The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

The Vanished Days, Susanna Kearsley’s latest book, is a prequel to The Winter Sea, which happens to be one of the few Kearsley novels I haven’t read yet! However, it didn’t matter at all as this is a completely separate story and works perfectly as a standalone.

The novel opens in 1707, the year of the Act of Union between Scotland and England. A few years earlier, Scotland had been involved in the unsuccessful Darien Scheme – an attempt to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama – and as part of the union settlement, England will pay compensation to those who had lost money due to the failed venture. When a young widow, Lily Aitcheson, comes forward to claim the wages owed to her husband Jamie Graeme, who was killed during the Darien expedition, Sergeant Adam Williamson is asked to investigate her claim. There is some doubt as to whether Lily and the man she insists was her husband were really married – and unless she can prove that their marriage was valid, she won’t be entitled to the money.

As Adam begins his investigation, searching for witnesses to the wedding or anyone who can say that it ever took place, he finds himself becoming more and more attracted to Lily. And, in chapters which alternate with the 1707 ones, we go back to 1683 and follow Lily through her childhood and the sequence of events that lead to her arriving in Edinburgh and claiming to be the widow of Jamie Graeme. Unlike most of Kearsley’s novels, which either involve some form of time travel or are set in two completely different time periods, one contemporary and one historical, this book is entirely historical, with the two threads of the story set just a few decades apart. There are none of the other supernatural elements that often appear in her novels either, so this one has a slightly different feel.

It was interesting to read about an aspect of Scottish history that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention in fiction. Although I was aware of the Darien Scheme and some of the events leading to the Act of Union, I’m not sure if any of the historical novels I’ve read have actually covered this subject. Some real historical figures appear in The Vanished Days too and Kearsley explores some of the political and religious tensions building in Scotland during this time – a reminder that the Jacobite rebellions are on the horizon. The focus, though, is on Lily’s personal story, whether seen through her own eyes or those of Adam and the people he interviews who once knew her.

This is quite a long book and I found it a bit slow for a while in the middle, but I was rewarded by a great ending with an unexpected twist. It was something I hadn’t seen coming at all and the sort of thing that makes you want to read the whole book again to see if there were any clues. I won’t do that just yet, but I will definitely try to read The Winter Sea soon, along with the other two Kearsley novels I still haven’t read, The Shadowy Horses and Bellewether.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

This is book 20/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.

24 thoughts on “The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

  1. setinthepast says:

    That sounds interesting. I think the failure of the Darien Scheme played a big part in Lowland Scots deciding that union with England was the best way forward, so it was a very big moment in British history, but it’s rarely written about.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it was a hugely important period of history, yet nobody seems to write about it – they just skip straight ahead to the Jacobites!

    • Helen says:

      Not all of her books have time travel or supernatural elements in them, but most do so this one was slightly different. It’s set in such an interesting period too!

  2. Susan R Suing says:

    This book, The Vanished Days, does indeed have an unexpected ending that also made me want to read it again to see how I could have missed it. I may or I may not because it is hard for me to believe that Lily and, yes, the astute Adam did not recognize each other after a relatively short amount of years in between their love affair. So? Were they both good actors?(Sorry if that’s a spoiler.)

    The first Susanna Kearsley book I read was A Desperate Fortune and I could buy the “time travel” because the narrator was translating a coded manuscript from centuries ago. I liked the idea of two separate love stories, especially the modern one and her relationship with Luc Sabran. Kearsley handles those things well. Then I read The Winter Sea and could still accept the tenuous connection between the centuries and the modern relationship the heroine developed.

    Things got a little “kinkier” with The Shadowy Horses, but because I liked Kearsley’s writing style, I went for The Firebird. Ugh! That was a story too far. I guess I don’t like that much time travel. Please, two people can both “see” who they are looking for and pick them out in crowded markets from France to Russia over hundreds of years??? That ended Kearsley’s books for me. Since I like historical novels, I have recently begun some written by Sarah Dunant; she is the closest thing to Dorothy Dunnett that I have found. Any comments?

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read either The Winter Sea or The Shadowy Horses, but I did enjoy A Desperate Fortune and The Firebird – I like time travel/multiple time period novels, but I know they’re not for everyone. Sometimes they can be very implausible and you have to completely suspend disbelief! Sorry The Firebird put you off reading more!

      I have read The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant and loved the Renaissance Italy setting. That was a few years ago and I still haven’t read any of her others, but I’m sure I will as I did like her writing.

  3. Lark says:

    I haven’t read this book, but I do enjoy Susannah Kearsley’s novels. My two favorite are The Winter Sea and The Shadowy Horses. 😀

  4. piningforthewest says:

    I enjoyed this one and you’ve just reminded me that I meant to read The Winter Sea. The ordinary people of Scotland did not agree with being united with England, it was very unpopular, but the ‘high heid yins’ were bribed to agree to it. It still rankles with many of course.

    • Helen says:

      It seems so wrong that the ordinary people had no say in the future of their country, but that has often been the way of things, I suppose. It’s a shame this period of Scottish history isn’t written about more often.

  5. Susan R. Suing says:

    Hi. After The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, I read In the Company of the Courtesan. Now THAT was different as the narrator of the book was the dwarf who had worked for years with the Courtesan and it was mainly set in Venice in the 1520-30’s. Between Dunant and Dunnett (House of Niccolo) you can get a pretty good picture of life there at that time. They are accurate historians. I had recently watched the movie Cyrano, played by Peter Dinklage, and I could certainly see him in this movie. Dunant did a fabulous job of giving us a different perspective (dare I say “lower”?) of living on the streets of that watery city in the Renaissance. (Sorry, I can’t seem to get rid of a “note” about the picture that is sitting on the address line. I hope you get this.)

  6. FictionFan says:

    This sounds great – such an interesting period of history and one that shamefully a lot of Scots seem to be unaware of. Must try to read it and I look forward to your review of the sequel (if the book that follows a prequel counts as a sequel!)

    • Helen says:

      It was such an important moment in history for both Scotland and England, and yet I think this is the first book I’ve ever read that covers that period! It made a change from the Jacobites, anyway. I will try to read the sequel soon!

  7. Carmen says:

    I read this one last year. It’s my least favorite in the trilogy, my favorite being The Firebird. Bellewether was a mixed bag for me (3*), and The Shadowy Horses was very good. Part of my criticism of Bellewether was that I was expecting more historical background, which she seldom presents since her novels are mostly paranormal romances with a dash of history. I was into the events leading up to the American Revolution when I read it, so I wanted more and got disappointed. This time around Kearsley included a lot more history (more than she ever has in any of her novels), but it made the story feel very dense, still I rated it 4* because I liked it overall and it gave me a sense of how the Jacobite movement came about, something I hadn’t read before.

    • Helen says:

      I loved The Firebird – it’s one of my favourites of all the Kearsley novels I’ve read. This one is good but, as you say, she puts a lot of history into it and it slows the story down. I will read Bellewether eventually, but I’ll lower my expectations of it based on your thoughts.

      • Carmen says:

        Bellewether wasn’t necessarily bad. I just thought there were missed opportunities to make it very good. I hope you like it more than I did.

  8. jessicabookworm says:

    Ooo I am very much looking forward to reading this! Like you I have heard about the Darien Scheme, from a non-fiction book, so it will be great to read a fictional account of it.

    I also enjoyed both The Shadowy Horses and Bellewether – The latter I didn’t think was her best but still enjoyable, while in The Shadowy Horses you can look forward to meeting Robbie from The Firebird when he is a child. 😊

    • Helen says:

      I’m pleased to hear you enjoyed The Shadowy Horses and Bellewether. I’m particularly looking forward to The Shadowy Horses so I can meet Robbie as a child!

  9. Marg says:

    The Winter Sea is one of my favourite all time books! I recently listened to it again and it was still so good!

    And I have to say I hadn’t see this cover before! Very nice!

    Thanks for sharing this book with the Hist Fic challenge!

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