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I love mustelid haberdashery, vinho verde wine, and wensleydale with fruit.

The Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley

The only way for me to cover how I feel about this book, is to bring up a lot of spoilers, so you've been warned.


I picked up Kearsley's The Firebird thanks to an Audible sale, and I was about to start it when I decided to check out some basic information about it, which is when I found out it's the second in a series (the Slains), so I went back to pick up the Winter Sea first. 


The Winter Sea is a frame story, taking place in modern day Scotland as a historical novelist (Carrie) researches the details about the Jacobite shenanigans of 1708ish.  She decides to tell the story through the point of view of a minor character, Sophia, who has come to live at Slains as an orphaned distant relation of the family that lives there.

So the generic good and bad, before I get into the spoilery details:

The narrator for this audiobook was absolutely fantastic.   One of the best I've ever listened to, and she did a great job with the accents and distinguishing between the different characters.   She also spoke fairly quickly, not droning on... fast enough that I didn't speed it up (I listen at 1.25 speed, normally).

The history is solid and well written, though we're told, rather than shown any of the major historical events.   However, I like reading historical fiction, because it usually gives me a nudge to reading up and learning about events I was previously unfamiliar with.

The writing can be a bit cheesy and repetitive (there are a lot of similar/same names which can get confusing) but I found the world building to be very atmospheric.

The characterization, particularly with the modern world, was very weak.  I cannot fathom why the modern day characters are in a "relationship" or where they are coming from, because they're very secondary to the historic part of the story.   It felt, very strongly, that the modern day protag was only there as an actual extension of the author, which made my eyes roll more than once.

And this book is absolutely a romance, but one of the really weak-sauce ones, where we fall into each others arms, and cue fade to black.   There are no sex scenes, and nothing remotely interesting.   I prefer my romance trashy, so on that front it was disappointing (not so bad, if you are like me, and only thought of the novel as a historical fiction).

So onto the bad, which involves some serious spoilers:

The novel is based on genetic memories.  The author-protag starts hearing voices and it's the people of the past telling their stories, which she writes down.   When she goes to do the research, she discovers that the details she can verify are all 100% true, without her having prior knowledge.  Which, I just can't get past that bullshit. 
Even better, writer Carrie goes to visit a local doctor whose hobby is local history, and after telling him about the voices in her head, he doesn't immediately think she's crazy either.   I just, I couldn't totally get past that.

The other thing that, while technically isn't awful, still feels utterly squicky to me was how the (actual) author intertwined the story lines.  Carrie is the descendent of Sophia, who had children after traveling to Ireland.  Well, Sophia left her first child, Anna behind in Scotland.  Carrie's love interest, Graham, is hinted to be descended from Anna.   So yes, nearly 300 years of intermarriages with others makes everyone not-so-closely related, but Carrie sighs with happiness over having "come home," which means boinking someone that shares a direct ancestor.   And I just can't find that romantic.

So overall, solid little book, worth the credits I spent, and I will be moving onto The Firebird