Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley

>> Thursday, November 24, 2005

I've been looking for a copy of Susanna Kearsley's Mariana for years, ever since I read The Shadowy Horses, my first book by this author. Actually, once I read that one, I went looking for her entire backlist. I managed to get Named of the Dragon and Season of Storms pretty easily, but the rest eluded me. A few of the very early ones I know I have very little hope of getting (The Splendour Falls, Rosehill, Undertow and The Gemini Game), but Mariana, at least, seemed attainable, and I finally got an affordable copy a couple of weeks ago.

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew at once that it was her house. Now, twenty-five years later, by some strange chance, she has just become the new owner of the sixteenth-century Wilshire farmhouse. But Julia soon begins to suspect that more than coincidence has brought her there. As if Greywethers were a porthal between worlds, she finds herself abruptly transported back in time.

Stepping into seventeenth-century England, Julia becomes Mariana, a beautiful young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love for Richard de Mornay, handsome forebear of the present squire of Crofton Hall. Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past, falling ever deeper in love with Richard...until one day she realizes Mariana's life threatens to eclipse her own--and that she must find a way to lay the past to rest, or risk losing a chance for love in her own time.
Oh, this was good! Not perfect, for reasons I'll explain further on, but very, very good, and worth the wait. A B+.

First of all, I don't know if I'd call this a time-travel. I mean, there is a certain travelling between two different times, but it's not at all a "time-travel" in the sense it's meant in the time-travel romance subgenre, at any rate. And it's definitely not a time-travel "in the tradition of Diana Gabaldon", no matter what the blurb of my edition says!!

No, not time-travel. It's more a reincarnation and past-lives story, with a heroine who arrives at her new house, one that she has felt drawn towards all her life, and suddenly starts remembering -or rather, reliving- pieces of her past life when she was Mariana, in the 17th century. This is another difference with traditional time-travels. Julia isn't Julia in the past: she becomes Mariana and sees what Mariana is seeing, feels what Mariana is feeling and does whatever it is that Mariana did in the past. She can't change what went on back then.

And, book title notwithstanding, this is Julia's story, not Mariana. The focus is on Julia's life in the present, and on the effects her new memories have on it. On one hand, it's obvious that there's some higher purpose in Julia learning about her life as Mariana, but, on the other, there's always the danger that she might be getting a bit too involved in it and neglecting the present.

As in all of Kearsley's books, the characters and atmosphere completely drew me in. It's a slow, peaceful book, one I wouldn't recommend to people who prefer high-octane adventure, but there's just something about the way Kearsley writes that works wonderfully for me. Her characters feel real, even the smallest secondary characters, and the way she describes her settings make me feel right in the middle of the action.

And of course, there's the fascination of exploring, right alongside Julia, what exactly could be going on, never knowing what we would learn about the events in the 17th century. These sections actually reminded me a bit of one of my favourite Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows, and I really enjoyed them.

The only thing I thought was a bit lacking in this book is the present-day romance, Julia's, that is. There's something in the resolution that I felt came out of nowhere, and... oh, no use trying to be cryptic, I have to do the spoiler thing. You know what to do, highlight to read:

[[I guessed from the very beginning that it would be Iain that Julia would end up with. I don't know why, it just was terribly obvious to me that there was no way Geoff was going to be the one... too perfect, I guess. So I read the entire book looking for clues that there was something there between Julia and Iain, and I'm afraid I didn't detect even the merest whiff of attraction on Julia's part. On Iain's part, well, possibly, the tiniest bit, but I never got the feeling Julia saw him as a man at all.

It makes sense, in a way, because the whole point was that Julia was so focused on her Geoff=Richard theory, so she didn't even LOOK at Iain, but it just made it a bit unsatisfying. Even there, at the end of the book, she wouldn't see by herself. Iain had to tell her, practically hit her on the head with the facts, before she would even notice him. And if he hadn't, I get the feeling she would probably have been chasing after Geoff forever and ever!

Ok, done. And I don't think it would be a spoiler to mention that I loved what Julia's love-interest reveals about what the past years had been like for him. That was wonderfully romantic.

Does anyone have any news at all about Kearsley? Are any books forthcoming? Is she writing at all? Oh, but I hope so!


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