American Hippo is not one novel; it is a collection of two novellas and two short stories, all set in the same alternate universe. The two novellas, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, are two complete stories that tell a larger story when combined. The two short stories, “Nine and a Half” and “Worth Her Weight in Gold”, are vignettes that add color and additional detail to the novellas. Finally, I gave a brief review of River of Teeth earlier, when I reviewed the finalists for the Nebula and Hugo awards. It did not win the Nebula; the Hugo has not yet been announced.
I was pleased that I didn’t read River of Teeth before Taste of Marrow was published even if I didn’t read it right away. Although River of Teeth tells a complete story, there are still stories left to tell about some of the characters. Those stories, the most pressing at least, are told in Taste of Marrow. The ending of that story wraps everything up, although there are still more stories that could be told in this universe.
The alternate universe in which American Hippo is set is one in which a plan debated in the U. S. Congress in the early twentieth century was actually carried out in 1857. Hippos were imported and raised in the Louisiana bayous for meat. Since horses aren’t well-designed for working in rivers and marshes, other hippos were raised and trained to herd the meat hippos. Basically, instead of the Wild West, you have the Wild Mississippi or the Wild Bayous or the Wild Delta.
The stories are essentially Westerns set in that universe. River of Teeth is a caper (“It’s not a caper; it’s an operation! All legal and above-board!”) in which the feral hippos fenced in at the mouth of the Mississippi are to be released into the Gulf of Mexico. This goes as well as you would expect, with deaths, and life-threatening injuries, to the main characters. Taste of Marrow follows the survivors of the original crew through the aftermath, consequences, and the one mystery barely hinted at in the first story.
Finally, apparently one of the things that went right in this universe (hippos are just different) is that women and LGBTQ+ people are much more acceptable than they are in ours. In a group of five highly talented and dangerous (admittedly criminal) people, two are women, one is nonbinary, and four are bi or gay. Not something I expect would have been accepted in our Wild West.
All in all, these were delightful stories and I enjoyed them. Highly recommended.
Gailey, Sarah. American Hippo. New York: Tor.com Books, 2018. Kindle edition. Amazon.