Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Crown of Dust” as Want to Read:
Crown of Dust
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Crown of Dust

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  47 reviews
The gold rush has taken hold of the Wild West. Pioneers from around the country congregate in makeshift settlements like Motherlode in hopes of striking it rich. It's here that Alex, disguised as a boy and on the run from her troubled past, is able to blend in among the rough and tumble prospectors living on little more than adrenaline and moonshine.

Word spreads quickly wh
Paperback, 276 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Soho Press (first published January 1st 2006)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Crown of Dust, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Crown of Dust

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  154 ratings  ·  47 reviews

More filters
Sort order
This book is incredible, mesmerizing, magnificent.

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, a
Oct 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Westerns and though I suppose this isn’t strictly speaking a Western it is set in California during the 19th Century gold rush. Motherlode is a typical town of the times made up of 90% men with several wives, daughters and mothers and, in this case, one bad girl called Emaline who runs the local hotel/bar. The men hang on her words. They count on her for a sense of civilization and for a woman’s touch…..literarily. When a young man named Alex happens into town he first hates Emaline but t ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainlibrary
My namesake did me proud! This book is wonderful and you really get a feel for the characters at the time of the gold rush. Each of the characters had their own demons to wrestle with but that's what brought them together and bonded them somewhat like a family. This was a time of risk taking and starting anew with hopes and dreams of better times. The author brings you right into each of the characters' hearts in a way that you cry right along with them with joy and sorrow. I'm hoping for a sequ ...more
Mar 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ok...I almost didn't finish this one but I stuck with it. I had an ARC so I am hoping that some of the strangeness was edited out. I kept having to go back and figure out whose voice I was reading and sometimes little details seemed incorrect or inconsistant. I did enjoy some of the characters but most seemed flat.
Renee Thompson
Aug 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in fictional Motherlode during the California gold rush, CROWN OF DUST is the story of Emaline, a prostitute and the proprietress of the Victoria Inn, and Alex, a young woman from out of town, whom she befriends. Although the book opens in Emaline’s point of view, we are quickly transported to Alex’s world, where we learn she possesses a secret so damaging she must pass as a boy to protect herself. The deception works, as Volmer explains, because no one in Motherlode has ever really looked a ...more
Antonia Banyard
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Crown of Dust is set in the fictional gold rush town of Motherlode, California, which is populated by hopeful miners, a drunk preacher, and Emaline, the proprietess of The Victoria hotel. Emaline prides herself in making the town what it is, and in providing every service the men require.

In walks Alex, a slight, quiet boy who rarely speaks.

The reader soon finds out that Alex is, in fact, a woman who desperately needs to keep her past a secret. Alex’s disguise is quietly accepted—after all, Mot

Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This novel was full of great surprises. I picked it up despite the label of 'historical fiction' stuck on it, a genre I've never been fond of. I think any such label diminishes the power of this novel.

I think this novel is what happens when an actual woman gets to sit down and write a novel about the West, with an eye not towards producing a "western," but to writing a novel about the true lived experience of the West. I think Wallace Stegner would have been quite proud of this novel. Here you
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaway-winner
I am in love with this book; the characters, the world they live in, the style of which it was all written. The only problem I can voice is that upon finishing, I wanted more! Reading Volmer's novel brought me straight to the Gold Rush and I didn't want to leave, pages flipped like a cartoon Tasmanian Devil was in the room and my husband was ignored. Sorry, honey!

Worth your time! =)

Note: This was a Goodreads Give-Away. Not only did I receive the book in record speed, but Mary Volmer included two
Sarah Oslick
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Impressive from a historical standpoint, Crown of Dust captures the era that it is set in, a difficult task for the California Gold Rush era. Switching between characters in a way that immerses you in the world and story, Volmer has created a wonderful novel that comes alive and off the page. Alex is a fascinating character that draws you in from the beginning, constantly asking you to continue reading her story. Crown of Dust is impossible to put down!
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read, especially for those of us raised in California. Volmer's attention to historical details paints a vivid picture of the California gold rush. The main character, Alex's story unfolds delightfully to reveal a complex and intriguing background. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction or novels set in California.
Virginia Jones
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes no luck is good luck. When a cross dressing runaway fleeing the law finds gold in a mining town, the world rushes in threatening her disguise, her life, and the community of outcasts she'd grown to love. Really, not what I expected. Great characters and the writing sucked me right in. I couldn't put it down. It's not a five, but I'm not sure why.
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Stunning. Androgyny abounds in this all too bright narrative. The story is driven by details as sharp as stone with characters who block out the sun, carrying hopes too big for their own good and crushing fears that linger with the reader. Volmer's art seeps through skin and colors our vision like the California dreamscape she paints in this breath-taking debut novel.
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I usually have particularly genre I stick to, but this was well worth the venture outside my norm. I loved the language and speech of the book. It truly was reminiscent of another time and culture. All the characters were so amazingly crafted and unique.
Nick Leither
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A deep, rich, and compelling novel by a friend and colleague.
Anara Guard
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Oh, Mary Volmer, what have you done to me? Two sleepless nights because once I picked up your first novel," Crown of Dust", I had trouble setting it aside. And even when I had laid it to rest on my nightstand, your characters continued to roam around inside my mind with their weighty secrets and their perilous endeavors in Motherlode. Gold fever created this town: raised its canvas roofs, created the thirsts slaked in Emaline's bar and bed, brought together the ragged band of drifters, grifters, ...more
Gwen Clayton
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Female characters in the Old West are frequently portrayed as either prostitutes or teetotalers. That's why it's so refreshing to read a book about a young woman during the California Gold Rush who struggles just like the rest of the boys to handle her pickax and jug of moonshine.
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nook
Not my normal genre so I didn't get in as deep as I might have but good story about the gold rush days. Young women survive in their own ways amongst the lawless west.
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 really
Audrey Terry
AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER... Or at least, they didn't die in Motherlode. One of the best historical fictions I've read this year.
Jan 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I would never have sought out this book but when "Crown of Dust" was chosen to be the January selection of my local-library-sponsored book club I decided to give it a try.

I’m someone who hails from Western Kentucky so tales of Gold Rush days have never been prominent on my list of interesting topics to explore. But this year I live in Central California, so my interest in this story was piqued a bit more, especially when it became apparent "Crown of Dust" was set close to the not-too-distant-fr
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mary Volmer has crafted a book that captures the feelings and textures of the old west, and living in CA during the gold rush. She has created a strong woman, Emaline, that runs a bar and----even though she is not attractive and has a self-claimed mustache----she services most of the men in the area. Into this very small town arrives new prospectors every day---one being a young boy, Alex---shy and trying to keep himself invisible from everyone else. We soon learn that this person is a woman, wh ...more
This books seems to be a culmination of a bunch of books I just finished:
The Sisters Brothers takes place around the same time period. I don't normally read Westerns/gold rush books, not because I don't like them but they just aren't my favorite.
The Sisters Brothers
Touch which is about a town that was founded during a gold rush but went on to become a lumber town. Touch
and Blindspot, which takes place in the late 18th century Boston but is about a girl who dresses like a boy to become a painter
Emma Louise
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bought

I can't really fault the book or the writing but it just lacked.... something! You know? Before you argue that maybe it was the subject or the plot, it wasn't. It was something I wanted to read and I'm interested in but across the board it just didn't have that sparkle.

Alex was of course the most interesting character. After a miscarriage, she ditched her overbearing and religious Grandmother and landed in the small mining town of Motherlode. Except she decides to disguise herself as a man and h
Aaron (Typographical Era)
I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction / period pieces. I disliked “C” by Thomas McCarthy and to say that I loathe what I’ve read of Neal Stephenson’s work would be an accurate assessment. So, as you can imagine, I groaned internally when it was announced that Mary Volmer’s “Crown of Dust” was the pick for the month of February in my contemporary book club. I just joined the previous month, so skipping over this selection seemed out of the question to me. Honestly I’ll give anything a try ...more
Nov 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaway-wins
I thought that this was one of the best books that I've read in a while. I enjoyed the setting and the characters very much. Alex, I thought, was a very deep character with a past. I think not finding out about that past until the middle was what kept me hooked. Then there was that hidden love with Alex and David that kept me interested for the rest of the novel. It is written very well and the descriptions are fantastic. This book definitely changed how I felt about wild-west books. I hilly rec ...more
Paula Hebert
I have been drawn to wild west, gold rush type stories quite a bit lately, and most of them have been pretty good. that being said, perhaps I have become jaded, because crown of dust left me wanting more. a boom town, lots of colorful gold miners, a boy with a secret, and a banged out, fat old whore who owns the only inn/bar/bawdy house, with herself the only bawd, seems like it would have plenty of material, but it just didn't do it for me. maybe I'll hunt for a different era or genre for a whi ...more
Maureen O'Leary
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a time machine to the Gold Rush days in Northern California. The author gives the reader a 360 degree experience in what it felt like to live and work in that time and place. I could not put this book down. This is a deeply human story about a young woman hiding her identity behind the guise of a man in order to escape a brutal past. The story is meticulously researched, beautifully written, and a thrilling journey into the past. Excellent. Highly recommend.
Feb 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: morning-glory
Our book group received this novel free from; so we decided to read it for this months selection. I gave it three stars because the subject matter was not a total loss. I found the writing very awkward. There were times I felt a little voyeuristic, like the narrator and I were floating above Motherlode as unwelcome participants in the lives of these California Gold Rush pioneers. A bit strange! I would not recommend this book to any one.
Kathy Patterson
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love to read historical fiction and as a California native, I found Crown of Dust a gripping read from beginning to end. Characters are well developed and easy for the reader to relate with. Historical details are cleverly woven into the story in such a way that the reader is seamlessly drawn into the time period and allowed to focus on the characters and the story. Very well-written and difficult to put down!
Elizabeth Desole
I was hoping for a little less of a love story in this historical fiction that takes place during the California gold rush. I figure the author didn't want to get too bogged down in historical details but I would've liked some more. Isn't that what historical fiction is for? Not bad but a little flat despite what should've been very colorful characters
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Heartbroke Bay
  • The Real Minerva
  • Much Ado About Madams (Hearts of Owyhee, #2)
  • Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley's World
  • The Disorder of Longing
  • The Woman Who Loved Jesse James
  • A Gift for Guile (The Thief Takers, #2)
  • My Father Had a Daughter: Judith Shakespeare's Tale
  • Deep Creek
  • Gloria
  • A Proper Education for Girls
  • His Clockwork Canary (The Glorious Victorious Darcys, #2)
  • A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression (Pearl Spence #2)
  • The Wolf Hunt
  • The Leopard Unleashed (Ravenstow Trilogy #3)
  • A Sudden Country
  • "A Rich Spot Of Earth": Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden At Monticello
  • A Memory of Muskets (Chloe Ellefson Mystery #7)
See similar books…
I grew up ten miles outside of Grass Valley, California, a Sierra Nevada foothill town in the heart of Gold Country. Dad taught high school Special Ed. Mom was a librarian, a second grade and then a middle school English teacher, so most of my early memories feature blackboards, books, dusty, deserted playgrounds, and bigger kids who were mostly tolerant and kind, in a dismissive sort of way. I ad ...more
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »