**This book was reviewed for Macmillan-Tor/ Forge via Netgalley
River of Teeth hits you with the two-ton force of a raging bull hippo, dragging you down into the depths of well-wrought words. This is an alternate earth story of what life might have been like if the US went ahead with plans to import hippos to the marshlands of the south as a food source. This plan really was considered once, but discarded for the simple fact that hippos are damn dangerous. Temperamental and vicious, they are prone to attacking without provocation. Even the towering elephant and the short-sighted rhino, while dangerous in their own right, are not as ferocious.
Winslow Houndstooth is a man with a singular goal- revenge. Revenge against the ones responsible for his ranch burning, slaughtering his hundred plus hippos. He’s not a hero… but he could be. Winslow is a mercenary of sorts now, and his most recent client is the US government. He’s to clear an area of marshland known as the Harriet of its feral hippo population. To do this, Winslow needs a team with very specialised skills. There’s Hero, the demolitions expert, sharpshooter Calhoun, Adelia, the assassin, skilled in knife play, and grifter Archie, who is skilled in the use of a ball-n-chain weapon she calls a meteor hammer. Not everyone in this group is on the best of terms, and one can be dangerous just for the hells of it, but they’ve agreed to work together for a nice payout.
Of course, nothing is ever simple. Disaster strikes early on with an attack by a rogue feral before they’ve even reached the Harriet. Then there’s the little matter of river casino owner Travers who operates out of the Harriet and uses the ferals as a deterrent to cheaters or those who cause other problems. Despite his oily slick facade of cooperation, Travers has no intention of allowing anything to happen to his ferals. Betrayal from within shatters the company, leaving more than one dead or dying, and their mission more broken than they ever could imagine.
This was storyweaving at it’s finest. It’s got it all- witty dialogue, non-mushy romance, wonderful worldbuilding, and women who are kick-ass in their own right. With these diverse characters, and the initial nature of the caper (I mean, the operation), I was strongly reminded of the show Leverage. I could easily imagine our mastermind, Winslow, uttering Nate’s signature phrase “Let’s go steal a …..”, filling in marsh. But never has such terrible betrayal fractured the trust between the Leverage team.
I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that part of the personality and character traits woven into the story included diverse sexual orientation as well. It is neatly done, being just another subtle element, but it was unique in my reading experience. In other books (thus far) that I’ve read, if that diversity is there, you are bludgeoned with it, as if to force acknowledgement. Here, it is as it should be, in both stories, and in real-life, a blended aspect that simple just is, with no need for justification. There’s a person who is bi, a person who seems to favour only their own gender, a person who has a non-binary orientation. The latter was handled very well.
I devoured River of Teeth in a day, and I’m ready for Taste of Marrow!