Review: Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Title: Mariana
Genre: historical fiction, time travel
Series: N/A
Pages: 374 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: first 1994, republished April 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5
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.

This was very, very good. I was surprised by the level of my reaction to this: I was invested near immediately never wanted to put it down and was sad to finish reading the last page. I don't read a lot of "time slip" historical fiction (read: any before this), but if they're like Mariana that rule might need to change. ASAP. First up on that list: every other such book by this author. I was very impressed with both parts of the narrative and the strength of the voice shown throughout the novel. Though Mariana is a bit lengthy at near 375 pages,  this suspenseful and affecting tale never bores. For a detailed, immersive read but not one that is exactly an action-packed historical, that is saying something indeed.

The strength of the book largely lies in the eponymous character Mariana - both in her 1660's body/life of Mariana and as more modern Julia Beckett. That's not to say that the rest of the characters aren't interesting and diverse; they are but it is Mariana herself who makes the novel special. Though the two POV's present are both first-person and both largely the same in tone and voice despite the centuries between them, both Julia and Mariana are fully dimensional, rounded characters who provide a rich, full narrative to dive into. She's charming and detailed as a narrator: Exbury, both past and present versions, definitely carried the feel of an old, full-of-history English village. Though there is quite a lot of focus on the romance angle of the novel, I wasn't turned off or frustrated; Mariana's and Richard's courtship is actually quite charming and I found myself rooting for de Mornay and the spirited commoner.

This paragraph might get a bit SPOILERy so be warned and stay away if you don't want to know! Seriously, people. There's a mystery at the heart of the novel, but it's not the most involving or mystifying. Even the secondary subplot of treason lacks the emotional pull of the characters themselves; this is truly a character-driven novel. Even some of the surprises lacked the oomph that could be expected -(Johnnie! D: John?!) </SPOILER> because I was so keyed in on the main characters of Mariana/Julia and Richard/?? themselves. I have to side with Julia in that the past has a lot of allure here in this version, and her attraction to Richard it is very understandable. Love, destiny and fate all play a key parts in the meanderig plot, and the characters but it doesn't feel forced or hackneyed. Mariana comes off with a sweet but not saccharine aftertaste. I did think the camouflaging of Richard's soul was well done - only the hints of Shakespeare really made me sure. 

Mariana is an engrossing and rewarding, lengthy read - fans of time-slip historicals will love and even new-to-the-subgrenre people will find a lot to enjoy about this alternate 1660's and modern of reincarnated love. Susanna Kearsley is an impressive and detailed storyteller - I look forward to reading more of her books very soon. This is one that went above and beyond any and all expectations I had before starting.

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