Women of the Dunes, Sarah Maine
Published July 24th, 2018
From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.
Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullanessm a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.
Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.
What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.
Infused with Sarah Maine’s signature “meticulous research and descriptive passages of lush, beautiful landscapes” (Publishers Weekly), Women of the Dunes is a beautifully told and compelling mystery for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams.
I really enjoyed Sarah Maine’s The House Between Tides, and was thrilled to discover she had written a new novel. While I went into The House Between Tides without any expectations, I must admit my hopes were quite high for this latest release. Thankfully, Women of the Dunes did not disappoint; in fact, it’s safe to say I’ve found another favorite historical fiction writer.
Sarah Maine’s writing is descriptive and evocative. As was the case with her previous novel, the Scottish island setting really steals the show here. Maine masterfully captures a wonderfully vivid sense of place and atmosphere. I could easily picture the titular dunes, the sea, and the historic house and ruins. It was so enjoyable to feel transported to a windy beach in Scotland for a bit.
I loved how the dunes, treasure, and the myth itself played a cental part in each timeline. Everything came full circle in the end, and the characters in each section share something in common with one another. The ancient legend is slowly unraveled over the course of the book, and we get to see how it has changed throughout the centuries. The stories of Ulla, Ellen, and Libby overlap and diverge in compelling ways. No matter how much time separates these women, traces of the past do not lie buried forever. Secrets can always be revealed if you know where to dig.
The themes of history repeating itself, of family, of legends, and of the stories and inheritance we pass from one generation to the next, lie at the heart of Women of the Dunes. Maine does a good job at connecting these narratives and these characters, but I did find the three storylines to be a bit unbalanced. The Viking sections are the shortest and the sketchiest in nature, while the Victorian storyline is noticeably more underdeveloped than the contemporary one.
That said, I greatly preferred the modern story line over the historical ones. I really enjoyed the archaeological elements, and was pleasantly reminded of Susanna Kearsley’s The Shadowy Horses. There’s also plenty of suspense and mystery here. One particularly dramatic boat scene made me think of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels. Basically, Women of the Dunes was a wonderful blend of many of my favorite fictional elements. I also favored the modern timeline due to the fact that Libby was such a lovely protagonist. I enjoyed reading about her career, her family history, and her budding relationship with Rodri. I could’ve done with a tiny bit more romance, but I did appreciate that it wasn’t the focus of the story.
Sarah Maine has woven yet another gripping tale featuring multiple narratives and timelines. Women of the Dunes is an enjoyable blend of history, mystery, suspense, and romance that should appeal to fans of well-written and atmospheric historical fiction.
**A huge thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review**
This is book 4 of my 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge, (and yes, I am reviewing them out of order)