Women of the Dunes

Written by Sarah Maine
Review by Jessica Brockmole

In three interwoven storylines, the legend of a Viking woman and a solitary monk on a remote Scottish island comes to life. Archaeologist Libby Snow comes to the windswept island of Ullaness in pursuit of both science and confirmation of a myth that her Scottish ancestress passed down through the family. On Ullaness, Libby has more to contend with than her arrogant professor, the grasping lady of the manor, and Rodri, the brooding and handsome brother of the baronet and caretaker of the estate; she’s confronted with two crimes. A gold cross that has been in her family for generations looks to be from the ninth century burial mound they plan to excavate over the summer, suggesting a long-ago theft. Along with the expected ancient remains, the mound also conceals the bones of a 19th-century man… and the bullet that killed him. In alternating chapters, we hear the story of Libby and her discoveries; her great-great-grandmother Ellen, a maid who fled Ullaness in 1890; and Ulla, the Viking woman who found refuge on the island in the 9th century. Separated by centuries, these three are the women of Ullaness’s dunes.

Women of the Dunes is both mystery and love story, taking us through time to explore conflicts of faith and of trust in different eras. Though the relationships are straightforward and unsurprising, the multiple crimes within the book are more layered and allow for surprises and satisfying resolutions. Sarah Maine excels at creating a rich and authentic setting; the reader is transported to the lush, windswept, and poetic landscape of the Scottish Isles. Libby’s present-day storyline is the fullest, but Maine takes us between the eras effortlessly. Evocative of place and time, Women of the Dunes is an enjoyable read.