Genre: western, historical fiction, alternate history, fantasy
Source: purchased (ebook)
River of Teeth is so far beyond what I expected that I’m not sure if I will ever be able to describe how tickled I was by this novella. There are hippos (which are terrifying, if you don’t know anything about them), their hippo-riding cowboys, a pregnant hippo-riding cowgirl, romance, murder, queer characters, people of color, knives, a gangster creep, and so much more. It’s a tense heisty crew western slice of wonderful with a side of romance.
I will admit, I judged a book by its cover. Well, its genre, because that cover is cool as hell. (Hippos!) Westerns and I… have not ever really gotten along. Had this not featured hippos nor sent me down a four-hour-long Wikipedia rabbit hole looking up “Did the federal government actually want to farm hippos? HIPPOS? Murdery water-cows?” I probably would’ve given this a hard pass. Mistake!
Due to my preemptive judgement, when I opened this ebook I was not expecting LGBTQIA+ rep because, well, unless I’ve actively sought out something that I know has queer characters, I am just prepared to be disappointed. I was not anticipating the main cast to include a nonbinary POC who is the love interest of the queer main character. (I read Houndstooth as bisexual but, as no labels are explicitly used in the text and my Googling hasn’t brought anything up, it is entirely possible that he is pansexual or another flavor of queer entirely.) It is always a delight to see marginalized characters existing and being happy. No racism, no sexism, no anti-queerness on these pages. It feeds my soul to have stories where we simply exist, where we are of no special note at all. Just a diverse group of morally questionable hippo cowboys having a caper in the bayou.
And what a caper it is.
The premise is fascinating, the plot is solid – well, there were a couple wobbles but I was too in love with this to care – and the romance is good. It has dark moments, some gory scenes, but it’s a western and one does expect some murder. Though this is a slim read at only 152 pages, it doesn’t feel rushed. It’s very satisfying to pick up and finish in just a couple of hours, to be fully enveloped in the world Gailey has crafted with such care. Its size is its strength, in my opinion. There are some dark and troubling moments*, and a scene in which I almost threw my Kindle against a wall, but if you ride it out until the end the depressing stuff resolves and doesn’t have time to grab hold that it would were this a 600 page monstrosity that takes half a day of doing nothing else to read. In such stressful times, it’s nice to ingest a story whole without worrying about the characters I love while life does its best at getting in the way.
I love this book to pieces, and I cannot wait to see where Houndstooth and the gang wind up in the second half of this duology next month.
* A spoiler for those who may be sensitive to possible death of queer characters: No Heros were mortally harmed in the making of this book. Don’t worry!