Sarah Maine’s Woman of the Dunes


I am a big fan of anything Scottish legend and myth related, so when I found Sarah Maine’s Woman of the Dunes among the books I was reviewing for BOOKMARK I was pretty excited. Woman of the Dunes is Maine’s latest book, and its plot takes root in Scottish legend.

Maine’s book interweaves three different narratives across three different timelines, binding together legend, history, and modernity to produce an intriguing story. It begins on the West coast of Scotland in 800. A.D. with the legend of Ulla and Odrhan, a Norse woman and Scottish monk who are the central characters in a tale of tragedy and murder. Ultimately, this legend is the force that shapes the lives of Maine’s other characters, namely Libby and her ancestor Ellen.

The novel primarily follows Libby, an archeologist determined to uncover the the secrets of Ulla and Odrhan’s legend. This leads her to Ullaness and the Sturrock estate, land owned by the Sturrock family for generations. As the story unravels, Libby begins to find a trail of tragedy and murder that she is inescapably drawn into as the misfortune of Ulla’s legend threatens to repeat itself for a third time.

Along-side Libby’s story, Maine details the downfall of Libby’s ancestor Ellen, a woman who worked as a maid for the Sturrocks in years gone by and who’s obsession with the legend of Ulla eventually leads to her unravelling. Libby’s excavation soon changes from a simple search for historical artefacts into a discovery of her roots and the mysteries of Sturrock house.

This is a novel that contains a bit of everything within its pages. There is cruelty, kindness, love, mystery, and underpinning it all is the central legend of Ulla and Odhran. This is a book that will sweep you from your armchair and into the secrets of Ullaness.

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