The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea is an historical novel, with a bit of fantasy mixed in. Carolyn McClelland is an author, doing research for a book she is writing which takes place in Scotland in the early 1700’s. The Scots are plotting with the French to put James Stewart, whom they see as their rightful king, on the throne. The English and their queen are quite opposed to this plot.

This is really two stories in one as Kearsley tells McClelland’s story–her writing and her love interest in a certain Scot–and the story McClelland is writing. McClelland’s main character, Sophia, becomes involved with those plotting to bring  James back from his exile in France. It also turns out that Sophia is a real, historical figure; a distant ancestor of the writer, McClelland.

What makes The Winter Sea unique is the way McClelland does her ‘research’. She has the idea of what she wants to do, but until she finds a certain place in Scotland to write, it doesn’t seem to work. Once she finds herself in this place, the characters and their lives come to life in her imagination. People and details that she hasn’t yet found in her research, begin to ‘tell’ her their story. Is there a such thing as ‘genetic memory’, she begins to wonder? If not, how can she know so much about these characters? How have they managed to come so alive for her as she writes?

I enjoyed The Winter Sea for its characters and the way Kearsley intertwined the two stories. Not being very familiar with this time period of English/Scottish history, that part of the story was a little harder to get into; but once I got my characters straight, it made for a fun way to learn some history. Having McClelland connect with her own characters in such an unorthodox way made it a story within a story, and added to the romance and suspense.

Kearsley has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. The Winter Sea was a finalist for a RITA award and the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award. This book is available at the Union County Libraries.

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