Genre: Adult Paranormal/Western
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release Date: February 7 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
In a word: Atmospheric, two feisty heroines, some poignant moments, but an ultimately unfocused plot
The sequel to last year’s The Dead of Winter, a book I loved and gave five stars to (my review), She Returns From War unfortunately fell short for me for several reasons. The first book was driven by the strong and feisty character of Cora, a monster hunter who rides a horse and carries a gun. Collins’ story and pacing were excellent, and he surprised the reader with a twist at the end that I thought was brilliant. But She Returns From War lacked the cohesiveness of the first book. The story was confusing and fractured, the monsters were not nearly as scary, and worst of all, Cora seemed to be a different character this time around. What made me keep turning pages was the character of Victoria, a young woman from Oxford, England who finds herself completely out of her comfort zone after an encounter with a supernatural creature.
The story is told from Victoria’s point of view, and starts with a bang as she and her parents are riding through the countryside in a carriage, discussing her impending betrothal to a man she has no interest in, when their carriage is set upon by a group of large, dog-like creatures. This encounter results in a terrible accident, and while Victoria survives, both her parents are killed. Vowing to avenge their deaths, she sets out on a quest to find someone to help her. Her circuitous path eventually leads her to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where our erstwhile heroine Cora now lives. Cora has retired from monster hunting after her exciting adventures in Leadville, Colorado, and she’s opened a bar called Ben’s Print Shop, an inside joke and a nod to events from The Dead of Winter. Victoria tries in vain to convince Cora to return to England with her and help her exact revenge on her parents.
But after Victoria is abducted one night and taken to an abandoned barn in the middle of the desert, Cora changes her tune and decides to go after the creatures that captured Victoria—and then let her go. One of them, a supernaturally strong vampire, calls himself “Fodor Glava,” a vampire that Cora killed in the first book, and Cora won’t rest until she finds out why he might still be alive. Controlling the vampire is a mysterious Indian woman who has many powers, among them the ability to change into animal form. The story picks up momentum from this point until the expected final showdown at the end.
I’m wondering if Collins intended for his story to end up being a humorous “buddy” tale, since the bulk of the book involves Cora and Victoria reluctantly working together to kill the vampire and the Indian woman. Cora dislikes Victoria the moment they meet, and continues to hurl insults at her for the entire story, often having to do with her feminine ways and her inability to do anything practical. When Victoria first walks into Cora’s bar, all the men think she’s a prostitute, and even Cora calls her a “lady of the night.” I never got over the uncomfortable feeling I had every time Cora spoke to Victoria. It was just odd to hear an older woman referencing a younger woman’s “pretty little rear” over and over again. At one point Cora decides to teach Victoria how to shoot a gun, and if I’d been Victoria, I would have turned the gun on Cora and the story would have turned out much differently.
Also frustrating for me was the direction the story took after Victoria’s parents are killed. As implausible as it seems for a young English woman to head off on her own to America to try and find a mysterious woman who may be able to help her, and then convince this woman to come all the way back to England with her, I was more disappointed when the story shifted away from the (frankly) intriguing Hell Hounds and focused on vampires and the mysterious Indian woman who holds power over them. Collins seems to be more interested in creating sympathy for the plight of the Indians than making his story flow like it did in The Dead of Winter. There were some interesting moments near the end when Victoria realizes she has a special power of her own, but much of the rambling plot simply slowed down the momentum of the story.
The character of Victoria was the best thing about She Returns From War. She’s an unwed, unchaperoned woman in the 1800s, all alone in a harsh and dangerous Old West America. Collins does a superb job of portraying her growth from a virtuous innocent to literally fighting for her life against supernatural creatures, and trying to sidestep the lewd advances of just about every male character in the town of Albuquerque. By the end of the story, I was cheering Victoria’s pluck and courage, and I would love to read more of her adventures. I don’t know for sure whether or not there will be a third book in the series, but I did get a sense at the end that Collins could easily add another book and turn this into a trilogy. Victoria’s parents remain unavenged, a fact that begs for another installment.
And yes, there were some moments when the “old” Cora made an appearance, a Cora made vulnerable by past tragedies, and I could glimpse the reasons I loved her in the first book. But it just wasn’t enough for me this time around. I do hope the author continues Victoria’s story, because that is one I am anxious to read more about.
Many thanks to Angry Robot for supplying a review copy.