One winter day blanketed with snow, historical fiction writer Carrie McClelland took a different turn down an unknown road to pass by the ruined castle of Slains in a coastal town of Scotland. Beguiled by its savage beauty by the edge of the cliffs, it had struck to her the much needed inspiration to finish the next book she was writing, about the Stewarts in the 1700s. On the day she stops by the castle, she meets someone whose eyes are the color of winter sea as the ruins poke her mind with sudden possible scenes using the name of her ancestor, Sophia, to begin her story.
Little did she realize that the plotted events of the distant past seems to be the one maneuvering her writing and her imagination, mysteriously connecting the ancient times to it, appallingly unfolding a betrayal that wrecked havoc in history.
The lines drawn between fiction, history and reality almost blurs on this pleasant novel of Susanna Kearsley, the first in the Slains series, using time travel to hook readers and create suspense. Carrie McClelland rents a winter cottage in Cruden Bay, meeting the locals who were more than jolly to help her with research and show her around. She only meant to stay till the book is done but a voice clamors on her head, full of certainty, saying, 'My heart is held forever by this place. I cannot leave.'
There's a pervading sense of place in Kearsley's writing. She was able to capture the moods of her stories' surroundings; the nostalgic feel of old Scotland, the modern bustle of a Scottish town. In the beginning, I was hooked on the present-day parts (Carrie) and was only mildly interested of the past (Sophia). Halfway through, I was gradually enamored by Sophia's story where I gasped, I got agitated, wistful and was left in turmoil. The author was able to maintain that balance of curiosity between the two heroines though I must say Sophia's story is more riveting.
Kearsley adapted dialects on some of her dialogues lending it a local flavor as well as obviously displaying well-researched historical facts (that is, what's written in the history books). She built engaging and strong characters drawing, perhaps, some readers to root for the Stewarts just this once. Although weighted with romance, the details were pared down to the imagination and left us wanting which makes it all the more precious and fragile, more haunting.
The take on ancestral memory which is relevant to the time travel is put on a tasteful note, paving for poignancy, allowing readers to at least suspend disbelief. The Winter Sea is a tumble of politics, history, royal intrigue, beach town, ruins, romance and melodious prose. What is most interesting to me is how the writer heroine treats her way of writing; she writes only when inspiration strikes and half the time she is clueless of what happens next. Just like one character says of her, 'she pipes her own tune'. And I think, Susanna Kearsley does, too.
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...
Title: The Winter Sea
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Genre: Historical, Romance, Paranormal
Publisher: Allison & Busby
Rating: ♨♨♨♨ (4 cups - A delightful read. Part vintage, part contemporary, it is a well-written historical novel, with similar tones to Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier style.)