Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The past won't let you forget...

When bestselling author Carrie McClelland visits the ruins of Slains Castle in Scotland to research her new book, she is unprepared for the magnetic pull the local area has on her. Enchanted by the stark and beautiful Scottish landscape, she rents an old stone cottage near the windswept ruins and decides to set her new historical novel at the castle itself.

History has all but forgotten the spring of 1708, when an invasion fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Steward in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Realising one of her own ancestors, Sophia Paterson lived around the same time. Carrie creates a fictional life for Sophia and places her at Slains to be a narrator for the events leading to the Jacobite uprising. It is a time seething with political unrest and there is no shortage of spies and clandestine meetings at Slains. Soon, the characters in her book come alive with almost frightening intensity and Carrie is shocked when she learns that Sophia was indeed a resident at the castle at the time. When further coincidences confirm her fiction is closer to fact, Carrie realises that this story is not entirely her own. As Sophia's memories draw Carrie more deeply into the intrigue of 1708, she comes to understand that a hitherto unrealised bond with her ancestor is providing her with an immediate window in to the true events of the time - and the two women have more in common than one might think.

Mesmerising and rich in historical detail, The Winter Sea is a haunting tale of two women's experiences of love and personal betrayal in two different times.

Every now and again you are lucky enough to pick up a book that fits your reading tastes perfectly. For me, this was one of those times. Within the first two pages I knew that I was going to love this book. The big question was could the enjoyment be maintained all the way to the end, and the answer was a resounding yes.

Carrie McLelland is a best selling historical fiction author. When the story opens she has been living in France trying to research a little known character in history (to most of us anyway) who was involved in some of the early Jacobite attempts to restore the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. She is however struggling a little. On her way to visit her agent in Scotland she finds herself drawn to an old castle ruin called Slains.

As a result of the visit, Carrie decides to make two significant changes. The first is to add a fictional female character to her book to give her a different perspective through which to view the events as they unfolded. She decides to name this character after one of her own family members that lived around the same time.

The second is to relocate to the small town near the castle, and to live in a rustic cottage there whilst she writes. This is not really unusual for Carrie as she lives a some what nomadic life style, moving from place to place in order to enable her to research the stories she is writing.

As soon as she is there, the story really picks up momentum. At first Carrie thinks that she is only dreaming her story, but as more and more things happen, and she is able to discover that her ancestor really was there, she realises that it is more than a dream, more like having shared memories. As she learns more about the events that happened during the events of 1708, the present begins to eerily echo the past.

In the past, Sophia is a young orphan who has been sent to stay with distant relatives at Slains after the death of her guardian. Little does she know when she arrives there that her influential family members are Jacobite sympathisers who are playing a direct role in a plan to bring King James to Scotland to try to reclaim his throne, and to stop the Union between England and Scotland. Among those who visit her new home are two men - one a captain in the navy and the other an outlaw sent to Scotland to drum up support for the cause.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this novel was the fact that it was set in the earlier events of the Jacobite uprisings. Through my reading of other books and more famous incidents in history, I was relatively aware of the events that led up to the carnage at Culloden, and I vaguely knew that that wasn't the first attempt to bring the Stuarts back to the throne, but I really didn't know much more than that.

In her own life, Carrie soon feels comfortable in the town with the assistance of her landlord and his two sons who have very different temperaments. If I had to choose which of the romantic story lines I enjoyed more, I would say it was Carrie's story but I am not going to say not much more than that so that if you do choose to read this book you will discover it for yourself.

Normally if I am reading a book which has these two different time frames it will be the historical setting that I am most anxious to revisit, but with this book I was as engrossed in both settings. When I was with Sophia in 1708 I found myself wondering about Carrie, and when I was with Carrie I was wondering what Sophia was getting up to!

The ending is possibly a little too convenient, but not enough to impact my enjoyment. It isn't often that I do this, but I am seriously considering buying this book. Normally if I read a library book I don't go out and buy it, but I suspect that this is going to be a book that I might want to immerse myself in more than once.

I hope that I have been able to convey just how much I loved this book. I had not previously read any Susanna Kearsley, but you can be guaranteed that I will be reading more, and I will be making every attempt to read everything on her back list and looking out for anything coming out in the future as well.

Please note that in some places this book is published under the title Sophia's Secret. This book was also nominated for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year 2009 which was eventually won by East of the Sun by Julia Gregson which I really enjoyed as well.

It is not very often that I give a book full marks, but I have no hesitation in rating this book as a 5/5 read. Loved it, loved it, loved it!

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Rosario's Reading Journal
Jennie's B(ook)log
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore


  1. I'm going to have to give this one a try. It sounds SO good :) Thanks for sharing such a great review!

  2. Great review! This sounds like a wonderful read.

  3. Still waiting for it to come to the US......

  4. Oh, I loved this one! Thanks for the reminder. I suggest that you read Mariana next... you'll be hooked.

  5. Love your review...and the cover is enough to make me want to read it!

  6. Good review. Sounds like a great story. Do you read any YA fiction by overseas authors? If so, try Dangerous Days by J. William Turner, set in Australia in the early 1980's, but published out of New York.

  7. I'm not very big on romance novels but a 5 star rating and you've got me interested. Plus it's historical so it sounds very good :)

  8. I loved this one too! For your next Kearsley, I recommend Mariana or The Shadowy Horses. Both are excellent!

  9. Jennie, I have ordered Mariana, but I suspect my next one is going to be Named of the Dragon simply because that is the only other Kearsley book that my library has!

    Iliana, there is a romantic storyline, but it isn't a traditional romance novel, or at least I wouldn't call it that.

    Aussie T, I haven't heard that book before. Thanks for the rec.

    Mimi, it is a lovely cover isn't it?

    Katherine, I definitely intend to read Mariana soon.

    Misfit, I would definitely say this book is worth ordering from Book Depository.

    Memory and Samantha, I really loved it! I think I mentioned that already?

  10. Wonderful review Marg. I won a copy of this book awhile back and I am looking forward to reading it.

  11. I have this one ready to read. I'm glad to find out that this is the same book as Sophia's Secret as I might have ordered it not realizing they just changed the name of the title (I hate it when they do that). I tried getting Mariana from my library, but their one capy appears to be lost as they have put a 'trace' on it. I'm not optimistic they will find it, but I need to read this one first anyway.

  12. This sounds like just the book for me. I am really glad that you liked it and gave it such a hearty recommendation. I had never heard of it, but now it is way on the top of my wish list. Awesome review!

  13. Glad I found this review on the Bookworms Carnival! I am in a mood for all things Scottish ever since I got hooked on Monarch of the Glen. This looks terrific!

  14. Rose City Reader, I hope that you get to read this and you love it like I did! I am tempted to rread it again, and I only read it a few weeks ago!

  15. Sounds like a great one. I have really loved the Outlander series and I'd read another Scotland book.