The phrase over-promised and under-delivered comes roaring out of this book. The premise takes it cue from a never enacted US government program to import hippos into the southern US as a meat source to replace beef. And goes from there. There’s a kind of breathless introduction about how excited the author was about finding this all out and how this book explores that idea with a kind of steampunk-ish/alternative history take on things. And then taking those conceit and creating a kind of heist out of it.
I dunno if this is a novella in search of a novel, but the thing that really bothers me about this book is that the hippos are almost entirely immaterial to the whole venture. There’s nothing here that feel dependent on there being hippos in this world. Worse than this is that the novel is full of fake charm, as in heavily manufactured charm that you keep telling me over and over again is charming, without it actually ever being charming. So you have this “colorful” cast of characters that are anachronistic without clear justification for this, and not interesting, and somewhere between unrealistic and cliched at the same time. It felt oddly frustrating and insulting as a consequence.
The writing is fine, but given how unlikable I tend to find alternative history, it shouldn’t surprise me to not like something, but I felt myself rolling my eyes throughout this one. I won’t get into all my issues with it, but it felt kind of cheap. And! I rather liked this author’s novel, so I was extra annoyed.