The Winter Sea

Susanna Kearsley
2008, Historical Fiction (modern-day and 1708 Scotland)
Allison & Busby Limited, $10.95, 529 pages, Amazon ASIN 0749007400

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Subtle

Note: There is currently no U.S. edition of this book available, but it can be ordered through Amazon.ca. In addition, Sourcebooks will be publishing a U.S. edition sometime in the fall of 2010.

I have been a fan of Barbara Michaels since I first discovered reissues of her books in high school. I love the manner in which her books blend past and present, capturing both the most romantic and most mysterious qualities of history. Historical purists may cringe, but there's something about the manner in which these stories bring long dead people and places to life that makes them feel real and compelling. In The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley pulls off a similar feat, and I suspect fans of Barbara Michaels or Mary Stewart will enjoy this one.

Author Carrie McClelland lives in France and has been working on her latest work of historical fiction, focusing on Nathaniel Hooke and his plan to help put the Stewarts back on the throne of Scotland in 1708. However, her writing feels rather uninspired until she visits Slains Castle in Scotland. Somehow she just knows that this is the place where she needs to focus her efforts.

And inspired it turns out to be. After arriving in Slains, Carrie finds characters taking over her work. She starts plotting out aspects of the book that touch on history she hasn't even researched yet and she somehow knows things about people of the time that she would have no way of knowing. Yet, when she starts following up on these things she has written, they turn out to be correct.

The book has a wonderful construction. We follow Carrie as she explores Slains, researches its history, and finds herself caught in a modern-day love triangle of sorts with her landlord's two sons. When Carrie meets Stuart, he almost immediately starts trying to charm her. His brother Graham, a historian, has a professional interest in Carrie's work, but readers will almost immediately notice chemistry here, too.

In addition to enjoying how the modern-day romantic plot played out, I loved seeing Carrie unravel the mystery of who the characters in her book really were and what became of them. The novel instersperses chapters telling the story of Sophia and her beloved in 1708 with modern-day ones, and the result is a multi-layered novel that moves very smoothly.

Though things got off to a slightly draggy start, I was glad that I stayed with The Winter Sea. The story was deliciously romantic and the writing style matched the brooding, haunting tale very well. Definitely well worth reading!

-- Lynn Spencer

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