The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (331 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

In 19th Century England Caroline Verlaine, a young widow, travels to the Coast of Kent in search of her sister who disappeared while investigating some nearby ruins. She finds work at an old estate overlooking the shivering sands, powerful quicksands that have been known to swallow entire ships. Her employers are a strange, distrustful family, haunted by the past. Caroline nonetheless finds herself drawn to them and to the son, Napier Stacy, in particular. The further Caroline becomes involved with the family, the more she learns about their secrets and, even more shockingly, about what happened to her sister.

Victoria Holt’s The Shivering Sands is an absolute classic of the genre. The story is set in an isolated spot of England’s coast in the late nineteenth century. The host family is slightly aristocratic, but has seen tragedy. The son of the household is a dark character that insists he did not commit a terrible crime, but we are forced to wonder. The main character is a lovely, yet somewhat tragic figure herself. All of the key ‘classic’ points are there.

The main character, Caroline, is very much a character of her times. She’s clever, but careful, she’s investigating (and very motivated) but not a demanding or confrontational person. I found her believable. She’s suffered her own tragedies, but nothing like the Stacy family. She’s an enormously easy character to sympathize with, although the modern reader might wish for her to be a more take-charge woman.

Much of the story is revealed in conversation, and this is certainly an older ‘style.’ Modern readers might find the action a bit slow, and the discussions slightly unrealistic (phrasing meant to reflect the time). However, the writing is beautiful, and I find that the style helps create and maintain a haunting aura. Suspense builds as the story continues; both in the romantic sense, and in the sense of impending danger. We slowly grow more and more sure that there is a malevolent force out there…

The intrigue is complex and very well done. One part, our initial motivation, is Caroline’s missing sister, Roma. Caroline wends her way into the Napier home in an effort to find Roma. There are family secrets, scandals, and a piece of coastline famed for shipwrecks. You have a sense that anything could happen and be covered up – and soon, we readers are worried for Caroline. Usually, romance readers worry that the romance will work out as hoped – in this case, we are hoping for survival really.

Holt was a true master though: There are points in the plot we are hoping for, while others, we cannot guess.

This is not a light romance with a hint of suspense, but truly an evocative (even eerie) page-turner with a strong sense of imminent danger.

If you haven’t read Victoria Holt before, this is truly a change of pace. If you are familiar with the author – then this might seem a touch ‘in the formula,’ yet it is still intriguing. The Shivering Sands is a great read.


  1. Rita Wray says:

    I love Victoria Holt books. I just added this one to my read list.

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