Lately, I’m noticing an exciting trend in women’s fiction: historical tales framed within the context of a second, contemporary story. There’s Juliet by Anne Fortier, of course, and this fantastic novel about a Dutch painter living in England around 1500 that I would love to read again, if only I remembered the title.* Even The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott was originally set in this vein before Kelly O’Connor McNees decided to focus exclusively on Louisa herself.
The Winter Sea is another outstanding example of how great this genre can be in connecting past and present in literary form. In it, historical novelist Carrie McLelland heads to Scotland to research a book she’s writing about the Jacobite Rebellion of 1708. Feeling the urge to narrate the story from a woman’s point of view, Carrie decides to place an multi-greated grandmother in the middle of the action. Soon Carrie learns that this might not be a coincidence, and she begins to fear that she actually possesses her grandmother’s memories of a time, and a love, that’s actually very real. All the while, she’s writing her own, personal, love story with her landlord’s son.
I wasn’t expecting the past sequences, and the first one was a little jarring in its entry. However, as the novel progressed, I kept finding myself hoping that Kearsley would return to the 1700s. I enjoyed Carrie’s present-day story, but she seemed to constantly reiterate the fact that she was dipping into her grandmother’s memories when it was the grandmother’s story that was far more interesting…especially since, like Carrie, we know at the beginning that the man in question wasn’t Carrie’s grandfather.
The book is beautifully researched, right down to the dates that certain sea captains appeared at Slains Castle. Kearsley spins a gorgeous story with edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartfelt romance. The women of the 1700s are strong and confident and know exactly how to deal with certain men who underestimate their intelligence.
The Winter Sea was a RITA-award finalist in 2009, on the shortlist for 2009 Romantic Novel of the year (under its original name, Sophia’s Secret) and named to Barnes and Noble’s 2011 must-read list. All of these accolades are well-deserved.
Susanna Kearsley’s novel, Mariana, will be rereleased on April 1.
*In addition to the fact that the audiobook is narrated by the same person who did Meg Cabot’s Queen of Babble series, the only other detail I remember was a HUGE spoiler that “confirms” a long-held historical rumor about this time period. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone, but if this completely vague explanation sounds familiar, please tweet me the title.
By day, Elle Filz is an IT geek in Baltimore, MD. By night, you can either find her singing karaoke or jotting down notes for her next women’s fiction story. She is also an aspiring Betty Crocker-type who thanks God every day that a fireman lives next door.