Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea


Warning: spoilers below.

A book within a book, there are two parallel stories in this novel separated by three hundred years. The 21st century framing story is that of Carrie Mclelland, writer of historical novels, who is attempting to write a novel set in France in the late 17th century. As Carrie researches and begins to write her intended novel, the plot is somehow hijacked by a minor character in the intended novel, one Sophia Paterson, an orphan some forty years later around the time of the 1708 Jacobite uprising. As Carrie progresses with her novel, now sidelined from her original idea, historical facts surface which reveal that her purported novel may not be so fictional after all. I won’t reveal the real endings up here but for good guessers, yes, Sophia and Carrie both do.

Historical accuracy is definitely a plus; Kearsley does reasonably well, both in the major and minor details. While alternating between the parallel romances does heighten the tension in each, the overall length of novels these days means that each half is somewhat too brief for my tastes. if taken individually, each is little more than a Harlequin romance in length, plot development and characterization, though better written. At the risk of spoilers, I’m not happy with the ending of the historical component of the novel; I would have preferred that Sophia remain a widow then move on to another marriage and another family and life. Bringing back the man to whom she was handfasted but believed dead was bad enough. However, NOT going back to retrieve their daughter born in his absence felt wrong. I understand that Sophia would have felt that leaving her daughter with a family familiar to her would have been a better choice than attempting to raise the child on her own as a single mother. Perhaps it even makes sense to leave the child with her adoptive parents after the father’s return, as the child would have settled in there and come to believe them her family rather than Sophia…but at least *visit* the kid. Not bringing her along because Ireland was unsafe for kids at the time, but then having three subsequent children after their arrival doesn’t make sense. I felt that Carrie was pressured into “fixing” the ending she’d originally written at her agent’s behest, but for some reason Kearsley did not also fix one of the heartbreaking subplots of the historical component rendered necessary by .

What might someone like after this? Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series springs to mind in that it’s also set in Scotland in the 18th century; the time travel element is absent in Kearsley’s novel but the Jacobite Uprising(s) thread combining the historical component of each author’s work might attract readers.

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