I’ve recently come across a must-read author who I’m sure many of you have heard of. Canadian Susanna Kearsley writes intense, romantic, dramatic, emotional (yeah, I know, adjective overload, but bear with me) stories about how the past and the present intertwine.
A critic described her books as a mixture of Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Stewart. I’d agree with that, if you throw in a bit of Victoria Holt as well. There’s definitely a gothic feel to the books I’ve read. And quite a bit of woo-woo, which I like (I’m partial to a good ghost story!).
The first SK I read is The Shadowy Horses after someone recommended it on Facebook and it sounded really interesting. I was mesmerized from the first page. When archeologist Verity Grey starts work on a dig under the aegis of eccentric but disgraced genius Peter Quennell, the distant past rises to haunt her. While she seeks proof that this field on the east coast of Scotland (she kinda had me at the Scottish setting – it’s beautifully done!) marks a Roman battle, she finds her previously ordered life cast into chaos with a previous lover, a handsome but elusive new interest, a ghostly centurion, some modern skullduggery, and a local boy with clairvoyant powers.
I rushed to the Book Depository and decided that my next SK would be The Winter Sea (published in the UK as Sophia’s Secret). Generally I don’t like books about the Jacobite rebellions (Bonnie Prince Charlie and his kin) but this one sounded appealing enough to rise above my prejudice and it was a book a few people had recommended when I said how much I enjoyed Shadowy Horses.
This one is structured as two stories. Historical novelist Carrie McClelland immediately experiences a strange feeling of familiarity when she settles on the east coast of Scotland (again, huzzah!) to research her book about the unsuccessful Jacobite invasion of 1709. Carrie’s story is contemporary and details her discovery of her links to Slains Castle outside Aberdeen and her romance with Graham Keith, a charismatic university lecturer who helps her navigate the strange dreams that haunt her when she takes up residence. The other story is of Carrie’s ancestor, Sophia, who falls in love with John Moray, a man dangerously involved in the rebellion to restore the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. This one starts out a bit more slowly than Shadowy Horses, but my goodness, does it pick up pace and weight. I was crying like a loon by the end. A huge emotional punch and a very satisfying ending.
I’ve only just finished my third SK, The Firebird. It’s another fantastic read and turns out to be linked to both Shadowy Horses and The Winter Sea, although I’ll let you find out how. It’s another two stories for the price of one deal. In contemporary London, art dealer Nicola Marter discovers a wooden carving of a bird that takes her back to the widow of Peter the Great. In her quest to prove the firebird’s provenance, she asks help from the only man she’s ever loved, psychically gifted Rob McMorran.
Nicola’s talent is to summon up visions of who previously owned a piece of art, but she needs more than that if she’s to prove the carving the treasure she knows it to be. She and Rob end up in Russia on the trail of the firebird’s original owner and in the process fall in love. The second story is about Anna Gordon, a young Scottish woman, who finds love and danger in 18th century St. Petersburgh. I’ve always been fascinated by Russia, so this one was right up my alley, and I loved watching Nicola’s psychic gifts blossoming along with her confidence in herself and her beloved.
These books remind me in many ways of the sorts of stories I read as a teenager. Great epic tales of women across the centuries and often in exotic settings. Stories like M.M. Kaye’s historical novels or Constance Heaven’s Russian romances. All of these books (and the Susanna Kearsleys I’ve read) have a strong romantic plot, but the story is about more than people falling in love. It’s about the destiny of families and nations. These books will sweep you away!
Where to next? I’ve got Named of the Dragon, set in Wales, on its way to me. There goes that weekend!