REVIEW: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

In Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth a crew of badarses try to clean out an artificial marshland packed to the shores with thousands of wild hippos for a big fat pay check. For the benefit of the reader, this is not a simple a story as that sounds, and the characters and their histories and goals turn this into a bloody quagmire of twists and turns, betrayals and bloody deaths–and a little bit of romance on the side.

Cover for River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Our protagonist in River of Teeth, Hounds Tooth, has a job from the government with enough money as pay that he can go buy a parcel of marshland for he and his hippo and settle down. He’s not doing it for government, or the people. He is kind of doing it for the money. And he is definitely doing it for the revenge. And he’ll be doing it astride a 3,000 pound hippo.

To complete his mission, Hounds Tooth needs a crew. Much like Daniel Polansky’s The Builders, River of Teeth has an absolutely lovable cast of ne’er do wells brought together to embark on a caper (operation). I don’t know why I love it when authors write about a group of badarses who hurt people put together to achieve a thing that might kill them and / or a bunch of other people, and there are traitors and scores to be settled amongst them (let alone with their enemies), but it is my sweet spot at the moment. In this crew we have a demo expert, a French conwoman, the most dangerous killer to have ever lived (who is also pregnant), and the fastest gun in the land. All with their own hippos and problems and agendas.

Gailey packs a lot into River of Teeth. On top of a brilliant cast and a barnstorming storyline, the author has created an alternate history in the deep south of the US–a world where hippos were brought into the States as a food source (which, according to the author’s foreward, was very nearly an actual thing at one point!). Some went feral, took over a major swamp owned by a nasty piece of work named Travers who used them as garbage disposal for those who needed removing from his floating casinos, bred like crazy for a few generations, and created an excellent ongoing big bad for our story to play out against.

This is my second time reading River of Teeth, and I absolutely loved it. There is plenty to love here for the grimdark fan: morally grey characters, conflicting points of view, plenty of personal flaws on display, competing goals and some serious scores to settle–and that’s just amongst the crew we follow through the story. River of Teeth is just bloody brilliant reading; just an awesome way to spend a few hours in the imagination of a magnificent fantasy story teller.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.