The Winter Sea

Written by Susanna Kearsley
Review by Jeanne Greene

Historical subjects come to life for a modern novelist in Kearsley’s fascinating The Winter Sea. To explain how and why her 18th century and 21st-century love stories become interleaved, she uses a concept 21st-century readers will find more plausible than time travel: genetic memory.

Author Carrie McClelland, a stickler for historical accuracy, is drawn to a Scottish village near Slains castle, now a ruin, to complete her 18th-century novel. There, sentences appear on her computer screen, almost without her volition. Carrie’s thrilled. But when the content surpasses her knowledge of people and events—and facts check out—Carrie begins to realize she’s taking dictation from the past.

Just as one inherits an ancestor’s talent, Carrie has inherited her ancestor Sophia Peterson’s memories. In alternate chapters, Carrie puts Sophia’s life at Slains into historical context—the ouster of the last Stewart king, the Scottish Union, French-English rivalry, and the failed Jacobite uprising of 1708. Carrie, who is falling in love with a local professor, “remembers” Sophia’s dangerous love for a Jacobite officer.

Suddenly Sophia leaves Slains, and her lover disappears from the history books, leaving Carrie lost without an ending for Sophia’s love story. Readers will know better, however, and be very satisfied with the real conclusion.

Kearsley handles modern Scots dialects adroitly; but, while the frequent use of “do” as an auxiliary in 18th-century speech might be accurate, it is distracting. Or so, I do believe. Overall, skillful writing and research make The Winter Sea more historical novel than romance. Although Cassie’s choices are at times predictable, readers will not be disappointed in Sophia’s enthralling story. Highly recommended.