Review of “The Winter Sea” by Susanna Kearsley

This book contains a story within a story (Mise en abyme is the French term for this literary device, stemming from the practice in heraldry of placing the image of a small shield on a larger shield) using the clever conceit that the main character (in the present) is writing a book about a character in the past.

Carolyn (“Carrie”) McClelland, 31, travels to in Aberdeenshire, Scotland to see the ruins of Slains Castle (also known as New Slains Castle), for research for her new novel. She rents a cottage near the ruins from a local man, Jimmy Keith, who just happens to have two handsome (and single) sons, Stuart and Graham.

Carrie’s book is set at the time of the 1708 Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, an attempt by the Scots to negate the Union of 1707 between England and Scotland and bring the exiled Catholic King James VIII back from France to take the Scottish throne. [James is Jacobus in Latin. The Jacobite movement was not finally quashed until the 1746 Battle of Culloden, which readers of historical fiction will remember from Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. Jacobites had to meet in secret, and there were many in Scotland who served either as spies or co-conspirators. This book brings us into the thick of the story, with much more historical background provided than is given in the “Outlander” series.]

While at the cottage working on her novel, the main protagonist of which is her ancestor Sophie Paterson, Carrie keeps having the sensation of déjà vu, and soon is forced to accept that she is somehow channeling Sophie’s memories. (The emphasis is not on the “paranormal”; Carrie consulted a local doctor, who told her there is a theory that ancestral memories can be transmitted by DNA.)

As Carrie continues to write (the chapters of her book, which stem more from Carrie’s unconscious than from any active effort on her part, are interspersed with chapters from the present day), what happens to her parallels, in some ways, what happens to Sophie.

Both stories are quite compelling, and you will feel much as Carrie’s agent does when Carrie gives her what she insists is the final chapter of the book.

Evaluation: This is an excellent book for fans of Diana Gabaldon (who actually should read this book first, since it not only precedes The Outlander Series in its historical framework, but provides great background information on the Jacobite Movement). There is plenty of history and romance, and there’s something irresistible (to Americans at any rate) about the Scottish setting, accents, and romantic style. (As I’ve mentioned before, when you add the historical backdrop of Scotland, you win over a large number of American women. Check the incredible number of books on Goodreads labeled “Highlander Romance.”)

Rating: 3.5/5

Published in paperback by Sourcebooks, 2010

Slains Castle

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7 Responses to Review of “The Winter Sea” by Susanna Kearsley

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I’ve heard a lot of praise for Kearsley’s work but I just don’t care about that time period. Isn’t that awful of me?

  2. Diane says:

    I’ve been wanting to try this author, but I just don’t see me enjoying Outlander type stories. Like Kathy, the time period is of little interest to me as well:(

  3. Beth F says:

    Ha! I read the 3rd paragraph and was going to ask about Jamie!!!

  4. I HAVE NEVER LIKED SCOTTISH SETTINGS. Phew I am glad that’s off my chest.

  5. The one Kearsley novel I’ve read I’ve loved — I want to get this one. I must admit, you had me in stitches with your comment about American women and Scottish settings — I’m surrounded by readers like that!

  6. Heather says:

    I read one of Kearsley’s books a couple of years ago and really liked it, but haven’t read one since. I have THREE of her novels on my TBR shelves (I think including this one) so I should really just get to them already, yes?

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    I loved this one, and yes, it was Outlanderly but at a quarter of the size I appreciated the same type of storytelling on limited reading time 🙂 And Scottish men are totally hot.

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