Libby Snow has always wanted to visit Ullaness, a rugged island on the west coast of Scotland. Not only does the island at the center of Women of the Dunes, by Sarah Maine, have a beloved legend, she also has a mysterious family connection that she longs to get to the bottom of. She finally gets her wish when she and her boss get permission to lead a small team in an even smaller archaeological job on Ullaness. For some reason the ranking family on the island won’t let them do much and it appears that Snow is not the only one with buried secrets.
We meet Libby just as she’s about to meet the man in charge of Ullaness, Rodri Sturrock. Rodri is the baronet’s (his brother) agent on the island and, for reasons we don’t learn until much later, he is adamant that the archaeological team sticks to a very limited mission. At times, Rodri is a bit of an alpha-hole. It’s hard to blame him, though, considering that he’s holding his family and businesses together by the skin of his teeth. His business partner and housekeeper describes him as a force of nature. She’s not wrong; Rodri has a habit of sweeping everyone around him along with his plans. Fortunately, Libby is used to work with people with strong personalities. The trick is to carry on with with what you’re doing while they bluster and, when the opportunity arises, try and steer them away from their worst impulses.
While the tensions rise between Rodri and Libby, on one side, and his sister-in-law and her boss on the other, we get glimpses of the events that inspired the legend that Libby heard from her grandmother. We also see one of Libby’s ancestors tangle with another pair of Sturrock brothers. Eventually, it all connects—with some lovely echoes in all three timelines—but I don’t want to ruin the stories for other readers. I will only say that the novel made me feel like the stories were playing themselves out, over and over, until a new group of people could finally make things right.
The more I read of Women of the Dunes, the more I enjoyed it. The characters were absolutely wonderful, especially Libby and Rodri. The best part, I think, was the atmosphere of the rural, somewhat-adrift-in-time island of Ullaness. There are parts of the book where I could almost hear the gulls and smell the salt air. My only quibble is that I wish there could have been more Vikings.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 24 July 2018.