Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Sawbones

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Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine’s false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.

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Publisher and Release Date: Redhook, 29 March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: America, 1871
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Jill

When Dr Catherine Bennett is falsely accused of murdering one of her patients, she flees New York City with her maid. There’s little chance of a fair hearing, since the murdered man’s wife has influential connections, and a conviction seems certain. With a bounty on her head, she travels to Texas and from there decides that the wilds of Colorado may be her best chance to hide out with a new identity. So Dr Catherine Bennett becomes Dr Laura Elliston.

Set in 1871, the fictional story of Laura Elliston is embedded in actual historical events of that year, with a number of famous historical figures, like General William Sherman and Quanah Parker, included in the storyline.

If you pick this up thinking Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, you may be disappointed. And shocked. Sawbones is not a light and fluffy historical romance or historical western. The cover, and perhaps the title, may give that impression but, be warned: the book is brutal and violent at times, depicting an era that was often harsh and without mercy.

There are graphic, uncompromising descriptions of massacres, violence – both sexual and physical – and of medical procedures. Racism and sexism abound. People die. These were not politically correct times.

Narrated in first person from Laura’s point-of-view, this is mainly her story. Laura’s father was a doctor-surgeon, and she trained alongside him as his (male) orderly during the war. We’re often reminded how difficult it was for any woman during this era, let alone one as independent and career-minded as Laura.

There are no black and white cardboard cutout characters here. Just as in real life, people are partly good, partly bad, their motives and reactions are not always pure or right. Even the main characters are nuanced, displaying at times less-than-stellar attitudes and characteristics. Laura is strong, independent and intelligent. She can also be rash, quick-tempered and unsympathetic towards the Native American population, whom she fears.

There is a romance, but it’s not the focus of the story and in fact, since it’s not mentioned in the blurb, I wasn’t even sure who Laura’s love interest would be. Her first meeting with him is as original as it is unexpected. He is charming, handsome, kind and honorable. And in true heroic form is willing to do his all to protect Laura, no matter the cost.

The blurb says: Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest…

Of all the books over recent years that have lured me in by playing the Outlander card, this is the first one I’ve read that actually lives up to the sales pitch. Not that Sawbones is Outlander exactly. After all we’re talking America in 1871, not the Scottish Highlands of 1743 .

But like Outlander, Sawbones is historical fiction, minus the time-travel. It is told in first-person from the heroine’s PoV. There is a love story. And like Outlander, the story is captivating, well-written, well-researched, set within real historical events, contains lots of details about medical procedures and vivid descriptions of the setting and era. Like Diana Gabaldon, Ms Lenhardt doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality and violence of the times. The heroine is a doctor like Claire. (Laura is thankfully, more likable.)

However, the romance is lighter, and the characterisation of the hero not quite as in-depth as Jamie Fraser, so raders looking for the depth of passion of the Outlander protagonists may be left wanting. The romance is definitely there, but it’s less to the fore.

I did have some minor issues with the story which is why it isn’t getting a straight 5 stars. Laura really should have kept her qualifications as a doctor under wraps. A female doctor in this era is going to draw attention, and that was the last thing she needed when she was on the run. Near the end in the final showdown with the villain, there were some clichéd and unnecessary turns before he was finally dealt with.

If you want a sanitised look at the Old West where nothing bad happens, where people don’t die and where atrocities are glossed over, this may not be the book for you. This is the first in a trilogy, I believe, with book two, Blood Oath due out later in the year. Sawbones doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger – it’s more of a to-be-continued. There are a number of threads that need to be tied off and number of characters whose continuing stories need to be told, not the least of which is how the main characters’ are going to get their happily-ever-after.

For readers who enjoy straight historical fiction, romantic historical fiction and American historicals, and an ongoing series with the same couple, Sawbones is highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

  1. Wonderful review! I’m not much for historical with only a smidge of romance as I like them with romance as the main story builder or I simply don’t like it there but your review actually made me want to read the book. Good job!

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