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The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin

Susanna Kearsley conjures one of the most vibrant voices I’ve ever heard in The Winter Sea. It’s so vivid it’s as if a real writer is experiencing this psychic phenomenon, rather than a fictional one. In a twist on the usual timeslip novel, Kearsley interweaves two complimentary tales, one contemporary and one historical, threaded by ancestry. As intricately woven as a Scottish tapestry, with multiple layers of colour and contrast, this novel may propel you to a place where you lose yourself, and begin to wonder, is this possible?

Author, Carrie McClelland settles into a cottage in the village of Cruden Bay, on the northeast coast of Scotland in Aberdeenshire, after being intuitively drawn to the ruins of Slains castle. She’s come hoping to write a novel about the 1707 Jacobites, who planned to sail young King Jamie, the exiled king, from France to Scotland to foil the English plan to unite the two countries under British rule. Fans of Outlander will resonate, and find The Winter Sea just as compelling.

Carrie’s father is an amateur genealogist who’s shared the family tree with his daughter, so she creates a character based on her ancestor, Sophia Paterson. As soon as she begins to write in Sophia’s voice, the words begin to flow. It’s as if Sophia is whispering in Carrie’s ear, and she is but a channel to the truth of what transpired centuries before. I was taken by this fascinating concept as I’m an intuitive writer myself, and to see it accomplished so brilliantly impressed me greatly. Carrie discusses the theory of DNA and ancestral memory with Dr. Weir, a trusted intellectual in the village, who tells her that, “some aspects of our nature, of our temperament, are clearly carried in our genes. And memory, surely, is no more intangible than temperament” (216). He goes on to report that people who are “regressed under hypnosis and recall what they believe are former lives in other bodies, may in fact be nothing more than their remembering the lives of their own ancestors” (217).

In parallel plots, both Carrie and Sophia fall in love and must weather the obstacles enduring love brings.

As a former museum curator, Kearsley brings her knowledge of historical artifacts to the page in detailed, sensory script. She’s won multiple awards including a RITA, the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award, and the National Reader’s Choice Awards. This Globe and Mail, New York Times, and USA Today bestselling author educates and entertains with this riveting romantic drama that sweeps through time to leave the reader breathless.

I breezed through the whopping 509 pages because I just couldn’t put it down. Four times chills rushed up my legs in the closing chapters as Kearsley caught the unravelled threads and knotted them together with such precision I didn’t see it coming.

The Winter Sea is historical fiction layered with the intuitive writing of it. Two heroines, two heroes, and all indelibly linked through lineages, symbols, artifacts, and ancestral memory. See for yourself.

The Winter Sea is published by Simon & Schuster.


W. L. Hawkin writes books with “myth, magic, and mayhem” for Blue Haven Press. Her latest Lure: Jesse & Hawk is a romantic suspense novel with small-town grit.


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