Fiction, Reviews

Review: “The Winter Sea” by Susanna Kearsley

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Paperback: 544 pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Release Date: 1 December 2010

4 STARS

This book popped up as a recommendation by The Wee Reader in her 2016 round up and I couldn’t resist. I enjoyed plowing through all the Outlander books last year and was looking for something that might fill the little homesick hole in my life since I moved to New York.

History has all but forgotten…

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth—the ultimate betrayal—that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…

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Slains Castle Aberdeenshire

There is some really beautiful description in The Winter Sea. The sense of place is evocative and Kearsley has a knack for seamlessly switching between the modern day and historic voices of the characters. In fact, Carrie’s narration is less ‘self-conscious’ than Diana Gabaldon’s Claire Fraser and I found that I was less aware of ‘reading a construction’ with this book – the narrative flowed well and didn’t jar in the way that Claire’s voice occasionally can. I found the characters to be well fleshed out and likeable in the main and I was pleased that whilst there was a bit of romance, this didn’t dominate.

This book is often classed as a ‘time travel’ novel, but this is slightly misleading. It is more that there are two parallel plot lines that are interwoven. This allows Kearsley to use meta-text to explore not only the events of the past, but also the writing process of her central character. Whilst slightly unexpected, I kept expecting the narratives to meet at some point as per a more traditional time travel arc, it was engaging.

On the downside, Kearsley is overly fond of repeated metaphors, especially when describing the cliffs and ‘winter sea’ of the title. My inner teacher was itching to take out a red pen and circle them – find something new! There is also some difficulty in having a central narrator who, by necessity of social and historical norms, is required to be absent from key bits of action. This only became an issue later in the book, but was frustrating and meant that Kearsley had to get around some awkward changes in narrative voice and time, dropping the pace somewhat.

Overall this was a really fun read, not particularly taxing, but one where you definitely want to pick it up as soon as you get home. If you’re looking for something in the Gabaldon oeuvre or set in the Highlands, then this is a good bet.

7 thoughts on “Review: “The Winter Sea” by Susanna Kearsley”

    1. I know 🙂 I grew up in Edinburgh and it’s so nice to be able to read about places you know or have been to and find them described so spot on! Let me know if you’ve got any other recommendations – I’m homesick!

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      1. Ooh cool! The Falconer is set in Edinburgh in the 1800s, YA with fairies if that sounds like your cup of tea, I loved it. I’m reading The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley right now, this one has paranormal ghostly things happening down in Eyemouth rather than a dual POV. I’m loving it.

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  1. Thanks for the recommendation, I really enjoyed this book (although here it’s called Sophia’s secret). I love historical fiction (including Outlander!) and this covers a period of history I’ve not read about before. I’ll definitely look out more by Susanna Kearsley. Great blog!

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