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The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

I've seen Susanna Kearsley's name pop up hither and yon around the blogosphere for going on a year now. I added her name to my list of authors to check out awhile back and I've spent the intervening time idly wondered whether the enticing comparisons to the likes of Mary Stewart had some merit. Not long ago I decided The Winter Sea would be the perfect maiden voyage with Kearsley. Published a couple of years ago in the UK, the U.S. edition was slated to come out December 1st and I added it to my Christmas list in the hopes it might find its way inside my stocking this year. Happily, I was not disappointed and I have my mother to thank for that--another die-hard Mary Stewart fan herself. So I picked it up the night after Christmas and settled in to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it quickly became crystal clear to me why people love her work. The Winter Sea is the perfectly captivating kind of historical fiction that casts its spell over you from page one and doesn't let go until all is eloquently said and done.

Carrie McClelland is a famous writer of historical fiction. She works best in isolation and frequently travels to the destinations featured in her novels to absorb the local flavor and engage in primary research for the events, history, and people that make up her stories. After an extended period in France, frustrated with the lack of progress she's making on her current manuscript, Carrie agrees to take a break to attend the blessing of her agent's newborn baby in Scotland. On her way up the coast, she stumbles across the ruins of a beautiful castle as she stops to ask for directions. Something about the place seems to call to her. She longs to stay but convinces herself to continue on to her friend's house. Little does she know she'll be returning to Cruden Bay very soon indeed as Castle Slains plays a pivotal role in her chosen tale set during the oft-overlooked Jacobite rebellion of 1708. On the advice of her agent, and the ethereal tugs she continues to feel herself, Carrie rents a tiny cottage on the coast and settles in to let the muse have her way with her. But the closer she delves into the history of Slains, the deeper she is drawn into the lives of its long-dead inhabitants. The characters of her story begin to take on a life of their own and Carrie is no longer sure what is fact and what is fiction as she rushes to get down all the images and conversations bombarding her on a daily basis.

What a beautiful and engrossing story! I'm awfully fond of historical fiction set during any of the Jacobite rebellions. Ever since reading Jennifer Roberson's excellent Lady of the Glen several years ago, I've found the time period and subject matter fascinating, if incredibly bittersweet. This story is no exception. The narrative alternates between the present day and the events leading up to and following the failed rebellion in 1708. Though the story and characters in the past start out as Carrie's own creation, she uses one of her own ancestors as her heroine, and in doing so unwittingly forges a bridge of shared memory between them. The results are unexpected and truly riveting. I never knew for sure which way the chips would fall and whether or not the novel as a whole would cross over into a supernatural/time travel extravaganza a la Outlander or if there would be a less outlandish explanation for the unfathomable link between these two women. I won't spill the beans here, but will say that I was very pleased (and relieved) at the outcome and heartily approve of the deft manner in which Ms. Kearsley handled both the slightly fantastical element to her story as well as the two primary relationships flourishing therein. I initially thought I would get bored with the ancestor Sophia's story, as I was immediately so caught up in Carrie's present-day tale. But that worry quickly fled as I eagerly looked forward to each switch of narration to find out how my other people were faring. Carrie's growing relationship with a very endearing local history lecturer had me at hello and Sophia's perilous and earnest attachment to a young Scottish soldier had me on the edge of my seat. In retrospect, I do wish we'd gotten a more extended resolution for Carrie and her suitor, but overall I closed the book extremely satisfied with the way the relationships concluded. The Winter Sea will appeal in spades to fans of Mary Stewart and Diana Gabaldon. And, not to annoy any Outlander fans out there but I, for one, infinitely prefer Kearsley's reserved and resonant touch to the the rampant floridity of Gabaldon's epic. Highly recommended.


Linkage
At Home with a Good Book and the Cat Review
The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader Review
Bookfoolery and Babble Review
Jennie's B[ook]log Review
Luxury Reading Review
Rosario's Reading Journal Review
Royal Reviews

Comments

  1. One of my favorite authors! So glad you discovered her. Love!

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  2. I keep hearing about Kearsley but am yet to read her work. I like the sound of this one, can't say I've read anything about that era.

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  3. As soon as you mentioned that this book would appeal to fans of Mary Stewart, it was an INSTANT SALE. My Stewart itch has gone miserably unscratched for too many years (well, other than re-reading Stewart, of course). I will now eagerly await the arrival of this book! *rubs hands*

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  4. This reminds me that I have been wanting to try some Mary Stewart sometime. You will have to direct me on where to start. :)

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  5. I am so glad that you loved this book! I have been pushing it onto everyone who will listen recently because I loved it so much! And now I am working my way through her backlist!

    Can't wait for the new book, The Rose Garden, to come out soon!

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