Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

For years, Ms. Kearsley has enthralled readers with her tales of love set in the past and the present, in which her characters experience time travel through a variety of means. Her most recent book, The Winter Sea, published in the US by Sourcebooks in December, first appeared in the UK two years ago under the title Sophia's Secret. It is another fine example of her talent for transporting her readers to times past and holding them there, wishing the story wouldn't end.

Historical novelist Carrie McLelland travels to Scotland to do research on her latest novel set during the attempted invasion by the Old Pretender, James VIII, in 1708. Once there, she experiences deja vu and decides to take a cottage in the village nearby Slains Castle, the setting for her book. Her story flows from her fingertips, both exciting and frightening her. Not only has she not ever written so quickly, but she discovers she knows details of the period and its events she has never researched. And once the story starts to emerge, she finds she can't stop it, not even when she meets a local historian who has her questioning her nomadic lifestyle. It soon becomes clear that somehow she has tapped into the memory of her ancestress, Sophia Paterson.

Scotland past and present comes vividly alive in this superior piece of historical fiction - the rugged countryside, salty sea air and rich heritage are the perfect setting for this tale of love, loss and destiny. Carrie and Sophia are both engaging heroines, lively, impulsive and determined to follow their hearts, while the men they love, Graham and John prove to be heroes in every way. The secondary characters, from old Jimmy and his vain son Stuart to the Dowager Countess of Errol and the treacherous Duke of Hamilton, add depth to the plot without overwhelming the central stories. For those who love historical detail, there is plenty of it to revel in, yet never does it appear to be too much or smack of history lectures. Readers will find themselves flipping the pages eagerly, desperate to find out what happens next.

If you're a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Winter Sea, curling up in a chair and losing yourself in it. You won't regret it.