“Saint-Germain (France),had been the French king’s gift of refuge to the Stewart kings of Scotland for the first years of their exile, where old King James and young King James by turns had held court with their loyal supporters, who’d plotted and schemed with the nobles of Scotland through three luckless Jacobite uprisings. My story was intended to revolve around Nathaniel Hooke, an Irishman at Saint-Germain, who seemed to me to be the perfect hero for a novel…”
Carrie, in order to do some writing and research, visits Scotland, where many of the events of her story take place.
“Nathaniel Hooke came over twice from France, to intrigue with the Scottish nobles, and both times he landed at the Earl of Erroll’s castle, Slains, which, from the map I’ve got, the old one, looks to be somewhere just north of here. I’d like to see the castle, or what’s left of it, from out at sea, the way it would have looked to Hooke when he first saw it, coming over.”
Ultimately, Carrie is so taken with Slains Castle that she decides to rent a cottage in the area to do her writing. However, she finds that every time she sits at her computer, her writing flows from memory. Carrie seems to be able to come up with names, dates, and events that later are proven in her research to be true events. How can that be?
“The Winter Sea” is a dual story; that of Sophia Paterson (living in 1708), and her ‘contemporary’, Carolyn McClelland. Sophia Paterson has no family left. She is taken in and given a home by her aunt by marriage, the Countess of Errol, who also happens to be a Jacobite sympathiser. Of course that leads to Sophia meeting other Jacobites, and becoming enmeshed in the attempt to bring James the Pretender, back to Scotland.
“Alliances were forming where they never had before. She’d heard the rumors that her own kin from the Western Shires, all staunchly Presbyterian and reared to loathe the Jacobites, were seeking now to join them in conspiring to restore the Catholic king James Stewart to the throne of Scotland. Better a Catholic Scot to rule them, so they reasoned, than Queen Anne of England, or, worse still, the German prince the queen had names as her successor.”
Sophia’s heart is drawn away with a Jacobite sympathiser and soldier, John Moray, and her life will never be the same.
I enjoyed reading the historical tidbits in “The Winter Sea” and learning more about the Jacobites, Scotland’s history, and the battle of Maplaquar (which I was unfamiliar with), Queen Anne and her cabinet of spies, and risks taken in the attempt to put King James on the throne. Many of the characters, the author acknowledges, were real figures in history, although the true events and motives are often questioned and disputed by modern-day historians.
The first half of the book could be classified not as ‘historical fiction’ but as ‘historical romance’, as the events of history were not explored too much within the story (much of the first half is a dual story of a romance with characters both in the present and the past). The second half of the book picked up. I enjoyed learning about the events of this period of history and found myself more absorbed in this time period, and wanting to learn more.
I liked “The Winter Sea”, especially after finishing the lengthy and involved “Wolf Hall”! However, at times the plot was just too much of a stretch. I do enjoy imaginative stories and the use of creative license in literature, but this was just over the top. Carrie, the main character, as a writer, ‘remembers’ the events of the book she is writing because of ‘genetic memory’. This theory asserts that the DNA that is passed down not only gives us our physical traits, but also gives us our ancestors’ memory. (Were that true, a *lot* more historical books would have been written in first person!)
However, I did enjoy the author’s descriptive writing and, although at first the book moved slowly for me, found myself caught up in the lives of the characters.
“My father always loved the sea.’
He glanced at her with eyes that were astute. ‘And ye do not.’
‘I do not trust it. It does seem a pleasant in summer, but it wears a different face, and one I do not like to look at, in December.’
He nodded. ‘Aye,’ he said, ‘there is no sight so melancholy as the winter sea, for it does tell us we are truly at the ending of the year, and all its days are passed, its days of joy and sorrow that will never come again.’ He turned to look at her, and smiled. ‘But so the seasons turn, and so they must, by nature’s own design. The fields must fall to fallow and the birds must stop their song awhile; the growing things must die and lie in silence under snow, just as the winter sea must wear its face of storms and death and sunken hopes, the face ye so dislike. ‘Tis but the way of things, and when ye have grown older, lass, as I have, ye may even come to welcome it.’
Even though the ‘paranormal-dual-story’ aspect was a downer for me, I look forward to reading more of Susanna Kearsley. Like this review, the author has many many fans of her books, and her books are doubtless familiar to many.
“The summer came and briefly shone its splendor before fading like the twisting leaves upon the trees that dropped and died and left the world to face the bitter frozen winds of winter, till the spring crept out reluctantly and warmed again to summer days that withered in their turn. And in that time there came no word of new resolve from Saint-Germain to bring the king again across the water.”
You can see pictures of Slains Castle, where much of this novel is set, here.