Carrie McClelland, best-selling novelist, winters at a Scottish cottage to work on her latest project, a novel using her own real-life ancestor, Sophia McClelland, as the heroine. In the writing of it, memories and voices fill Carrie's mind and she soon realizes that it's not her own hand that's guiding her pen... but Sophia's memories, revealing 300-year-old secrets that could impact Carrie's own life.
"...You couldn't just remember something if you hadn't had it in your memory to begin with. Could you?"
The Winter Sea explores the idea of genetic memory: the possibility of inheriting ancestors' memories. It's an interesting--though silly--concept, but it was presented in a way that mostly minimized the hokeyness of it. Don't mean to offend you mystics out there, but I just don't buy it.
How's this for introducing Carrie's love interest? I gave 5 stars to this swaggering entrance:
Rough. Dark. Pirate. Swagger. Confident. Now these are the words I like to see describing a man. And to top it off, he has a Scottish accent! Be still my heart.... and then the man turned too, and seeing me, retraced his steps. He was a younger man that I'd expected, not much older than myself--mid-thirties, maybe, with dark hair whipped roughly by the wind and a close-trimmed dark beard that made him look a little like a pirate. His walk, too, had a swagger to it, confident.
The story alternates between two separate but intertwined storylines: Carrie's present-day one and Sophia's story, set in 1708, during the failed attempt to restore the Stewart line to the throne of Great Britain. This is some confusing, intense political and social history. Kearsley loads up Sophia's story with tedious chunks of history; dense dialogues delineated (didn't intend the alliteration here, but that's kinda fun) the conflict, its roots, and the current intrigues and conspiracies for Sophia's--and readers'--sakes. It bogged down the story and wasn't presented very well.
OK, Sophia had a secret marriage to John Moray, a hunky pirate in his own right. They married by hand-fasting (which I think is so romantic. Is it too late to also be hand-fasted to my hubby?) and the marriage was kept secret for many important reasons, not the least of which was that Moray was a wanted man. But why did Graham and Carrie keep their relationship secret? That's just stupid. No reason to do that in the 21st century, unless maybe you're a high-schooler.
Ultimately, I think the author has the bones of a great story here, but I wish that she had fleshed it out more. My own personal pet peeve in stories is a lack of character development and lack of development in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, Kearsley is guilty of both of these pet peeves of mine.
This novel alternately intrigued and then bored me. I couldn't-put-it-down and then couldn't-wait-to-finish it, so I have to give it a middle-of-the-road grade.