A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine- Feature and Review


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.



Women of the DunesWomen of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine is a 2018 Atria Books publication.

“Perhaps that’s what a legend is, a memory preserved over many generations”

What a fascinating and thought- provoking Scottish tale spanning centuries and generations, examining legends, the truth behind them, and the way history tends to repeat itself.

Libby and her university team have arrived on Ullanessm Island for the summer to work on an excavation project. For Libby, the trip is just as personal as it is professional. Her great- great grandmother once lived on Sturrock estate, as a service worker.

The past timelines, beginning in the 9th century, reveal adultery, scandal, trials of faith, forbidden love, and the makings of legends. Those legends, passed down through the years, has an enormous impact on Ellen, a servant girl in the 19th century. Once more a love triangle emerges, and a man of God questions his faith, while more doubt is cast on lineage and heritage, and eventually leads the reader to Libby. As Libby works closely with the Sturrock family, she finds herself embroiled in their unconventional family dramas, where once more, scandal, lies, and greed brings the legends and myths of old, full circle, while adding and creating their own contemporary legends, sure to be pondered on and investigated by future generations.

While the pacing of the story slowly connects the three timelines, it is seamless and easy to follow, and so full of drama, angst, and tension it was hard to put the book aside for any length of time. The vivid Scottish scenery helps to create the rich atmosphere of the novel, combining historical details in with present day analogies.

I love legends, myths, folklore, and stories that are passed down from generation to generation. As is demonstrated here, the stories don’t always represent the whole truth, but, they allow us a portal to the past, and has a way of connecting families. But, one must wonder at the validity of the legends, how much truth is blended with embellishments, or if the legends were censured or exaggerated to conceal a scandal, or to protect someone, thus adding a quality of mystery and intrigue to be guessed at and debated for many generations to come.





Sarah Maine was born in England and emigrated to Canada with her family at the age of ten. A small northern Ontario community was home for the next two years before the family moved south, and Sarah went to high school in Toronto. She returned to England to study archaeology, stayed on to do research and work, married there and has two sons. 
Books were always important. She grew up on a diet of Arthur Ransome and Robert Louis Stevenson but also the classics, Jane Austen and the Bront├ęs and, of course, Daphne du Maurier - but now enjoys a wide range of contemporary fiction. 
She has publlished three books - The House between Tides, Beyond the Wild River and Women of the Dunes and is currently working on her fourth, set partly in New Zealand.

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