When I heard this one was all about an alternate history where the US Government decided to farm hippos in the everglades, I had to have it…
In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
Well this is fun! Gailey has perfectly paced this rip-roaring alternate historical adventure that mostly features Winslow Houndstooth. However, this story is an ensemble piece where a group of hard-edged characters are assembled to undertake the caper, or operation, whereby they drive the feral hippos out of the Harriet, this enclosed area that was once one of the foremost hippo breeding farms in the States.
All these folk are people you wouldn’t wish to meet in a dark alley – tough and battle-wary as they are.
We also meet up with some of the domesticated hippos, the star being Ruby, who is small, dark-skinned, smart and loyal. She is a hopper – a hippo bred for wrangling the herds of larger hippos, but who actually is Winslow’s best friend. He is determined to pull off this operation with his hand-picked crew, as it pays extremely well while also planning a side-dish of revenge along the way. However, events rapidly spin out of control as Gailey isn’t afraid to off some of her leading characters – the sudden death of one in particular rather winded me.
This novella certainly packs a punch, with Gailey effectively handling the pacing of events throughout the narrative timeline so that the climactic scene works really well. This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos… Of course, there also has to be an antagonist in this scenario and Gailey provides us with someone suitably powerful and menacing with just the right amount of nastiness.
All in all, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story with an original premise I thoroughly enjoyed. I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for A Taste of Marrow, due to be released in September.