The Nebula Awards will be announced May 19, 2018. The awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This post is the second in a series of reviews of the nominees for this year’s Nebula award for best novella. The Nebula defines a work as a novella if it is between 17,500 and 40,000 words. These are short books.
It’s not a caper. It’s an operation.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey should be one of my favorite books of all time. It’s an alternative-history western heist story involving a gathering of diverse, eclectic, violent individuals to accomplish a risky task. With hippos. It is as if the book had been custom designed to check off All the Stuff Byron Likes.
And yet, I don’t love it.
I like the “ingredients.” The characters provide a welcome twist to traditional Western archetypes. The overall plot is structurally fine – it has a beginning and a middle and an end. The setting of an alternative-history Louisiana with hippos is original. The language in the book is easy-to-read and propulsive, perfectly suited to a light-hearted action-adventure story about hippoboys. (See what I did there? Instead of cowboys?)
However, as my poor attempts at cooking have demonstrated to me, you can have the best ingredients, but if they aren’t mixed well or cooked properly, the meal isn’t going to turn out too well. [I really beat the hell out of that metaphor…]
Basically, the story felt underdeveloped to me. The characters are flat, and they do stuff for no discernible reason other than the Plot Commands It. The pacing is off. The villain is boring. I almost DNF’d this book with only five pages to go, because (1) I didn’t care at all how it was going to end and (2) I was confused how the characters had even arrived at that ending.
I had high hopes for this book, and I was initially excited by the book’s opening. Maybe if it had been a novel-length book, the characters would have had an opportunity to breathe and grow. As is, it felt like someone had hastily constructed a story around a terrific concept.
My Rating: 3 stars
” Ialmost DNF’d this book with only five pages to go, because (1) I didn’t care at all how it was going to end”
yikes. This is a novella / short novel, right? Do you think it was a case of the author trying to cram too much into too few pages? some authors are really good at doing just that, and others not so much.
Initially, I thought it was more that the author took too many shortcuts with the narrative and used the excuse of “it’s a novella” to justify them. But you have a point, introducing a large group takes up a lot of book “real estate,” such that she may have felt compelled to take those shortcuts.