The Winter Sea popped up on Amazon as a recommendation because I like Diana Gabaldon’s books. And since I’m always looking for something half as good as Outlander, it was worth a try. It’s a historical novel, written from the perspective of a modern day writer, Carrie McLelland. Carrie is writing a novel set in Scotland in 1708 about one of the failed attempts to put James Stewart back on the throne. She rents a cottage in Cruden Bay, a small seaside town in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, near a ruined castle called Slains. The story and the setting call to her in a very strong way as she begins writing.
Carrie uses one of her ancestors, Sophie Paterson, as her main character. This is not a time travel or paranormal book, although Carrie does “see” the past of her main character, which turns out to be completely factual even though Carrie thinks she’s inventing the story. I really liked how Kearsley incorporates genealogical and historical research into the story. It’s kind of cool to see how a historical novelist works. I also liked how Kearsley uses a few genealogical facts to frame the story. Carrie knows, based on records, that Sophie Paterson will get married in a few years to David McLelland, which puts her whole romantic story in question. So you know HOW it will end but you have no idea how she’ll get there.
And that work is what really makes this book worth a read. Carrie may be “channeling” memories of her ancestor as she writes, but Kearsley really goes the extra mile to fill this book with research and detail. The attempted uprising in 1708 is one I didn’t know much about. From the Outlander books I know a lot about Charles Stewart and 1745, and I knew there were earlier attempts to put the Stewarts back on the throne. But this is a new part of the history, told in a really thoughtful, detailed way.
I recently reviewed Under the Same Sky, which was a good historical romance but really lacked the detail I wanted. This book gives you all that, and it doesn’t stop at the details that directly affect the characters, but really goes into long explanations about the history of England and Scotland. So whether you like this book will depend on whether that level of detail is what you want. I loved it.
I also really enjoyed the setting. Kearsley’s writing is descriptive so you can really see and feel where you are, and I like how she contrasts modern day ruins with the castles and towns of 1708. The sea may be a bit overused as a metaphor but I can live with it, since I always find views of the sea incredibly powerful.
As with a lot of “back-and-forth” novels (meaning it jumps from future to past), the modern day story is kind of weak and is basically a vehicle to tell the other story. Carrie becomes involved in a romance that isn’t half as well developed as the romance of her character. The man in her life seems way too perfect except for his total unwillingness to confront his brother who is also interested in Carrie – in fact, the brother story was completely annoying. Carrie seems perfectly willing to lead this guy on because she lacks the nerve to actually say “I’m not interested” – then just hooks up with his brother behind his back. Blech.
But that’s a small thing in an otherwise grand story. Oh, and you should know that Kearsley skips over all the sexy parts… it’s all smoldering glances, clothes on the floor and then waking up the next morning, smile on face. I can live with that, but wouldn’t have minded a little more.
Amidst the richly told history, The Winter Sea gives you strong characters and a compelling story. I’ll definitely read more by this author.