In 1708, upon the declaration that Scotland is going to become a part of England, Scottish nobles plan an insurrection to bring back to Scotland their exiled, rightful king, young James Stewart, who has been bidding his time in the French court in Saint-Germain since his mother spirited him away when a child to save both their lives.
In the Scottish north, the castle of Slains—home to the countess of Errol and her son the earl-- serves as scenario to the encounters and preparations before the expedition that would bring king James back to claim his throne.
Young Sophia Paterson has recently arrived to live at Slains at the countess’ invitation. Sophia narrates the story of the plotting and maneuvering to neutralize Queen Anne’s spies and successfully organize the mission. Amidst the war games, Sophia falls in love with a Scottish colonel--envoy and protégé of Queen Mary—, who has a massive prize on his head.
In present day, historical fiction writer Carrie McClellan is writing a book on the Jacobite insurrection. When she moves to the town home to Slains, her book begins to take form very swiftly because she feels her characters talking to her. Ever present in her daydreams is the voice (or echo) of Sophia Paterson, who is none other than Carrie’s ancestor.
I really liked The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Last year I read several favorable reviews/endorsements for this book and put it on my reading list. I bought a paperback last year, but since I’m on a roll reading from my smartphone, I recently bought a Kindle copy for very little because I had bought the paperback from the same seller. Thank goodness I did, because the book is thick and I found that rather discouraging.
I’m happy to report that the reviews were right. The Winter Sea is atmospheric, enthralling, hard to put down. I liked the sort of dreamlike quality of the book, the echo of voices from a distant era dictating a story that refused to stay hidden. I felt empathy with that kind of writing.
The love stories (both modern and ancient) were anything but corny; I found them very romantic and I also liked that Kearsley didn’t waste time describing the sex when given the magnetism between the protagonists it was implied that it was going to be off the charts. Kearsley kept it clean and classy and that’s another plus for this magnificent story.
I liked the happy-ish ending, though I would have been more than satisfied with the sad version as well. However, I found that the “happy” alternative wrapped things up very tidily as good stories are supposed to end.
In summary, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is historical fiction at its best, drawing from a relatively unknown (at least for me) chapter of Scottish history. Though it’s at its core a love story defying death or time, it’s also a narration about political maneuvering and intrigue.