Book Review: Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Posted December 2, 2013 by Stormi in Book Reviews, Review Archive / 0 Comments

Book Review: Winter Sea by Susanna KearsleyWinter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Series: Slains
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Romance, Romance, Time Travel
Published by Allison & Busby on January 1, 2008
Pages: 527
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


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 he

Also by this author: The Firebird, Named of the Dragon

First in the Slains series, although each installment is a standalone. Their commonality is simply the concept of history, romance, and time travel. This particular story is set in Cruden Bay, Scotland, with the couple focus on Sophia Paterson and John Moray in 1707 and Carrie McClelland and Graham Keith in our day.

My Take
Ooh, Kearsley is right, this is a trip through time, only it’s through the DNA memories of an ancestress. And I fell in love! In spite of the cold weather, the story is warm and cozy as Carrie tries to find her characters. A combination of Carrie’s writing and research merges with dreams and the writing of 1707–08 and its real life actors. I adored the characters of both times: today’s Carrie researching her book on the past and Sophia doing her best to survive with dignity.

It reminds me a bit of the Jane Seymour–Christopher Reeve movie, Somewhere in Time, in that Carrie dreams herself back in time and eerily knows too much about an ancestress of whom she was only vaguely aware.

“…struck again by all the little intersecting points between the world that I’d created and the world that really was.”

Wow…it’s chilling how close Carrie comes to truth in this. The funny thing is that I know this is fiction, and yet Kearsley writes this so well that I come away believing it to be non-fiction. Partly because she sticks so closely to historical fact.

I’ve read a bit on the Stewart cause, not much as I do hate reading depressing stories, and their cause was definitely depressing if romantic, and yet this is the first I’ve read of Louis XIV’s reasons for helping James Stewart and his sons. And it makes the most perfect sense. It never has sat right with me that he helped. I never could see that he would gain that much, but this, Moray’s words make sense.

Ach, the tension, the betrayals, the hopes, the fears, dammit! Kearsley has me on tenterhooks and crying. Although, I don’t understand toward the end why Sophia must be parted from Anna, for surely the need is gone.

I love the bit where Colonel Graeme talks of the winter sea, “its face of storms and deaths and sunken hopes”, and then there are other deaths, of how one has always carried on and events occur which change how one sees life, one’s own life. As Carrie says, it’s a winter of firsts for her. It’s a winter of firsts for Sophia as well.

I know it’s supposed to be “wrong” to use dialect, but I do believe a balance can be found between the flavor of a people and making them look foolish. And Kearsley was brilliant in her use of language: I loved the dialect she gave to Jimmie as well as the seventeenth century sentence structures of Sophia’s time, for it made me so much more aware of where and when I was.

One reviewer is unhappy that it’s not a Diana Gabaldon. It’s not. But it is well-written and has the potential to pull you in to the lives of both times. I loved both and would love to know more.

I am looking forward to reading Kearsley’s The Firebird, as it in the same vein of time travel, history, and romance albeit with different characters.

The Story
She’s dreaming and knowing things she shouldn’t. Names, the layout of the castle. And she’s falling in love, much as the heroine in her story is falling.

The Characters
Carolyn McClelland had been born by the sea in Nova Scotia and is an author of historical novels. Jane is her sister (and also her literary agent) with a new baby boy, Jack Ramsay. Her husband Alan‘s choice, as the Ramsays had never named a dog that. They live in Aberdeen where Alan’s company has a fleet of helicopters that service the oil rigs in the North Sea. The girls’ father enjoys researching the family background. Sophia Paterson, the ancestress, had a father James, a mother Mary, and a sister Anna. Ross McClelland is related through a common ancestor back in the late 1600s.

Jimmy Keith has a cottage to let in the village of Cruden Bay where Slains castle ruins lie. Stuart Keith is one of his sons; t’other, older one, Graham, is a history lecturer in Aberdeen with a spaniel, Angus. Dr. Douglas Weir (Elsie is his wife) is very interested in the local history with a great deal to say about the Errolls and their countesses as well as plans of the new castle.

Characters in the novel Carrie is writing:
Sophia Paterson is an ancestor from 1710-ish who married a David John McClelland and moved from Scotland to Ireland. It’s a name that Carrie appropriates for a character she dreams for her novel in which she’s being passed from relative to relative, including an Uncle John Drummond, and lands with the Countess of Erroll where Mrs. Grant is the cook, Rory is a groom, Kristy is a maid who becomes Sophia’s friend, and Billy Wick is the gardener. The Malcolms are old family retainers, Jacobites.

Other Jacobites include the countess’ son, Charles, the Earl of Erroll and the Lord High Constable of Scotland. Captain Thomas Gordon commands the Royal William and is the commodore of the Scots navy frigates. Colonel Nathaniel Hooke was pivotal and a loyal subject of King James. James, the Duke of Perth, a.k.a., Mr. Perkins, is the countess’ brother.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Moray, brother to William, the Laird of Abercairney, as well as two more brothers, Robert is a lawyer, and sisters. Colonel Patrick Graeme is Moray’s uncle. The baby is Anna, named for Moray’s and Sophia’s sisters.

James Douglas was the fourth Duke of Hamilton.

The Cover
The cover is a central blurry figure of a woman with long, curly red hair in a white gown with her back to us as she faces out to the Winter Sea, a cold death when we face the end of things, things which must end so they can begin again, for “beneath the waves, a warmer current runs, one of spring, of life”.

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