Monday, August 25, 2008

Sophia's Secret, Susanna Kearsley


Carolyn McClelland, a writer of historical novels, finds herself with a familiar enemy; writer's block. A change of scenery leads her, and her book, in a whole new direction. Writing about the attempted Jacobite invasion of 1707, Carolyn takes up residence in a cottage in Edinburgh. Inexplicably drawn to Slains Castle, and not so inexplicably drawn to the charming, but somehow familiar, Stuart Keith, Carolyn is soon writing with an unusual speed and imagery which leads her to wonder whether her 'fictional' character of Sophia is really so fictional after all. Carolyn soon realises that she is somehow channelling the memories of her distant relative and that her story has a life of its own.

What I loved the most about Sophia's Secret is it's readability. It was like sitting down with a good friend who had a fantastic storytelling voice and settling in, calling forth the "campfire" gene and just letting the story wash over you.

A lot of cross-over historical novels are so boring you want to claw your eyes out and you skip long pages of deep introspection and description. This is not the case with Ms. Kearsley's work. The story is well crafted with the two main characters, Carrie and Sophia, each playing prominent roles in their respective time-frames.

The characters are fantastically indivdual. There is a bit of a creepy element as all of us have suffered deja vu and felt like we've come across someone we recognise from a time before, even if you've never met that person. There is an interesting section in which they discuss genetic memory as a scientific possibility and come to think about it, it is a pretty spectacular idea.

If the idea of reading a romance puts you off, be at ease: it isn't a bodice ripper. There is some good intrigue as we follow the machinations of the Jacobites, desperate to put the young King James on the throne of Scotland. The books deals with a very dark part of Scottish history and I found it fascinating.

I know a friend, Walton, would hate this description and will no doubt shout at me for it, but the information dump is never that. The author explains the setting and era with great skill and supreme ease which speaks of a familiarity with the time period. In tackling the "past" story, we aren't stifled by stilted dialogue and the action moves along at a good pace. The characters are drawn to be colourful, fleshing out their historical personas, making them real, bringing the history home.

In the now, Carrie comes across as a genuine person, someone who writes for a living and who relies on her own imagination to fill in the bits that she can't get out of history books. But in this we see her flounder and she is confronted with the seeming genuine memories of one of her ancestors, Sophia. I enjoyed sitting back to see the bits get pieced together.

The romance is light and written with a deft hand. I genuinely enjoyed reading Sophia's Secret and will happily be buying copies for friends. This is a perfect read for a holiday as it is an entertaining and interesting read. I can't reiterate it enough: don't be put off by either its historical or romance tag - it is both of these and more. A genuinely good read!

Competition News:

And I'm happy to say, somewhere along the line that gremlins crept into the postal system and I got a spare copy of Sophia's Secret published by Allison and Busby to give away - exciting, yes? Please note that I can only send this onto UK entrants this time around.

The competition is as follows: what is the other name the author writes under? Answers via email to me at the address on the right.

The book is out on the 22nd of September and I will give this competition one week to run - last day for entries will be Monday, 1st September.

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