In this third novel in the Sawbones series, Dr. Catherine Bennett, aka Laura Elliston, has been kidnapped, which really isn’t such a bad thing, as she’s avoiding being hanged for the supposed death of a former patient. She’s now traveling with a woman named Rosemond who initially keeps Laura drugged with laudanum. Their relationship is certainly enigmatic, as Rosemond acts like a friend one minute and a wily owner in the next moment. So, here in Wyoming, Laura is surreptitiously (as much as Laura can be reserved) performing medical skills. However, nothing is that easy. William, her husband, is caught and must face trial for being absent from the military without leave in order to save Laura from capture. Life without William is unbearable. Laura will make several mistakes which she won’t be able to escape. Rosemond, a former prostitute, has an agenda unknown to Laura, but each needs the other. Laura is a very strong character who escapes danger innumerable times in this novel; perhaps she’s too strong, especially in this small Wyoming town where men clearly outnumber women and there’s not much to do beside observe and discuss each other.
For lovers of late 19th-century Western novels, there’s plenty of violence, sex and mystery. Although this can be read as a stand-alone story, readers who haven’t read the previous novels will have to work hard to follow the plot. Melissa Lenhardt deftly draws the reader into Laura’s world, making you think her thoughts and feel her feelings. You want her to learn from her mistakes, to succeed in the Badlands mentality of learning through hard knocks, be restored to her lost love, and be declared innocent of any intentional or accidental wrongdoing. Badlands is rough, ready and feisty historical fiction!