‘Crown of Dust’ A fantastic Gold Rush tale

crownofdustCrown of Dust by Mary Volmer
Soho Press: November 1st, 2011

My rating: Outstanding Adventure! (5/5)

I’ve been waiting for a good time to post this review, and my vacation on the West Coast seems ideal. Sharing the west-coast theme, Crown of Dust is a historical fiction that takes place during the Gold Rush.

In the late 19th century, a young man arrives in Emaline’s town of Motherlode, a small mining start-up near the grass valley. Alex, the young man, is running from a past he doesn’t want to remember, and hiding a secret that could ruin his life, and take his freedom. For Alex is not a young man, but a young woman. The story is about Emaline and Alex, and all the other inhabitants of Motherlode, with their many desires, ambitions, dreams, cares, and problems. The setting is a poor town with plenty of water in the creek and enough gold to keep the miners panning, but not much else. A town with an unfinished church, and a wild but mostly decent population.

The story is told through the viewpoints of many of the inhabitants. It is told in the present tense, which is something I just encountered (for the first time?) recently. It takes some getting used to, but it adds a completely different flavor to the story and the plot. It makes the dust and the rain of the town and the cares and hopes of the protagonists more immediate, and separates memories (told in the past tense) from the current storyline.

The writing is more calm than fast-paced, but the book still achieves an un-put-downable quality (there is still action aplenty). The characters are top-notch, wonderful, realistic creations that drive the plot and truly make the story fascinating. Near the beginning of the second half, I started to get a little impatient, and maybe didn’t do justice to some of the non-Alex-related happenings. At first I was a little concerned that Alex might have forgotten his origins as a young woman, but she still narrates the story from a young woman’s point of view, even though she admits it is easy to think of herself as a young man.


While set in the Canadian winter, The Tenderness of Wolves shares a similar evocative prose, multiple points of view, straight historical fiction genre, and wilderness setting.

The Tenderness of Wolves

Any excuse to share my favorite EVER book/series: Into the Wilderness takes place earlier than Crown of Dust, and more easterly – but the setting is still on the frontier. With great historical detail, the best love story arc, and generous helpings of adventure and intrigue, this book is definitely for fans of historical fiction and historical romance.

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