Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is a combination historical fiction and contemporary with romances taking place during both time lines and running parallel to each other. Kearsley uses one central character, Carrie McClelland, to tie both storylines and romances together.

James VIII of Scotland
(1688 - 1766)  
Carrie McClelland is a seasoned historical fiction author writing a historical fiction romance that took place in the midst of the failed Jacobite conspiracy to return James Stuart or James VIII to the throne of Scotland in 1708. Unfortunately, Carrie is suffering from writer's block, but while visiting Scotland fate takes a hand and she ends up at a place that calls to her, Slains Castle in Cruden Bay and there meets a man with winter sea eyes. Carry moves to a cottage within sight of the Slains Castle and begins the process of writing her story from the perspective for a fictional woman as the central character, one she names after a long-dead Scottish ancestor, Sophia Paterson. At first her story seems to spill out of her with characters and situations so vivid and real that she can't seem to stop writing, but slowly Carry's research shows that her characters and events, down to the smallest details, were indeed true. Carry ends up with more questions than answers. How can this be happening?

Admiral Thomas Gordon
This is where I fell in love with this book. Kearsley seamlessly weaves two beautiful stories together. She focuses the historical fiction romance of the young, orphaned Mistress Sophia Paterson whose kinswoman the Countess of Erroll, mother to the Earl of Errol takes her in to live as her companion in Slains Castle at Cruden Bay. Soon, Sophia is embroiled in a Jacobite conspiracy to return James Stuart or James VIII to the Scottish throne and meets the young and loyal Jacobite John Moray who already has a price on his head for treason against the crown. Kearsley then proceeds to weave a gorgeous romance between these two characters that is full of danger, betrayal, excitement, angst, and timeless love.

James, 4th Duke of Hamilton
(1658 - 1712)
I love that within this romance Kearsley includes historical characters John Moray, Nathaniel Hooke, Captain Thomas Gordon, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earl of Erroll, his mother the Countess of Erroll, and more. However, these characters are not portrayed as two-dimensional historical figures but become viable characters in the novel that contribute to both the story and the romance. I was particularly taken by the Countess of Erroll whose characterization is extremely well-rendered, as is Thomas Gordon. Sophia and Moray's romance made me sigh out loud, bite my nails at the danger they both faced, and cry. . . Yes, this was an emotional read for me.

But Kearsley's main character is Carrie McClellan and she is a historical fiction romance writer, so think of this as a romance within a romance. By setting up the story this way, Kearsley uses her character's portrayal as a writer to incorporate pertinent historical background and deftly avoids making it feel like info-dump, instead history becomes a key element of the exciting romance/story Carrie is weaving. However, this set-up also serves to give readers an intimate view into a writers world: how they conduct research, the writing process, and even little details like daily routines, and even relationships with readers. I loved that little peek into a writers' world.

All of those details are an intrinsic part of the contemporary storyline which includes a straight forward romance with Carrie as the female protagonist. This romance narrated in the first point of view from Carrie's perspective has little angst and not much conflict, but it includes some of my favorite secondary characters and it ties in quite well with the historical fiction story and romance. Additionally, in Mariana I loved how Kearsley executed the time-travel aspect of her story, in The Winter Sea although on the surface the end result of how Carrie gains knowledge about a different period in time may sound similar, in reality it is quite different and if not necessarily as arresting to me, how Kearsley develops this aspect of the story is definitely intriguing.

Kearsley's writing swept me away to Scotland, both to 1708 and contemporary times. This is only my second read by this author, but I'm loving her writing style, the excellent fusion of historical fiction romance and contemporary romance that she uses to whisk me away to another time while simultaneously keeping me grounded to the present, and her talent for bringing historical characters to life and creating a romance that stays with me. So, the end result is that I will definitely continue to explore her backlist with pleasure.

Slains Castle, Cruden Bay, Scotland

Part I: Group Read: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley hosted by Christine of The happily ever after...

Part II: Group Read The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley


  1. Your review is so full of interesting feels very professional lol

    Hope you can read more of hers...I'm reading "Mariana" next month and "Every Secret Thing" in April, want to read it too so we can compare thoughts after?

    1. Sonia, I was taken with how Kearsley plotted the parallel stories. I think they worked quite well. But, at the same time the stories, particularly the one in 1708 really kept me glued to the pages until the very end. I really liked this book!

      I will be reading more... "The Rose Garden" is next. I already have it in my possession. :D Can't wait to read your thoughts on "Mariana" and will definitely discuss it with you.

  2. I finally finished reading this! Oye! I actually went three weeks without having finished a book--it was killing me! Just too busy.. but the book was great. Really enjoyed the way the past and present were woven together and I learned so much about that little time period that I was really clueless about before. I love your photo of Slains Castle. That's exactly how I pictured it. :)

    Firebird comes out in the US in June and it is the story about Anna--also written in a contemporary and historical blended story. Did you know that?

    1. Christine, I'm glad you really enjoyed The Winter Sea. Isn't the historical fiction aspect of this book interesting? I really had not read anything about this 1708 Jacobite conspiracy, it's always about Bonnie Prince Charlie! So, you are not the only one.

      I found so many beautiful pictures of Slains Castle. It makes me dream of going there. How about you? What a gorgeous place!

      I'm looking forward to reading The Firebird, thanks for the heads up about that story I didn't know about it! It will be wonderful to know what happened to Anna! I do wonder if Carrie and Graham will be part of that story too.

  3. I enjoyed this so much that I was actually sad to finish it. I wish it had gone on for another hundred or more pages. Leaving Carrie and Sophia was like leaving some very good friends you're not sure you'll be seeing again.

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