in order to fully grasp what’s going on – but are perfect as tasty desserts after the fabulous meal that are the novellas.
Gailey is an infuriatingly good writer. She can tell a story that is a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day and a punch to the face with a pair of brass knuckles all at the same time. Taste of Marrow isn’t quite as strong as River of Teeth, in that it feels less like a complete novella and more like the other half of River of Teeth. We don’t learn anything new about our protagonists, and their character arcs aren’t as sharp as they could be. But I can handwave all that away. For me, the alternate history Gailey built is just so damn intriguing and the characters so immensely compelling that the weaker elements fall to the wayside. I loved American Hippos, and that, my friends, is all that really matters to me.
Houndstooth walked into the darkening trees. As the buzz of nocturnal insects began to rise, he let himself get lost on the little islet. He let himself get lost in the dark, and he let himself cry, although he couldn’t have said what exactly the tears were for any more than he could have said who it was that he had truly been shouting at back at the camp. He wandered until it was too dark to see the trees in front of him, and then he sat on the ground and put his face in his hands and wondered if he could ever find his way back.
Thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this from an indie bookstore or get it from your local public library.