This month I was given a chance to read the novel, Sawbones, by Melissa Lenhardt, which will be released on March 29, 2016. I received an advanced reader copy from Redhook, the publisher, so thank you for the opportunity.
Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt appears to be the first book in a series since Amazon is listing it as “A Laura Elliston Novel”. It tells the story of Catherine Bennet, who trained under her father to become a doctor during the American Civil War, and is wrongfully accused of murder years later. She escapes New York City before the authorities can hang her and migrates out West with her maid. Having adopted a false identity, Dr. Laura Elliston, she is appointed by General William T. Sherman as a temporary army doctor. It’s a constant struggle to keep her identity secret and to keep herself from being traded for the bounty on her head.
This is a fantastic first effort by Melissa Lenhardt. I didn’t go into it expecting much simply because historical fiction usually leaves a lot to be desired in research and accuracy. While a few aspects of the novel came out a bit cliche (Indians attacking the wagon train, for example), each plot point was, in fact, necessary to move the story along. That’s a tight plot and moves fast enough to keep readers entertained whether they typically enjoy historical fiction or not.
The main character, Dr. Laura Elliston, is intelligent and – in a welcome surprise – not dependent on men for fulfillment and survival. She refuses to compromise herself as a woman and a doctor just to fulfill the roles of wife and mother that society demands of her. In some ways, Lenhardt seems to have unconsciously drawn influence from the television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, if the show had been allowed to realistically depict the blood, filth, gore, and attitudes of the West. Parts of the novel were rather graphic but necessary for putting the reader in Dr. Elliston’s shoes, witnessing the West as a violent and uncertain place in the years after the Civil War.
I was pleasantly surprised by Sawbones. Like I said, I expected very little but instead met a character who knows how to survive by grit and determination. Readers who enjoy historical fiction will recognize some real life faces from the past and appreciate how seamlessly they fit into Lenhardt’s fictional world.
I gave Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
You may pre-order this novel on Amazon for your Kindle today. It will be released on March 29, 2016.