REVIEW of The Winter Sea, by Susanna Kearsley

I discovered Susanna Kearsley a little over a year ago when I read, enjoyed, and reviewed The Shadowy Horses. Ever since then I’ve been looking to read more of her books. The historical fiction community on-line has been raving about Kearsley’s novel The Winter Sea, and I was finally able to get a hold of it at the library.

The Winter Sea is a timeslip novel with half of it set in present day Scotland and half of it set in the early eighteenth century at the same location. The protagonist, Carrie McClelland, is a historical novelist working on a novel about one of the Jacobites’ attempted invasions. She comes to Scotland to research her story and get inspired by the scenery and the ruins of the castle at Slains. Carrie rents a cottage from Jimmy Keith, one of the old locals who still speaks the Doric dialect, and makes the acquaintance of his two handsome sons: Stuart, the playboy who thinks Carrie is sure to fall for him, and Graham, the history lecturer at the university in Aberdeen.

Living near the ruins of Slains, Carrie experiences writing inspiration of a magnitude she’s never felt before. Every night she writes like a woman in a dream and comes out of her trance to discover that she’s typed 5,000 words or more. Her fictional heroine, Sophia Paterson, is named after one of her ancestors from the Jacobite period. But as Carrie writes more and more about Sophia, describing her sojourn at Slains, her relationship with John Moray, and the treacherous plots swirling around her, a startling thing happens. What Carrie thought was fiction, an invention of her own brain, turns out time and time again to be the stuff of history. Everything that Carrie has written about Sophia is confirmed by her research in the primary source documents. Aghast at her own seemingly psychic abilities, Carrie searches for a rational explanation to explain away the coincidences. But with fiction and history inseparably intertwined, Carrie is faced with another problem: how can Sophia have a happily ever after when all of the actual events say otherwise?

The Winter Sea didn’t fully capture my interest until I was about halfway into the book. Usually, in a timeslip novel, I find myself more interested in the events of yesteryear than in the modern story. But with this book, it was the opposite. I found Carrie McClelland far more engaging than her heroine Sophia. Perhaps it was because the historical setting was during an era that doesn’t really capture my fancy–give me anything that takes place after the Tudors and my interest wanes considerably.  Eventually, however, I was pulled in to the story and became involved with the characters. Although The Shadowy Horses still remains my favorite Kearsley novel, The Winter Sea was a worthy second. And if I can ever find time to make it down to the library, I have another Kearsley there waiting for me….

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