River of Teeth

31445891._sy475_River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (website, Twitter)

Her Grace’s rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: alternative history

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 173 pp

Published by: Tor (23 May 2017)

Sarah Gailey’s novella, River of Teeth, finds its origins in a little known yet true bill Congress had considered passing in the 1800s. This bill would have imported hippos to the Louisiana bayous to breed as an alternate meat source to cattle. As the publisher’s blurb says, this was a terrible idea. Lucky for us, it clearly didn’t happen. In this alternate history, though, it did, and now shit’s about to get real. Some hippos in the novella’s past had escaped their farms and bred and expanded indiscriminately throughout the area. These feral hippos are tremendously dangerous and like to eat people. (Trying real hard here not to make a comment about how hungry the hippos were since I’m sure it’s been said many times. They were hungry…hungry hippos.)

Former hippo farmer and mercenary hippo wrangler, Winslow Houndstooth, is hired to herd these feral hippos out of the bayou and into a safer, contained region. If they are successful, he and his crew will make a fortune and Houndstooth will get revenge for a past wrong done to him. 

This book was so much fun! I love historical history, but not so much alternative history…unless it is one like this. Gailey pulled off an engaging, boisterous tale with complex characters, complete with their own motives, skills, and backgrounds. Houndstooth was the primary character, but the others were extremely well developed, particularly given that the story was so short. 

One thing I really loved was how diverse the cast of characters is. Men and women work alongside each other nicely (mostly), there are characters of color, nonbinary characters, LGBTQ characters, a woman who is about to become a single mother by choice. So many different people are represented and I fucking love it!

Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a fast, fun, diverse read. 

 

Underground Airlines

35051774Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: William DeMerritt

Source: my own collection

Length: 9:28:00

Publisher: Hatchette Audio

Year: 2016

The premise of this alt-history novel is WHAT IF America had never had a Civil War? What if slavery was enshrined in the Constitution? There are four states – the Hard Four – which still have slavery, a highly regulated system with a lot of checks and balances. People like to think that it is not the slavery of the 1800s or even “fifty years ago,” but those people are incorrect. And it’s fucking slavery. Enter Victor, a young man who had once been a slave himself and managed to escape. He maintains his freedom by working for a shady government official as a runaway slave catcher, a job he is very good at but which gives him a great deal of conflict. His newest case is to track down a runaway named Jackdaw who is thought to be headed to Indianapolis. Along the way, Victor encounters shades of his past that he had tried to escape or push down, and learns that even the shady people he reluctantly works for are not at all what they appear to be.

This was a horrifying book, mostly because I don’t think something like this is really that far from truth. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to envision an America that still has slavery, judging from the revolting news we see everyday. There is rampant racism and neonazis and white supremacists and other disgusting groups who would probably jump at a chance to live in a world Winters portrays here. The poverty wages that many, many people earn are hardly better than slavery in this country, and in many other countries, there are sweathouse jobs that I would argue do constitute slavery conditions. So yeah, this book was terrifying. It is too easy to see this as reality. Let’s keep books like this fiction.

For as horrifying as I found this book to be, I was actually kind of bored with it. I thought the pacing was uneven and the plot a bit disjointed. It made it hard for me to follow at times. The characters as well felt rather flat and were hard to connect with. The narrator did a great job, though, using a variety of voices to differentiate everyone, which made it more appealing to listen to. I would still recommend this book, but perhaps not as an audiobook. I think I might have been more interested if I had eyeball read it instead. Maybe. I still think the characters would have felt one-dimensional and the pacing would still be uneven.