Book Review: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey

In an alternate version of the Old West where people ride hippos instead of horses, Winslow Houndstooth and a team of outlaws have been hired by the government to remove the feral hippos from a certain waterway. Winslow has a plan for the hippos and for revenge against someone who wronged him, but he doesn't count on things going wrong... or falling for one of his fellow outlaws.

Book Review: American Hippo by Sarah Gailey | reading, books, book reviews, alternate history, western, lgbt+
Title: American Hippo
Pages: 304
My Rating: 4 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher


*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*

You know how some books constantly tell you how awful a character is, and said character constantly broods about how awful they are, but then the character never actually does anything awful?

American Hippo is not that book.

Within the first chapter, our protagonist, Winslow, slit a man’s nostrils and put a knife through his eye without hesitation when the man insulted his hippo and then tried to attack him. So it was kind of self-defense, but you don’t learn how to toss a knife in the air so that it lands perfectly in someone’s eye without practice, and you don’t do it all without hesitation unless you’ve done it before. Just sayin’.

And all the other main characters? They were just as bad, if not worse. These characters, they were thieves, con artists, killers. They knew what their priorities were, they knew what kind of people they were, and they were unapologetic about it. And that was what made me enjoy reading about them, even if I didn’t quite like all of them as people or didn’t agree with some of their actions. I was shown the bad that was in them, I was shown the good, and I was allowed to make my own opinions or to simply read this story about them without worrying about good or bad. But the author did manage to make me really like and care about some of them anyway. In fact, I really want to read more about Winslow and Hero and am bummed that there won’t be more books about them!

Another great thing was how much diversity/inclusivity this book had. The main characters had different ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations, and genders. There weren’t a lot of labels used, and I don’t want to make assumptions, but I do know some had dark skin, one sometimes spoke in Spanish, one was fat, one used they/them pronouns, one was was genderfluid, the main character was either bi or pansexual, and multiple characters fit into more than one marginalized group. It also seemed to be a very accepting world they lived in (or maybe just a very accepting circle of friends).

The overall stories (plural since this book was a combo of two connected novellas and some shorts) were enjoyable too. The book was not as sci-fi/fantasy as what I normal read—no paranormal creatures or space adventures, just an alternate history—but the Old West setting (which I love) and the hippos still transported me to another world and made the story fantastical in its own way.

This book even had some romance! There was still plenty of hippos and explosions and fights, and there was nothing sexually explicit, but there was a definite romance threaded throughout. I liked it though. My only complaint about it is that it seemed sudden. I’m not sure how much time Winslow and Hero spent together, but we didn’t get to see any of that time, so their feelings seemed really strong really fast. But they were cute together.

I also enjoyed the writing. Something about it just pulled me in. I was a little confused by the POV though. Sometimes it seemed like 3rd person limited, but then it would switch without warning like it was omniscient. Not that big of an issue though since it didn’t happen that often.

Overall, I was easily drawn into this book, I loved the diverse and morally grey characters, and I really enjoyed reading about this hippo-filled Old West!


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  1. Greg

    Ooh hippo action! I like the title too- American Hippo. πŸ™‚ Has a ring to it. As you know I read River of Teeth and was bored silly, but I’m curious to see what other people think. Glad you liked it! I definitely feel like I might be in the minority on this one, and I never read the second, so I’m only going off the first. It did have tons of diversity!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, I remember you mentioning not enjoying it, but I loved it! Just different tastes, I’m sure you’re not the only one who didn’t love it. The diversity was such a pleasant surprise since literally all I knew about the book before starting was hippos in the Old West, haha.

  2. Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy

    I read the first novella when it came out (River of Teeth) but just got too busy for the second one. I love that Tor has combined these into one book! I really enjoyed River of Teeth and I loved the diversity😁

    1. Kristen Burns

      I definitely liked being able to read the whole thing in one go! I’m glad you loved the first one too! You should definitely continue with the second πŸ™‚

  3. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    I’m glad you liked this one. I had considered reading it but I read a few reviews that mentioned there wasn’t enough about the hippos. Your review doesn’t sound like that. Maybe I can convince my library to get a physical copy so I can check it out and not be out anything.

  4. Rebeccah @ The Pixie Chronicles

    Ok, wait, what? I….I don’t even know with this. To be honest, I almost completely looked this over, not even NOTICING the freaking hippo, because I thought it was another, regular western. Then I read the blurb. Then I looked at the cover AGAIN and it completely hit me like a freight train. This sounds so weird. And different. And I don’t even know. I think I really, really, really need to look more into this. Thank you for introducing me to it πŸ™‚

  5. Luna & Saturn

    This actually seems like such an interesting book. We’ve never thought about the Old West and hippos together, it just seems so jarring but it’s cool how the author’s managed to put it together nicely. . Huge yes to the diversity in here πŸ™‚ We’ve never heard of Sarah Gailey, before, so thanks for introducing her. Nice review <3

    ~ Luna & Saturn @ Pendragons

    1. Kristen Burns

      It was! Apparently it’s based on something that almost happened in the US. It was a lot of fun reading about hippos though! And I loved the diversity. Thank you πŸ™‚

  6. imyril

    I loved River of Teeth for all the same reasons you describe – I can’t wait to pick up the sequel (…I won’t get the combined edition as I’ve already got the first novella, although I’m bummed about missing out on the short stories!)

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yay, glad you loved it too! Tbh you’re not missing much w/o the short stories. One is about how Ruby got her gold-plated teeth, the other is about Winslow and Archie robbing a bank. Maybe you can find them on the site? Hope you enjoy the sequel just as much though!

  7. a.n.g.

    Hippos instead of horses? That’s hilarious! XD But it does sound like this book was more dark than hilarious despite the hippo/horse switch around. It does sound interesting.

  8. Lola

    That does sound pretty cool they ride hippos instead of horses. If we’re told the characters are bad, I do want to notice that when reading as well, as else it just feels a bit unbelievable. It’s not a convincing thief, con artist or killer, unless the author shows a bit of those parts as well. There seems to be a lot of diversity in this book. That’s nice there also was a romance plot line and that’s nice they were a cute couple, even tough it developed a bit sudden. Great review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I was just complaining about the whole “telling me characters are bad but then they don’t do anything bad” thing recently, so this was a refreshing, pleasant surprise. And I loved the diversity! Thanks πŸ™‚

  9. verushka

    A hippo-filled Old West is something I had never thought I’d read in print like ever. And yet okay the cover and your review has me so curious!

  10. Danya @ Fine Print

    So is this a bindup of all the “American Hippo-verse” stories? Because if so, I need to buy a copy. I’m heard nothing but good things about Sarah Gailey on twitter, and from what you’ve said about Winslow and his group of pals, I know I’m going to love this. Call me crazy, but I love a character who can slit a man’s nostril and toss a knife right into his eye! πŸ˜€

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, it’s the two novellas, and two short stories. And it was so good! I do think you’ll like this one a lot! Hahaha your comment legit cracked me up XD

  11. Olivia Roach

    Ooh I actually like that. I like when you’re not being told how terrible someone is but you actually get to see it and you are the one who comes to your decisions about what you think about them. Although nostrils slit? Doesn’t sounds like fun to be on the receiving side… I’m not sure how I feel about this whole situation. It sounds kind of bizarre to me but it sounds like it worked out alright? And yay for diversity!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! It’s so much better that way, just being shown how the character is and coming to your own conclusions. No, I definitely wouldn’t want my nostrils slit. But if it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure the knife through the eye killed him, so he didn’t have to worry about his slit nostrils for too long. πŸ˜›