Monday, May 16, 2016

The Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley (Slains #1)

The Winter Sea—Susanna Kearsley (Slains #1) Summary: In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write. But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth—the ultimate betrayal—that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.…

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Review: A friend recommended this book to me knowing that I have Scottish ancestry and love to read and write historical fiction. My friend did not know that I descend from the Hay Clan line that lived at Slains Castle. This book definitely held some personal interest for me! That being said, if not for that interest, I doubt I would have continued past the third chapter. However, I did. It probably took me about halfway through the book to become invested in the story itself for its own merits. 

Carrie McClelland is a best-selling historical novelist who has enough money to live wherever she wants and write whatever she wants and she’s best friends with her agent and everything and she lives the glamorous stereotypical life of an author, which as an author, I find annoying and inauthentic (though obviously this book came from an author, who had no issues with those stereotypes—maybe Susanna Kearsley is living that legendary life!). Carrie intends to write about the 1708 Jacobite Uprising through the eyes of an Irish man in the French Court but after a happenstance detour to Slains Castle in Cruden Bay, Scotland, decides to change the narrator and location of her story. She rents a small cottage in Cruden Bay and begins writing. She writes as she never has before, so swiftly and beautifully. She feels like a medium, a conduit. As she continues with her research, she begins to see that parts of the story she thought she imagined are actual historical fact. And the ancestor’s name she borrowed for as a name for her character was actually, unbeknownst to Carrie, at Slains Castle during this time in history. She begins to realize that the story she is writing is not a fictional account that she is inventing, but a retelling of her ancestor’s story and she is having “ancestral memories,” something the all-too-easily-convinced town doctor compares to inheriting an ancestor's DNA, the same way most people are scared of heights (we must have had an ancient common ancestor who fell off a mountain). Can you tell I felt this plot like was hokey? I think I'd rather go with some kind of supernatural haunting or reincarnation plot device. :) Two brothers begin courting Carrie and there is a sweet, simple, corny love triangle that is too saccharine to put much stock in.

The book alternates between Carrie’s experience writing the book and the actual book, which is the part of The Winter Sea that I enjoyed. This part of the story follows Sophia Paterson, a young from western Scotland sent to live with distant relatives for a short time at Slains Castle in Cruden Bay. Sophia learns of the Jacobite rebellion and develops Jacobite sympathies of her own, though not really based on prinicples or morals, but more from exposure, I think. Everyone around her is a Jacobite and has much to lose if the cause fails, therefore she roots for the cause, too. She falls in love with John Moray, a Scottish outlaw and fierce Jacobite supporter. They marry in secret before he returns to war and before long, Sophia discovers she is with child. The meat of the this aspect of the book revolves around the Sophia-John love story and how her discovery as his wife and mother of his child could be used against him and whether Charles Stewart will regain his throne so Sophia's beloved husband can come back to her.

There is a unique aspect of suspense as Carrie since descended from Sophia Paterson MacClelland, not Sophia Moray. This secret love story is not found within the genealogical records Carrie has access to, and this secret love and heartbreak is something shared between her and her ancestor Sophia. Knowing what she knows about Sophia’s life and her own family history, can Carrie face the ancestral memories she has and finish her story? Though overwritten and heavily dependent upon stereotypes, Sophia’s story engaged me (though Carrie’s did not) beyond my own personal interests. I’ve recommended it to people interested in that time period and the history of Slains. Being fairly educated in my family history, it was fun to see those facts brought to life and done so accurately, as far as my knowledge goes. A sweet love story told with a unique twist, it’s a fun tale. Though it’s the first in the series, it is complete as a stand-alone tale and the other books do not seem to build upon the same characters but rather the same concept of modern day heroines channeling the stories of long-ago heroines.

My rating: 3.5

For the sensitive reader: While there are incidents of intimacy, they are very subtle and veiled. I’d give it a green light for sensitive readers.

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