Audiobook Review: Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Series: Book 3 of Sawbones/The Laura Elliston Trilogy
Publisher: Hachette Audio (June 27, 2017)
Length: 11 hrs and 17 mins
Narrator: Suehyla El-Attar
Badlands is the final volume of the Laura Elliston trilogy, bringing this magnificent emotional journey that began with Sawbones to a gripping and satisfying conclusion. Still, I confess there had been a lot of initial hand-wringing on my part over how all this would end, though I really should have known better than to be worried—Melissa Lenhardt knew what she was doing and was in control the whole time, providing closure to the series while bringing things full circle.
Needless to say, if you haven’t gotten the chance to start the trilogy yet, please keep in mind that this review may contain spoilers for the previous two novels. Last we saw Laura in Blood Oath, she and her husband William Kindle had become separated, with him being taken into custody for abandoning his post in the Army to aid and abet her. Wanted in New York for a crime she did not commit, Laura is now one of the most sought after bounties in the West and is forced to go into hiding again, with only a dubious ally named Rosemond Barclay for protection and support.
As a prostitute and a past lover of her husband, Rosemond is practically the last person Laura wants to be traveling with. However, she is also claiming to be helping Laura on behalf of Kindle, and since there is no one else our protagonist can turn to now that she is alone and penniless once more, she will have to go along with the other woman’s plans—at least for now. Not that she has much of a choice, anyway. Terrified of what might happen to Kindle, Laura is desperate to be close to him again even if it means walking right into the hands of the law, and it doesn’t help that at the time she is struggling to pull herself out of a laudanum-induced haze. For better or worse, Rosemond is the only thing holding her back—serving as both her kidnapper and voice of reason. The two women end up in Cheyenne under the guise of sisters trying to start a new life, though in truth Laura is biding her time while she awaits for further news of Kindle, and Rosemond is following her own plan that only she knows about. Laura knows better than to trust the former prostitute, but after everything the two of them have been through together, neither can she bring herself to simply walk away.
For the last two books, things for Laura have been anything but easy, and so I think readers will welcome this concluding novel which finally lets our protagonist experience some semblance of peace again, even with plenty of heartbreak still in her life. It was however a nice change of pace to see her return to practicing medicine, giving care to the needy as she once did in New York before she went on the run. Despite all the horrors she has been through, at her core Laura is still the same good person—which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you view things. Often she puts aside all rational thought and concern for her own wellbeing when it comes to others (especially with matters related to Kindle), leading her to make several mistakes in the first half of Badlands which she will come to regret for the rest of the novel. Laura’s willfulness in this regard is both a source of admiration and frustration, because on the one hand her empathy is what makes me love her character, but on the other her tendency to care too much has also led to a lot of tragedy for herself and those around her.
I also thought that I would be disappointed at Kindle’s severely diminished role in this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. It’s true that without him, there is a lot less passion and romance in this installment, but the amazing complexity between Laura and Rosemond’s interplay more than makes up for it. In spite of all her efforts to help other women, Laura has always had a rough time making female friends, mainly because she’s met so few others who share her interests and drive. While Laura and Rosemond have little in common (besides a history with the same man), the two of them manage to strike up a solid rapport if not a true friendship, due to the fact that they both are outcasts in their own way. Rosemond is also a fascinating and enigmatic character who kept me guessing at her motives the whole time, wondering if she truly cares about Laura or if she is simply manipulating her for her own ends.
The best part about Badlands, however, is Laura’s realization that she cannot keep running anymore and that enough people have been hurt because of the choices she has made. The only thing left to do is to return to the place where all this began—except this time, she won’t be alone anymore. Our protagonist has come a long way and has proven herself capable of anything she sets her mind to in an era in which women had little to no power. She has suffered loss but also found love, and I am pleased that we got to see Laura confront her past so that she can finally have the future she deserves.
These books are really something special. I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth saying again: the author does not pull any punches, and her rendition of the Wild West is a brutally authentic one, which sometimes makes all of the injustices and violence difficult to read. However, it also makes our characters’ struggles more heart-wrenching and their eventual triumph all the more powerful and poignant. The ending was everything I wanted, featuring a touching and joyous scenario that tied everything together perfectly. Melissa Lenhardt has accomplished a superb achievement in bringing the fantastic Laura Elliston trilogy to a phenomenal close, and I can’t wait to see what future stories she will tell.
Audiobook Comments: Suehyla El-Attar has long since won me over with her narrating work, and her performance in Badlands is even better than in Blood Oath, if that is even possible. She is a talented voice actress and a real natural with accents and inflections, adding an extra layer to the story. For instance, in sections where Laura was thinking of Kindle, I could practically hear the hopelessness and despair in her reading. This was an emotional tale, and El-Attar’s narration made the experience even more unforgettable. I highly recommend this series in audio.