I know some wonderful authors. When I ask them how they know what to write, they all tell me that their characters "talk" to them; that their protagonists are the conduit through which they, as artists, express themselves and in so doing, produce the story they want to tell. But what if there was more to it than just having a creative imagination and a will to tell a story?
Carrie McClelland is an author, in Scotland to visit her agent and do research on her book about Captain Nathaniel Hooke, an 18th century Jacobite intent on returning King James to the throne of Scotland in 1708. Her agent suggests that she write the book through the eyes of someone other than Hooke, that perhaps a woman as a narrator can get the story moving along at a faster clip. Carrie takes up residence in a cottage by the sea, near a castle called Slains, the ancestral home of the Earl of Erroll. The castle seems to call to her in some way that she finds hard to ignore. And when Carrie takes Jane's suggestion, the story does indeed start to write itself, and so easily that she's is a bit frightened by just how well Sophia Paterson, her narrator, tells it. Effortlessly, Carrie writes about a life lived 300 years earlier, checking actual history against what she has written and starting to realize that coincidence has nothing to do with the fact that she's no longer writing historical fiction, but historical fact.
While you might think that this is a bit gimmicky, or that it's another wonderful time travel story (the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon comes to mind), this is neither. It's an engrossing, at times heart- wrenching love story that's carried on two distinct parallel planes. The first story, that of Sophia and John Moray, comes to life with some of the most romantic lines I've ever read. The description of their wedding night and subsequent parting on the eve of John's exile to France to serve Young King James, is some of the best writing I've come across in a long time. At the same time that we live through Sophia's era, Carrie, in the present day and in her own personal life, helps draw the two parallel lines closer together. It's fascinating reading the history of these turbulent times and at the same time feeling Carrie's sense of confusion and then acceptance over what seems to be to happening to her in writing Sophia's story. To be honest, there were more than a few times, while reading this book, that a chill ran through me, probably not unlike what Carrie feels when she thinks that her surroundings (or a pair of gray eyes) seems a bit too familiar.
I don't want to give too much away. There are plot twists that are just too exquisite and can only be appreciated by reading the book yourself. While the premise may seem confusing, it's impossible to mistake what century you are in, or from whose perspective the story is being told. From start to finish, I actually had to force myself to put it down. I didn't want it to end. If you read one book this year, read The Winter Sea. Historical romance it may be, but it's not like anything you've read before. At least I haven't. It will stay with you long after you're done, and, like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, will have you asking, as I've been asking myself, "What if...?"