Tuesday, May 23, 2017

strictly literary: blood oath by melissa lenhardt

the second book in the sawbones saga finds laura and kindle on the run. in blood oath they continue to attract problems and bad guys galore. friends and enemies turn on a dime as they continue their quest to safety. but safety in the wild west is a relative thing. and laura and kindle go by at least five different pseudonyms throughout the novel. they can barely keep their stories straight and incredibly keep running into people who would know the bounty out on their respective heads.

laura is still also recovering from the trauma of her brutal rape in sawbones. physically she's mostly healed but the emotional scars run deeper than the physical ones, and considering how her hand is permanently deformed, that says something. however, in spite of her ptsd, laura is open-minded and forgiving enough to not want an eye for an eye. when she encounters an indian woman being similarly abused, she saves her. and her connection with this woman allows her to gain some understanding of the other side of the story. there are no real heroes—between the abuses of white men and the brutal actions of some of the indian braves—neither side is truly innocent. the truth is that everyone loses when you're at war. it's not just loss of life that's the issue. it's the loss of humanity. and lenhardt highlights that particular issue beautifully. 

colonialism is the kind of business that has no mercy. not on the native peoples. not on the land. and not on the settlers themselves. in order to survive you to what you must. and laura has to reconcile herself to the fact that she's had to betray her hippocratic oath of healing in order to keep breathing. she wonders at every turn whether or not this escape is really worth all the trouble. if in the end it wouldn't be easier for her to just turn herself in and hope for the best in new york. she is innocent after all. maybe it is time that she fought to clear her original name. 

one of the overarching themes of the novel is this idea of identity. laura aka catherine aka charlotte aka sophia plays a role with each identity she tries on. her experiences out west have changed her. and it's likely that she'll never really ever feel comfortable as catherine again. but is she comfortable as laura? the fact that she will likely never be able to perform surgery again also affects her deeply. will she be able to find fulfillment as a midwife? is it better to leave her identity as a doctor behind? can she imagine a life for herself as a wife and mother? is that something that is even a possibility for her? given everything she's endured can she regain control of her sexuality? because that loss of her sensual self not only affects her identity as a woman, but it also affects her relationship with kindle. 

kindle also struggles with his identity. in many ways, he's simply not as strong as laura is. he wants to protect her. he feels that he failed her. he loves her. he loves her intelligence and her ambition. but he also wants a proper wife. at some moments he gets so caught up playing seedy bastards that he starts to act like one. he is careful and respectful of laura after her rape. and the one thing he does right is wanting her even after her assault. when he tells her that what happened to her in palo duro changed nothing of his feelings for her, it's the truth. the problem is more that it changed her feelings for him. and that is something they need to work together on. 

like sawbones, blood oath doesn't make for comfortable reading. it's not supposed to be. but in sawbones i struggled to understand and like catherine. in blood oath, i realized that it was okay to feel ambivalent about laura. she's struggling with ambivalence too. these characters get put through the ringer, and their story isn't over. as far as they come with healing and moving forward by the end of blood oath. laura and kindle can't catch a break, and badlands will continue with their journey. hopefully, given all the suffering they've endured, they'll find some version of peace by the end of it. just don't expect it to be easy. life out west certainly wasn't, and lenhardt never lets us forget it. 


**blood oath will publish on may 23, 2017. i received an advance reader copy courtesy of netgalley/orbit books (redhook) in exchange for my honest review.

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