If you’re a regular Tor.com reader, you’re already familiar with Sarah Gailey and her brilliant Women of Harry Potter series, which received a deserved Hugo nomination for Best Related Work. Gailey also earned her way onto the John W. Campbell Award shortlist, which recognizes the best new voices in science fiction and fantasy. Remarkably, Gailey did so without ever having published anything longer than a short story. One quick look at her resume, though—I recommend starting with “Of Blood and Bronze” (Devilfish Review, 2016) or “Homesick” (Fireside, 2016)—and it’s clear why she’s included alongside other terrific authors like Ada Palmer and Kelly Robson. Gailey’s stories maintain a razor-sharp balance between amusing and emotionally affecting; her characters are interesting and unpredictable; her prose is brisk, her dialogue sharp. Gailey’s debut novella, River of Teeth, has everything that makes these short stories great, with the added benefit of room to breathe.
As Gailey explains in the book’s foreword, “In the early twentieth century, the Congress of our great nation debated a glorious plan to resolve a meat shortage in America. The plan was this: import hippos and raise them in Louisiana’s bayous.” This, of course, never came to pass—however, that didn’t stop Gailey’s imagination from running wild. River of Teeth is set in speculative America where this harebrained plan played out, and now feral hippos prowl the Harriet (a dammed up portion of the Mississippi River). Hired by the federal government to attend to the feral hippo situation, Winslow Remington Houndstooth sets out, Seven Samurai-style, to gather a team of
criminals specialists, each with a particular set of skills.
Some spoilers ahead.