Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Series: Standalone
Published: September 22nd, 2008
Publisher: Allison & Busby
527 pages (paperback)
Genre: Contemporary/Historic fiction
Acquired this book: From the library
Warning: May contain spoilers
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The past won’t let you forget…

When bestselling author Carrie McClelland visits the ruins of Slains Castle in Scotland to research her new book, she is unprepared for the magnetic pull the local area has on her. Enchanted by the stark and beautiful Scottish landscape, she rents an old stone cottage near the windswept ruins and decides to set her new historical novel at the castle itself.

History has all but forgotten the spring of 1708, when an invasion fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing their exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Realizing one of her own ancestors, Sophia Paterson, lived around the same time, Carrie creates a fictional life for Sophia and places her at Slains to be a narrator for the events leading to the Jacobite uprising. It is a time seething with political unrest and there is no shortage of spies and clandestine meetings at Slains. Soon, the characters in her book come alive with almost frightening intensity and Carrie is shocked when she learns that Sophia was indeed a resident at the castle at the time. When further coincidences confirm her fiction is closer to fact, Carrie realizes that this story is not entirely her own. As Sophia’s memories draw Carrie more deeply into the intrigue of 1708, she comes to understand that a hitherto unrealized bond with her ancestor is providing her with an immediate window into the true events of the time - and the two women have more in common than one might think.

Mesmerizing and rich in historical detail, The Winter Sea is a haunting tale of two women’s experiences of love and personal betrayal in two very different times. 


Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea has single-handedly rekindled my love of historic fiction. This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It skillfully weaves the past and present into a story of intrigue, romance, and danger, and will keep you guessing and hoping, while falling in love with the characters. 

The story starts off with Carrie, an author of historic fiction, who had been in France attempting to write her next novel. When she visits Scotland, she’s drawn to Slains Castle, and decides to stay in Scotland and work on her story because it just wasn’t happening in France. When she realizes the story needs to be told from a woman’s perspective, she decides to create a fictional life for her ancestor, Sophia Paterson. The story comes with such ease, and in such a vivid manner, Carrie wonders if Sophia’s story is fact rather than fiction, and if her memories have somehow been awakened in Carrie.

What follows is a story so rich in detail and so intricately woven, it nearly took my breath away. Set against a harsh winter background on the Scottish seaside, the story goes back and forth between Carrie in the present day and Sophia in the early 1700s. In a time of political and religious turmoil, Sophia’s life at Slains is surrounded by clandestine meetings, spies, and plans to bring James Stewart back to Scotland from France to take the throne. Things are further complicated when Sophia falls in love with a man marked with a price on his head.

This novel is full of wonderful, three-dimensional characters. Every character has a purpose, and I found myself getting very attached to them. I related easily to both Carrie and Sophia, and was eager to see where their stories led. At times it felt like Carrie’s side of the story was simply there to move things along, and there was less development on her end, and while I enjoyed it very much, I was always eager to get back to Sophia’s story. 

Quite possibly my favourite part of each woman’s story was the romance. Neither love story came easily, and it was especially hard to believe Sophia would get a happily ever after, but with the swoonworthy Scots Kearsley created, I think it would be hard not to fall in love with them. I was especially enamored of Sophia and John’s romance. John had this quiet, understated way about him, and he didn’t say much but when he did, he made his words count. I just wish we’d seen more of him throughout the story!

I wasn’t familiar with the history of the Franco-Scottish plans of 1708, so I found the history aspect of it fascinating (even though it was a bit hard to keep up with at times). It was clearly well-researched, and laid out in a way that was both interesting and entertaining. While the overall pacing of the book was a bit slow at times, I never lost interest.

The Winter Sea is a beautiful, gripping story about fate and the power of enduring love. I was so invested in the story that towards the end, even though I had a feeling I knew what was coming, I was on the edge of my seat, turning pages as fast as possible with tears building in my eyes. I was so enthralled with it, I didn’t want it to end. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me certain that this will be the first of many books by Susanna Kearsley I will read.

“Ye were mine from the moment I first saw ye.” ~ John Moray, page 305

“Ye told me once I had your heart…And ye have mine…It does not travel with me, lass, across the water. Where you are, it will remain. Ye’ll not be on your own…And I’ll no more be whole again till I return.” ~ John Moray, page 307-8

Whatever might become of them, she knew that there was nothing that could rob them of that happiness. For they had lived their winter, and the spring had finally come. ~ page 513

Have you read The Winter Sea? What did you think? Have you read any of Kearsley's other books? How about books set both in present day and the past? Do you enjoy historic fiction? I want to hear from you!


  1. Great review! This sounds like such a beautiful read- and I am a sucker for historical fiction. I will need to check this title out.


  2. What a nice review. I have walked by this book so many times at the bookstore wondering if I should get it or not. The Winter Sea sounds like my kind of book. I love books set in Scotland, and the fact the story is told from two women's perspective is even better. Thanks for the review Marie. :)

  3. *SWOON* This is me, swooning! I'm eye'ing this one on my bookshelf now and VOWING to get to it soon. Your review and THOSE QUOTES, UGH I CAN'T. I simply need to read this one so I can discuss it with you!


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