Named of the Dragon

by Susanna Kearsley

I enjoy books that have spooky or paranormal elements in them but keep you wondering if, after all, there might be a logical explanation for at least some of it. Sometimes what seems to be paranormal activity is actually quite earthly activity. Sometimes there really are ghosties and ghoulies or all manner of supernatural happenings. And sometimes it is a combination of both. The late great Barbara Michaels was a master of gothic and contemporary romantic suspense novels that were firmly rooted in the metaphysical. Susanna Kearsley is often compared to Mary Stewart, but I find her more closely aligned with Barbara Michaels. Susanna (may I call her Susanna?) loves to use the dual timeline where the heroine travels in some way between two worlds, present times and times of centuries past. She is known for her impeccable research and authenticity in bringing forth past worlds.

Lynette is a literary agent spending the Christmas holidays in Wales with one of her authors and good friend, Bridget, Bridget’s boyfriend, a critically acclaimed author, and his brother. Nearby is a near-legendary reclusive grouchy playwright as well as the caretaker of Castle Farm (a real place) and his wife. Also living in an apartment attached to the main house is Elen, a young widow with a baby, whom, shall we say, has her feet firmly planted in the clouds. Or as it is put, “She’s just inherited her mother’s way of seeing things, the Celtic way, that sees the past and future worlds all blended in with ours. That isn’t mad, it’s Welsh.” She is convinced that a dragon is after her baby, like in an ancient Welsh tale, and that Lynette has been sent to protect him. Sadly, 5 years earlier Lynette’s own baby died in childbirth, and Lynette, continually haunted by nightmares, has not healed from the tragic loss. Interwoven throughout the book are elements of the Arthurian myths and legends and actual British history alike including Henry VII, his remarkable mother Margaret, and the baby who would someday become Henry VIII. As is usual while reading Kearsly’s books I was driven to Wikipedia and Google Maps to get a grounding in the historical background and the actual historical sites that come into play. Margaret and Merlin come to both Lynette and Ellen in dreams, and we are meant to see parallels and influences between the present and the past. Is history repeating itself? Is Elin’s baby really in danger? And what is Lynette meant to do about it?

For me, Susanna did not adequately bring the fantastical together with the real in a coherent way. To my mind, this intertwining should have been the heart and soul of the book. I loved learning about Queen Margaret, legendary and historical Welsh figures, and the Arthurian legends as told by Tennyson and other accounts. I was awaiting with curiosity and interest for all to be revealed and past and present, and reality and fantasy to come together in true Susanna Kearsley fashion, but it just didn’t. I don’t mind if mysterious things remain mysterious or not fully explained, but I at least want these things addressed and acknowledged. For example, At one point, while sightseeing, Lynette sees an old man, “tall and thin with stooped shoulders and with wispy white hair that blew wild in the wind” emerge from a cave. He is wearing a woolen wrap that trails behind him. He approaches Lynette with eyes as “sharp as chips of gray granite” and in a melodious voice intones, “ Take you care of the boy.” Her two companions saw and talked to him earlier so he is not a figment of Lyn’s imagination. Lynette makes no connection with Merlin come to life, or Elin’s oft-stated belief that Lynette is her baby son’s protector because Merlin told her so. She wonders about it for about five minutes but strangely concludes the old guy was referring to her adult male companion whom he must have taken to be her boyfriend. And then she just forgets all about it. She is unfazed, while I was all “WHY ISN’T SHE FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW!!??” That she might have just had an encounter with Merlin does not even cross her mind after all that she has been exposed to. It’s where the book lost me.

As always, Susanna Kearsley’s prose is beautifully written, her characters are interesting, the dialogue sophisticated, and the descriptions evocative. There is an exciting climax and satisfying resolution to Lynette’s road to her personal recovery and romantic happy ending. The clues to the source of the danger and mystery, when we find out there is real danger and mystery, are fairly placed along with some very plausible red herrings. I think she tried to tackle too much in this fairly short (for her) novel and just fell too in love with all of the trappings. Interesting trappings, but in the end, just trappings.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Every Secret Thing

By Susanna Kearsley (Emma Cole)

Later on, when I looked back on it, the only explanation I could give for what I did next was that, at the time, I saw no other way. My life, as I was living now, was not a life. To be in fear, to be in hiding, using someone else’s name – this wasn’t how I wanted to go on. And it would never stop, so long as both the murderer and I were still alive. My only thought on that long morning flight to London was that, one way or another, I would see it end, today.

This has been in my TBR pile for a very long time. I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be a long and heavy WWII angst-ridden emotional journey with lots of tragedy that would require a big commitment in time and emotion, as most of her other books do. It did have some of that, but mostly it was a normal-sized mystery and adventure that was very reminiscent of Mary Stewart, if she had written her books today, instead of 60 or 70 years ago. The heroine of this one, Kate, had the narrative voice of a Mary Stewart heroine and I also enjoyed the travelogue-like descriptions of Lisbon, Enola, and Washington DC. In Susanna Kearsley’s books, you can follow along with our heroine on Google Earth and really almost be there, on the scene.

I won’t go into the plot, but like most of Susanna’s novels, it involves a dual timeline. In order to investigate the mystery, and later to ensure justice is served, Kate, our investigative journalist, tracks down and interviews the now elderly men and women who can shed light on a murder that happened during WWII in Lisbon, Portugal. Their reminiscences are all part of the puzzle but also provide an entertaining story involving love, intrigue, and a portrait of a hero: Andrew Deacon. But someone who wants to silence her and those who would help her solve the puzzle is following her. Someone powerful with high connections with Whitehall. No one is to be trusted, including an attractive man she meets on her quest. And once the murderer is revealed, how will she exact justice and end the danger to herself and others?

By the end, you marvel at all of the threads that have come together to provide the satisfying conclusion. There is poignancy and sadness in the part of the story that belongs to Kate’s grandmother, but no regret. Being a romantic at heart, I wished for more closure on the page for Kate’s happy ending, but I know in my heart she will have one very soon after I put the book down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 5, 2021

The Rose Garden

By Susanna Kearsley

 Each stir of the breeze through the leaves had, to my childish ears, seemed to carry a faint lilting music, not meant for the grown-ups, that beckoned me on. I had often imagined the tunnel of trees was the doorway to fairyland, and I’d been certain that one day I’d step out the other side into some wonderful place.

Wow. Susanna Kearsley always aspires to a twisty emotionally charged climax and resolution, and she really nailed this one. Her books are usually quite leisurely with lots of detail on history and description, and culture. Of course, this is another time travel book with romance usually taking a second seat to atmosphere and plot. So, in my opinion, they really need those endings to push them over the top to a 5 star rating from me. I didn’t really try to figure out in advance how all the past and the present were going to resolve themselves, so I don’t know if I should have seen it coming or not. Safe to say, I didn’t, and because of that, I was very moved and astonished. I loved that she really took her time with it and went into detail with the “reveal.” I had to go back and trace the few clues that were hidden from the reader in the minutia of description and background. I am glad I read this on kindle so it was easy for me to trace back to the important scenes. Knowing what I knew at the end of the book while rereading those pages really breathed new life into her words. The moral of this story, past and present, is “Home is where the heart is.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

March 20, 2016

A Desperate Fortune

By Susanna Kearsley

Once again, we have a dual timeline. The modern girl is a codebreaker with Aspergers. Unfortunately, that sounds a lot more interesting than it was. She is trying to unveil the story of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile from the 1730s’, via her diary which is written in code. Susanna Kearsley has written about this era in history quite a bit, and she graces us with a few cameos of people from her previous books.

All in all, this one was rather slow, particularly the contemporary story of Sara. The romance in the historical part, however, was the best I’ve read by SK so far. She does not excel in this department, but the last scene with the big Scotsman and Mary was very sigh-worthy, bumping this one up from 3 stars to 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 7, 2016


By Susanna Kearsley


Faith,” he said, smiling, “d’you think I’d let a little thing like the grave come between us?”

Make it a 4 1/2. Really reminded me of Touch not the Cat by Mary Stewart, which is why I saw the final twist coming. There were still a few surprises: the identity of aunt Freda, and of John Howard. I did start to suspect Mariana might have gotten pregnant a good bit before that was revealed. I guess Iain was a descendant of Rachel and Evan Gilroy? Like others, I wish there had been more time with Iain and Julia at the end, and more of a resolution with Geoff. I guess they’ll all get it hashed out, but unfortunately the reader will not be included, which leaves one with a bit of regret. Also, the romance between Mariana and Richard seemed rather perfunctory. I teared up more at the fate of Navarre than I did at the big death scene.

However, Susanna Kearsley has a way with descriptions, mood, and conjuring up a world to escape in and long to visit again and again. Her characters do come alive and are all really likable, at least in this one. This book had a great premise and I can see why it won the awards that it did. Really admirable and enjoyable, despite a bit of promise unfulfilled. I found it hard to put down, as with all of her books so far.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

February 18, 2016

The Firebird

By Susanna Kearsley

“Hiding the person you are,’ he said, ‘won’t make you happy. I never hide who I am. What I am.”

Having read The Winter Sea, I was looking forward to The Firebird because I was very interested in knowing what became of Anna, the daughter of the protagonists in Slains #1, and hoped for a glimpse or two of them. I was also excited that the character of young Rob from the first book I read by this author, The Shadowy Horses, was a player in this one. It does deliver in that regard, but I wish she had incorporated some of the contemporary players in The Winter Sea and more than just Rob of Shadowy Horses as well. Although the book kept me interested as far as the historical part of the dual timeline, It was ultimately a bit of a letdown. Kearsley is so meticulous about her historical research and so careful to be faithful to her real but little-known actors on history’s stage, that her plot and character development took a distant second in this one. Every single person in this book actually existed except Anna herself, and a few stray innkeepers and such. Wikipedia got a good workout by me, and her historical notes at the end actually expose what contributed to the weakness of this book. Having to be faithful to all that she discovered in original source materials put too many constraints on what SK could actually do with the character and plot.

The contemporary part of the story did not rescue it. It was dull, except for a brief little unexpected discovery at the end, and very repetitive. Unlike The Winter Sea, it did not join past and present together in a big emotional wallop. There were a lot of loose ends. Nicola’s fascination with a certain painting at the Hermitage which was set up like it was going to be responsible for some kind of revelation was just dropped cold. It felt rushed, and left some pretty gaping plot holes. The heroine was irritating and nonsensical, and our Rob, from The Shadowy Horses, was nice, and grew up to be a fine young man, but there was no suspense or conflict in the relationship.

There were flashes of excellence in this book, and I can’t give it less than a 3 because I have so much respect for Kearsley’s writing and her hard work. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 11, 2016

The Winter Sea

By Susanna Kearsley

“I do promise that you will survive this. Faith, my own heart is so scattered round the country now, I marvel that it has the strength each day to keep me standing. But it does,’ she said, and drawing in a steady breath she pulled back just enough to raise a hand to wipe Sophia’s tears. ‘It does. And so will yours.’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘Because it is a heart, and knows no better.”

“Whatever might become of them, she knew that there was nothing that could rob them of that happiness. For they had lived their winter, and the spring had finally come.”

I did like the book. I liked the history and atmosphere and the sense of place. I guess I liked the plot and was intrigued by the idea of the modern heroine inheriting the memories of her ancestor, Sophia. I just wasn’t too taken by either heroine. They weren’t all that interesting, personality-wise. and neither were the main love interests. I had the same reaction to the plot development late in the book that most readers had. It was clumsily and, it seems, cynically done to provide the opportunity for a sequel. I loved the romantic ending, however telegraphed it was and however fantastical it was. Why 4 stars? Darned if I know. there was just something about it. Also, I do have a soft spot for the Jacobite Rebellion and Scotland. Will I read the sequel? You bet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 15, 2015