She Returns from War is the second novel from American author Lee Collins, and it continues the story of old west supernatural gun-slinger Cora Oglesby four years after the events of her debut in The Dead of Winter.
Nobody retires from a job like this
She Returns from War opens with the tragic story of young Englishwoman Victoria Dawes, who, after a harrowing encounter with the supernatural, is directed toward now-retired Cora to help her face her demons (figurative and literal). This quest brings her to New Mexico where Cora is tending her bar and generally wanting nothing to do with any part of her old life at all. Of course, as you can guess, circumstances force her back in the saddle and back into danger. It was nice to not have to deal with all of the “I’m getting too old for this” crap that tends to creep into situations like these. Cora’s just done with the work, not old and beaten, and she can still handle herself when she needs to.
It seems to be a consistent theme: someone who tries to get out always gets pulled back in for one last job, but it’s something stronger and different here. The impression is more that once you’ve been awoken to the existence of the supernatural, it’s simply not something you can put back down. Cora will always be aware of what’s going on. She’ll hear stories of someone dying in a crazy accident and just know that something else has happened. It’s never explicitly spelled out in She Returns from War, but I don’t think I’m presuming too far to read that into the story. There are just some jobs you don’t ever get out of on this side of life.
Passing the torch
New to us in this book is the character of Victoria Dawes, an Englishwoman of taste and breeding, if a bit more intellectual than most of her peers. She seems to fancy herself a bit independent and tough. After all, she packed up her belongings as an unchaperoned young woman and traveled to barbaric rustic America. Of course, this falls apart after one day in the saddle, and she swiftly realizes the degree to which she is completely overwhelmed. This is a scene we’re all familiar with, and Cora even directly lampshades it with a comment about how she has forgotten how funny and useless greenhorns are.
Watching Victoria develop a bit of courage and confidence was really enjoyable. It felt like a definite passing along of Cora’s mantle to Victoria. Cora had already tried to retire, wanted nothing more to do with this business, and here comes a young, strong-willed woman with something to prove. Without spoiling any plot details, I’ll just say that Victoria is left in a place in her development that makes me really want to see a few books about her learning to be a hunter back in England. I’m not sure the degree to which Collins is wanting to stick with the Western motif, but a few adventures across the pond would be quite excellent.
Why should you read this book?
It’s always awkward writing this section for books that aren’t the first in the series. You should have already read the first book, The Dead of Winter, and if you enjoyed it, you will enjoy this as well. All of the same elements that made the first book fun to read are still here. The action is great, the pacing is wonderful. You really get to just revel in Cora being awesome, as she drunkenly ass-kicks her way through her problems, and you get to watch Victoria overcome a few prejudices about the West and about Cora, and learn that respect is something you earn, not something you’re born with.
I’d really like to see more of this world and these characters, and so should you.