Last year I read my first Susanna Kearsley book and it ended up being one of my favorites of the year. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her backlist. The Winter Sea had a similar plot to The Rose Garden in that they both had historical plots taking place parallel to their present counterparts, but that’s where the similarities end.
On one of my latest reviews I was complaining about unrealistic endings where the characters got everything they wanted, and how I felt that we should get more bittersweet endings where the characters had to make sacrifices. This book is a perfect example of that. I think not everyone would be happy with how things end but to me it was fitting to the circumstances. The ending was both happy and sad, and I was very glad (and weepy!).
Carrie McClelland writes historical fiction. She plans to set her latest novel in France, but fate, the muses and something else have different plans altogether. When researching for her novel she finds herself drawn to a small town in Scotland and to the story of some new characters. She names her heroine after a family ancestor, but when she starts writing she realizes that fiction is starting to resemble reality more and more, and that coincidence is not enough reason to explain what’s happening.
While in Scotland she meets Jimmy Keith and his two sons, Stuart and Graham. The pull she feels towards Graham is as strong as the one she feels towards the story and their relationship develops quickly. She also has to deal with Stuart’s affections but there are no villains here, it’s obvious that she wants Graham and it’s obvious that once Stuart realizes it, his heart wont break.
I’m hesitant to even explain a bit of the historical plot because it’s so interesting and surprising that it shouldn't be spoiled. There’s a love story at its core that’s beautiful and romantic, and at times I felt like a voyeur reading it. To me it was such a private thing to be witnessing, which is weird because I have lost count of how many sex scenes I have read, and the romance between these characters was a secret courtship of stolen moments with nothing graphic about it. But the characters felt so real that it was like reading about friends or family. It’s also a story about spies, plotting and suspense. There’s enough drama, mystery and incertitude to keep every reader guessing, and to keep this reader in particular ugly-crying through half the book.
The contemporary romance is subtle and sweet, a bit understated but compelling and satisfying. The historical romance, on the other hand, is passionate and angsty. It reminded me to those old-school historicals where the characters fall in love quickly only to spend the rest of the book separated, the difference being that what keeps them apart are the circumstances instead of a misunderstanding or the characters’ own stupidity. Yes, you will worry and the happy ending takes time, but you will be rewarded at the end, and you won’t doubt that the leads love each other and want to be together.
Ms. Kearsley’s voice is amazing. She paints such a vivid picture that I had no trouble at all imagining myself in the places she describes. This book flows faster than The Rose Garden, a book that had an almost sleepy quality to it. In The Winter Sea things happen a lot quicker and there’s more action. Most of it happens off-page, but the uncertainty of not knowing when the action will finally catch up to the characters was enough to get me interested and worried.
I’m a fan of stories within a story, but I think that they are hard to pull off. Almost every time one story overshadows the other. One would think that something like that would be the case here, mostly because both stories are so different. But not once did I find myself thinking that one couple was stealing the other couple’s spotlight. There’s also the fact that both stories are deeply intertwined so you want to know more about them just to find out how it all ends.
The Winter Sea is complex, interesting, romantic and heartbreaking. It’s beautifully written, evocative and engaging. A wonderful story that I'm sure fans of romance will enjoy.
Review by Brie
History has all but forgotten...
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...
Sourcebooks Landmark. December 01, 2010.