Carrie McClelland, a successful author, is struggling with her latest book, a historical novel set against the backdrop of the early Jacobite rebellions and the attempt to restore the exiled King James to his throne. But while on a visit to Scotland to visit her agent she stumbles across the eerie, captivating ruins of Slains, a castle on the coast of eastern Scotland, where she meets a handsome, gray-eyed man. She immediately feels a strange connection to this stark, forbidding landscape, and on a sudden impulse, she moves from France, where she’s currently conducting research on the exiled Stewart kings, to a small village perched on the brutal, windswept coast. She moves into a little cottage, nestled on the shore, and inspiration seems to strike immediately, as her characters begin “to stir, and talk, and take on life.”
Carrie soon begins to feel at home in this bleak landscape, and to her surprise, finds herself writing with uncharacteristic speed, churning out scene after scene, without even seeming to think about it. She creates a heroine, Sophia, named for one of her own ancestors, who has moved to the castle to live with her relatives, the earl and countess, following the death of her parents. But upon conducting further research, it becomes clear that the story is beginning to look more like fact than fiction. Is she somehow remembering a past life? Or channeling the memories of a long-forgotten ancestor?
Carrie is quickly befriended by her landlord, and, not long after arriving, she becomes caught in the middle of an emerging love triangle with his two handsome sons, the outgoing daredevil Stuart and the more scholarly Graham. But the more Carrie writes, the more she finds herself completely engrossed in Sophia’s story, as her eighteenth-century counterpart is slowly drawn into the intrigues and political scheming at Slains. As Sophia’s story gradually unfolds, Carrie becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering how the story ends.
Susanna Kearsley has been compared to Daphne du Maurier, and while I would echo this sentiment, I would in fact be more likely to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. They both skillfully depict the dramatic setting of eighteenth-century Scotland, the rebellions that were fermenting, the melodrama, and the sweeping landscapes.
The Winter Sea is a wonderful blend of stirring history and sweetly understated romance. Even though we know, to some degree, how the story will end before we even begin– no Stewart king ever sat on the throne of Scotland again– Ms. Kearsley has created a highly suspenseful novel. As you wonder how the author will manage to reconcile the history with the hopes you have developed for Sophia, her family, and her own handsome gray-eyed man, I hope you find the ending as touching and satisfying as I did.
Check the WRL catalog for The Winter Sea