The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley

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There are some books that just make the rounds at my library. Everyone has been talking about The Winter Sea. Leading up to Christmas, whatever I read put me to sleep instantly, so I didn’t want to start something that I wasn’t going to be able to finish. I took Kearsley’s book home a few days before my vacation started and it was an instant cure for my reading dry spell.

In The Winter Sea, historical fiction author, Carrie McClelland visits her friend and agent in Scotland. On her way, she drives by Slains Castle and feels an instant connection to it. In hopes of curing her writer’s block, she rents a cottage in the nearby village of Cruden Bay and her novel practically writes itself. Carrie writes the story and then does her research only to find what she has written was true.

In Carrie’s story, Sophia Paterson travels to Slains Castle to stay with her aunt the Countess of Errol. Slains Castle is the headquarters of the Jacobite movement. Plans are being made to return James to Scotland and soon Sophia becomes sympathetic to the cause. She is drawn to John Moray one of the major players in paving the way for the would-be king. Since Moray is a wanted man, he is forced to stay at the castle instead of rallying his fellow Scots to his cause. While at the castle Sophia and Moray form a bond, but they both know that their time is short and Moray will soon return to France to serve his king.

At first, I thought the plot device of having an author as a main character was going to be a bit gimmicky, but I was drawn into the story right away. Carrie is likable and her friend’s in Cruden Bay made it hard for me to put this book down. Jimmy Keith and his sons, Stuart and Graham, are never far away. I’m definitely a sucker for a Scottish accent and some of Jimmy’s speech had me searching for a Scottish glossary. And Graham, what can I say? How is it possible to fall in love with a character when he is only on the page for a moment giving another character directions? I’m not sure, but did I mention he has a dog named Angus?

With most books that move from the past to the present, I usually find myself preferring one time period over another. With The Winter Sea, I was pretty much satisfied in either time. I must confess to knowing very little about Scottish history, so I enjoyed learning about the Jacobites. Being of Scottish descent, though woefully ignorant of most things Scottish, I always enjoy learning a little more about my heritage. I changed my banner in tribute. My husband is desperate to visit the above castle that bears the name of my family’s clan. Of course, no Scots inhabited the castle after the 14th century, but my husband must tell everyone who will listen about the castle and that it is on Loch Ness. Kidnapped is one of his favorite books, so I think he’s jealous.  It is odd that the head of my clan lives in New Orleans, but I digress.

The Winter Sea is one of my top picks for 2010. It’s the kind of historical novel that I love. There are lots of historical details but the story doesn’t focus on the major historical events, rather the everyday people involved. Kearsley’s characters are unique and the secondary characters often shine as much as the main ones.  The scenery is spectacular. I found myself trying to invent an excuse to rent a cottage near a Scottish castle myself!


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