Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks, 2010
544 pages

When I got into genealogy a few years ago, I learned that several of my ancestors came from Scotland. Among these was a young man who fled that country after the Battle of Culloden. He fought on the losing side of said battle and was considered an outlaw by the English. This personal connection got me interested in the Jacobites, which somehow I missed in my history classes. I've been looking for a good historical novel set in that era for several years now, and I found it in The Winter Sea.

There are two main storylines in The Winter Sea. One is first person, told from the perspective of Carrie, a present-day author of historical fiction who's recently arrived in Cruden Bay (near Aberdeen) to research and write her next book, which takes place at nearby Slains Castle.

A Canadian of Scottish descent, Carrie grew up hearing her Dad's stories about their Scottish ancestors, who were from the western Shires -- the other side of the country. Yet for some reason, upon arriving in Cruden Bay, Carrie has a feeling that she has come home. Almost immediately, she's compelled to begin writing the story of one of her ancestors, Sophia.

The second story is Sophia's. A strong, clever girl, she has come to Slains from the west to live with a distant relative, the Countess of Errol. The Countess and her son (the Earl of Errol) are both Jacobites, and Slains castle is a hub of Jacobite activity. As Sophia is drawn into the day-to-day affairs of the castle, she develops a relationship with a young soldier who will change her life forever.

Back in the present time, Carrie becomes increasingly drawn into the story she's writing about Sophia. It turns out that many of the things she writes about (without researching first) are actually true: names of people and ships, descriptions of the castle layout, and so on. Carrie begins to wonder if she's sharing some sort of ancestral memory with Sophia. When she's not writing, she's dealing with two brothers, Stuart and Graham, local lads who are competing for her affections.

The Winter Sea is probably most accurately categorized as a historical romance. But don't let the "R" word put you off. Canadian author Kearsley does a fabulous job explaining the very complex history of the Jacobite era, which is so complicated I found myself consulting Wikipedia and other internet sources on occasion, just to catch up. For example, I never knew about the Darien Colony, a failed attempt by Scotland to establish a territory in Panama. This is the reason it took me so long -- about 3 weeks -- to read The Winter Sea.

Whether or not you have connections to Scotland, if you appreciate good historical fiction, I'm pretty sure you'll like The Winter Sea. (Or Sophia's Secret, if you're in the UK.)