Today I am very pleased to be posting a discussion about Susanna Kearsley's new book which is released in the UK tomorrow and then in the US in April/May! I can't tell you how excited I was when I got an early copy of this book! (There may have been squeeing and happy dancing!) When I knew that Rosario also got an early copy, the idea of doing this discussion post was born. A conversation about one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite bloggers! What could be better?
Rosario has the first part of the discussion, which ended with the question "Were you surprised by the journey that both the present and past characters took?" Her thoughts are in red and mine in black.
On with the discussion...
Rosario: I was, actually. First, although I’d read the blurb, and knew the story would have something to do with Russia, I really didn’t expect for it to be mostly set there. I absolutely loved that it was. I’ve come to expect Kearsley’s books to include settings that are so vivid that they almost become characters in their own right, and I wasn’t disappointed here. You can picture every single place clearly, to the point you can almost smell and taste! It’s not just that she includes a lot of detail, it’s that she includes just the right things and in just the right way. It really isn’t easy to do. I read a mystery recently where the author went into just as much detail (even some of the things that Kearsley does, such as which streets they took to get to X, that sort of thing) and it was incredibly tedious. I just wanted her to get to the flipping point, whereas with Kearsley, I wallow. That’s the only word for it.
I was also surprised by the plot, especially that of the historical story. One of the things I most appreciate about Kearsley’s books is how she often uses events from history that I really don’t know anything about. It means she can write plots which are very influenced by big-picture historical events and based on real people, and still not dilute the tension, because most readers (me, for instance) will have no idea of how things will turn out. This was just perfect. I had no idea of the history involved, and it was fascinating.
I suppose the romances themselves weren’t as surprising, as they are very much vintage Kearsley, but they were both beautifully done and very satisfying. You mention you had a bit of a preference for the historical story. What was it about it that you preferred? Me, I kept switching sides. My favourite was always whichever one I was reading!
Marg: It wasn’t so much the romance aspect where I preferred one over the other story, although I will say that while Rob feels like a quintessential Kearsley hero, the man in the past didn’t as much! It was more in the historical details like the fact that there were Jacobites that were trying to drum up support for their leader in courts as far away as Russia. I knew that they were in France and Italy, but Russia really surprised me. I also do have a fondness for books that are set in Russia, so the chance to read more about Russian Tsars and spies and St Petersburg back in the day (St Petersburg is high up on the list of places I need to get to one day).
I liked the modern story a lot, but in a lot of ways the relationship between Rob and Nicola felt like it was both their journey (both emotionally and physically) but more importantly it was the gateway to the past story.
While Rob was a character from The Shadowy Horses, this book for me sits more comfortably as a sequel to The Winter Sea. It would work fine as a stand-alone book but better as a sequel. Should we talk about how these two books are connected and a bit about the historical plot?
Rosario: I agree that Rob is THE quintessential Kearsley hero, but “the man in the past” (guess who we’re talking about could be seen as a spoiler!) does have the sense of honour and caring as well, it’s just that he has reasons to present a slightly different façade to the world.
Anyway, yes, the historical plot. Ah, this is going to be delicate, because I don’t want to spoil The Winter Sea for those who haven’t read it, and the very basics of Anna’s story are closely related to the end of that book. I’ll try to keep the particulars of that relationship quite vague.
As you mentioned earlier, Marg, when holding the object belonging to the old lady, Nicola sees an image from the past. One of the two women in that image is Empress Catherine, but the other is a young woman, presumably the ancestor who got given the object. Nicola and Rob realise that their best bet is to find out more about this young woman, and travel to the village by Slains Castle, where the old lady had said she was from (and readers of The Winter Sea are going ding-ding-ding!).
It turns out that using Rob’s powers, they are able to find the young woman, Anna, as a young girl, and by listening in on different episodes in her life, they’re able to follow her. Even though she’s a young girl, the circumstances of Anna’s life mean that she doesn’t stay put in Scotland, but ends up embarking on quite an adventure, first in Belgium, and then travelling to St Petersburg, where she grows up amongst Jacobite families who are still very involved in the fight to put their leader on the throne.
I have to agree with you, Marg, although there are connections to both The Shadowy Horses and The Winter Sea, the fact that Rob is Robbie is just a lovely easter egg (i.e. it’s a nice surprise for those who’ve read TSH, but those who haven’t read it won’t feel like they’re missing anything). The connection to TWS, on the other hand, makes it more of a sequel, as you rightly say. It’s a “what happened next” in the life of several characters, and we even get info that’s quite key to the HEA of TWS’s protagonists. Did you like this about it?
Marg: I did! It’s funny because when I read The Winter Sea, I was completely satisfied with how it ended, and I wasn’t longing to find out what happened next to the main characters. I may have thought about it briefly, but that was about it,. When we found out what happened during The Firebird though, I was really pleased that we did get that glimpse.
One of the key things that I have come to expect from Susanna Kearsley is that there will be a twist in the tale. She is so good at telling a story and then suddenly including something that makes you look back at what you have read and see it a little differently and it all makes perfect sense in the context. For example, when I read the twist in The Rose Garden I literally gasped out loud! Whilst my reaction wasn’t as visceral in this book, it was very much an a-ha moment! I am trying very hard not to give anything away, but did you see the big reveal about one character’s identity coming or were you surprised by it?
Rosario: I did not see it coming in the least, but once I knew, I flipped back frantically and saw the clues I’d missed. And I’d read The Winter Sea, and everything, so you’d have thought I’d have been less oblivious! It was a good way to close that particular element of the story, left me feeling very satisfied.
In fact, satisfied is how the whole book left me. I enjoyed it thoroughly as I was reading: romances, plot, setting, everything! And then I closed it with a smile. It was an A- for me. How about you Marg?
Marg: I knew I was going to like the book it was just a question of how much. It is a Kearsley novel after all and I have said before that I am genetically predisposed to loving her books! It was a 9/10 read for me, so we are about the same in our grading!
Thanks for discussing the book with me Rosario! I enjoyed our discussion!
Rosario: So did I, Marg, thank you!