Review: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Title: The Winter Sea
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Pages: 544
Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction
Release Date: December 1, 2010
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Personal Copy

I guess I should preface this review by revealing that it took me four months to finish the book. Infer from that what you will. When I did sit down and start reading I was entertained and engrossed, but there was nothing there that compelled me to pick the book up again after taking a break. Mainly, I really wanted to like this one more than I did, and maybe my expectations were a little high starting out.

After trying and failing to find inspiration in France, Carrie McClelland, a best selling novelist, finds herself traveling to Scotland's Cruden Bay to settle in and do some research for her upcoming book. Fascinated by her own personal Scottish history, Carrie's plan is to pen a historical fiction that takes place during the Jacobite invasion to reinstate King James to the Scottish throne while using her ancestor Sophia Paterson as the story's heroine. After a visit to the ancient Slain's castle, Carrie finds herself immediately inspired. As her story develops, she begins to realize that what she has written is more historically accurate than she thought and begins to wonder if maybe her memories are actually those of her ancestors.

The main idea behind The Winter Sea was the presentation of a dual narrative; the present day alternating with the past. The story was surprisingly well written, and I found myself engrossed in the descriptions of the Scottish coast. It was the detailed account of the rainy and rugged town of Cruden Bay that hooked me in the beginning, and I was quickly transported to the cold, volatile land. In this respect, I loved the fact that this book allowed me to do a little armchair travel.

However, when it came to the actual narrative, I found myself much more interested in Carrie's story than in her ancestor Sophia's. I just couldn't connect to the multitude of early 18th century characters that Kearsley includes, and I found it hard to remember each one. Also, there were too many facts incorporated into Sophia's chapters, and I often felt like I was reading a history book. While I do enjoy learning about an unfamiliar time period, I don't like page after page of detailed information in a fictional novel.

Overall, the entire book was a little too long for my tastes. I thought the beginning was really intriguing, then came the sluggish middle, and my reading dramatically decreased. However, I think this would be perfect for fans of sweeping historical sagas who want to feel really entrenched in the era.


  1. I read this and I really liked it a lot. I do like "sweeping historical sagas" as you mentioned so it was a perfect read for me. Sorry you did not enjot it more.

  2. It sounds like this one could have used a good edit, but that it's still worth reading.

  3. This sounds pretty intriguing to me! I'll have to keep in mind that it's a slow mover, but I'm interested in it for sure.

  4. Have it on my wishlist for ages, though not a priority. The "dual story" gimmick can be a bit difficult to pull off.

  5. Sometimes books with dual narratives don't always fare that well. It can sometimes seem like one side of the story is much more engaging and interesting than the other, which is what it sounds like happened in this case. I do enjoy a good historical yarn, and really need to read up a bit on Scotland, so this might be something that I would enjoy, but I will be remembering the comments you made. Thanks for the candor in your review.

  6. Ugh, sorry you didn't like this one. I'll probably still try it!

  7. I kept reading reviews for this one, and although I like historical novels, this one did not seem like it would work for me. Sorry you were in the same camp.

  8. I like historical fiction, but I am leery of this one given your comments about how long it took you to finish it. I get frustrated when I can't get into a book rather easily, and it sounds like that would be the case with this one.

  9. Although I might wait to read this one, I think it might still work for me - something about the storyline pulls me in, and I do like the idea of the past and present timelines together. Might check it out, will keep you posted on thoughts!

  10. I was considering picking this up if for no other reason that Amazon kept waving it in front of my face & then they put it on sale briefly. And yet... I wasn't sure, with all the other books on my to-read list. I'm glad I held off.

  11. Yes! This is my third Kearsley, and my least favourite because like you, I was so much more interested in Carrie than Sophia. Every time it'd be just a few pages of Carrie and then pop back into Sophia I'd mentally groan. The other two ones I've read have both been set in contemporary times and I really enjoyed them. :) So if you want to give her another go, I'd definitely recommend Shadowy Horses and Named of the Dragon.


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