Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Plot: Carrie is an author researching her latest novel set in the early 1700's.  Her journey started in France and quickly takes her to Scotland, to visit her editor.  Pulled by the beauty of the landscape, she decides to base part of her novel in the area.  Soon Carrie is hearing a soft female voice on the wind, which leads her to create an new lead character.  While researching the ruins of a castle, Carrie discovers the characters are very much rooted in reality and starts to wonder if she might be loosing her mind.  The locals are a friendly group who not only help her with every inch of her research, but two brothers have both decided to make a play for her.  While one is someone she trusts and thinks fondly as a friend, the other has captured her imagination in more ways then one.  Soon, Carrie is torn between her reality, her novel and her own past as everything comes crashing together on the waves just outside her cliffside cottage.

The Winter Sea is a story within a story which author Susanna Kearsley manages to weave with perfection. Like a spider dangling in the delicate center of a web, drawing you into both the modern and the historical sides of it.  The romance that blossoms between modern Carrie and Graham, roots you firmly in the here and now, suggesting a comfort that only comes around once in a lifetime. Meanwhile, the historical romance between Sophia and Moray plays out with an innocence that lives up to any fairy tale.

The author herself -Kearsley- manages to bring together the idea of time travel and past life regression into a buyable plot line, with the help of science, metaphysics, and a healthy dose of romanticism. Giving  the novel a chance to cross from one genre (science fiction) to the other (historical romance) seamlessly.

You find yourself breathless at times with the way she describes the setting of the castle at Slains, to the point you can almost hear the waves themselves crashing against the edges of the cliff.  In fact, the wind and clouds that hover endlessly through most of the modern setting are a character unto themselves, delivering a voice and dream like quality to the writing muse that "Carrie" must follow.

Divided into chapters within chapters, you soon forget you're reading a whole novel and begin to think of it as the author's -Kearsley- diary and manuscript. As it brilliantly combines the two worlds.

From the moment I picked up this novel I was intoxicated by the idea of finding not just a muse but true love by pure accident. The introduction of both Graham (the modern setting) and Moray (the historical setting)  in their respective sections are subtle hints at how love can sneak up on you when you're not looking for it and grab you fully.  And how a hero can appear out of the shadows.
The other subtle traces of the historical characters turning up in the modern setting (Kirsty the maid in the historical section having a modern twin in the form of the librarian,  the Countess having a modern twin in the editor) helps to bind your believing that the lead "Carrie" is meeting her soul family for a purpose, following a trail of breadcrumbs down a delicious rabbit hole.
Instead of giving off an unsettling feel that some past life stories have done in other novels/movies, you are gifted with a sense of rightness.  When you are reading the parts about the return of King James to his crown you never feel like you are being mislead or talked down to; but instead like you are truly reading research notes.
Sophia's feelings of loss and desire come through as clear and honest as if you were reading actual letters  from her place in history.
Making Graham a history professor helped to fill in areas that would have otherwise seemed too unrealistic for the modern scenes.

The balance that the author -Kearsley- gives her leads in both time frames, is an extremely potent one. Having her females Carrie/Sophia and the Countess/Jane being strong independent women and the men Graham/Moray being emotionally available is something too many writers try but do not always nail. Kearsley gets it and manages to keep the flow even through out the two parallel worlds.
Another nice touch I found, was the addition of having "Carrie"while in Scotland, keeping in constant touch with her father in Canada. As the male elements were running strong in the modern setting and the female elements running strong in the historical one another balance was found without being too obvious.

A book not to be missed, The Winter Sea will have you believing in love at first sight as well as wanting you to move to Scotland for the spring.

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