Thursday, June 9, 2011
Review: The Winter Sea
Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea was an enjoyable first read on my new Nook Color. The novel follows two parallel narratives, one being that of modern-day writer Carrie McClelland who settles into a rented cottage on the Scottish coast to work on her newest historical novel, and the other is that of Carrie's heroine, Sophia Patterson, named, on a whim, for one of Carrie's ancestors. Carrie's novel, the story within the story, is set in 1708 at Slains Castle and follows Sophia as she finds romance and danger in the midst of an early attempted Jacobite uprising. At modern day Slains, Carrie becomes concerned when she discovers that her imagined scenes between characters are born out as true by her subsequent research. She comes to believe that her novel is less fictional that history--she has inherited the memory of her ancestress, and her writing uncovers a variety of twists and surprises that had not been included in the family record.
Despite the quirky framing and occasional references to genetics and DNA to explain how Carrie could possess the memories of her great-great-great-great-great grandmother, the story is less sci-fi /fantasy and more historical novel. The Carrie narrative arc is gentle: her encounters with the locals who are eager to supply her with material for her novel, the fairly harmless triangle that arises between herself and the two sons of her landlord, and the descriptions of her writing process. Despite its relative quietude, I liked the Carrie arc--I wanted to know who she ended up with, and as someone who has been attempting a bit of writing myself, I am interested in other writer's descriptions of the process (and surely Carrie and Kearsley share ideas on this subject?). The Sophia arc was also interesting, if, again, a bit quiet. There is danger, but most of Sophia's trials are mental--the references to chess games are apt, as she attempts to hide the information she possesses from those who might harm her loved ones and their mission to bring back the Scottish king. Her's is a more likely true look at the dangers women faced--domestic dangers, the trials of waiting, knowing but being unable to act.
The book reminded me quite a bit of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series--both take place in 18th century Scotland and involve "time-travel" in a way. But Kearsley's is a gentler tale--far less sex and violence than Gabaldon's lusty adventures. I definitely recommend the novel as an engaging but tranquil historical read.