It’s been awhile since writer Carrie McClelland has had a place she could call home. She goes where ever her books take her. This time it’s France, but after five months of gathering research her story just isn’t coming to her. So, she decides a break is in order in the form of a visit to the eastern coast of Scotland to visit her agent Jane, who has a new baby. As fate would have it, on her drive up from Aberdeen she is diverted to the coastal route where she is transfixed by the ragged but grand remains of Slains Castle, an estate associated with the failed 1708 Jacobite rebellion. What she doesn’t yet know is that the woman who will become her main character happens to be a real person – one of her ancestors who lived at Slains in threw months leading up to the rebellion. Settling in to write at an old cottage near the castle, more and more of her fiction turns out to be based on fact, and pretty soon Carrie realizes that she may be the only person who knows the truth of what happened and the real reason why the winter sea seems to call to her.
As anyone who followed my status updates on Goodreads will know, I fell hard and fast for The Winter Sea. At the time I didn’t know if my love for it would be sustained throughout its lengthy page count, but I was hopeful, and as it turns out, the book met my expectations and then some. The Winter Sea joins a small group of exceptional books that took over my life during the course of its read and an even more elite few that had me recommending the book to others before I had even finished reading it myself.
That said, naturally I don’t know how I can possibly do this completely absorbing novel justice. My fears that the alternating points-of-view between Carrie and the Jacobite chapters would bring out a preference for either the contemporary or the historical story were unfounded from the get go. I was very interested in Carrie, and when the perspective switched I was just if not more enthralled by Sophia. Without spoiling anything Carrie comes to find she has ancestral memory, and it’s that interconnection between the two narratives – each significantly affecting the other – which makes the story as a whole so compelling. Most crucial of all is that it’s believable when this sort of fantastical element could have so easily been far-fetched. I came to love both plots individually and as a whole and that both are as finely written is quite a feat. That I’ve never read anything or been particularly interested in this period of history before now and that I shed the rare tear or two at two different points in the book also says a lot about how wrapped up I was in these characters and their turbulent lives. Though the conclusion was heavy on the historical perspective and I partially guessed how it would play out, those small qualms didn’t lessen the complete satisfaction I felt at its conclusion or dampen my overall adoration of The Winter Sea. Even now I eagerly await my own personal copy, currently in transit, to push on anyone who will listen.