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A Reader of Fictions: Review: When the Sea Is Rising Red

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Review: When the Sea Is Rising Red

When the Sea Is Rising Red

Author: Cat Hellisen
Pages: 296
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR
Source: Library

Description from Goodreads:
After seventeen-year-old Felicita’s dearest friend, Ilven, kills herself to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own death and leaves her sheltered life as one of Pelimburg’s magical elite behind. Living in the slums, scrubbing dishes for a living, she falls for charismatic Dash while also becoming fascinated with vampire Jannik. Then something shocking washes up on the beach: Ilven's death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic. Felicita must decide whether her loyalties lie with the family she abandoned . . . or with those who would twist this dark power to destroy Pelimburg's caste system, and the whole city along with it.

First Sentence: "She's not here."

When the Sea Is Rising Red is a beautiful, surprising little gem of a book. From the cover, I expected a zombie book (I think because it reminds me of the Carrie Ryan covers), which this was not at all. Instead, Hellisen's tale is paranormal, but not in a way that I have particularly seen before. Unlike with most books, I had pretty much no clue what was going to happen at any point, not because there weren't hints, but because Hellisen didn't send her characters down the usual roads.

At first, the society of Pelimburg was strange and confusing. Finding my footing took time. There are a fair number of terms to learn and a caste system to understand. The humans have their divisions, the High Lammers and the low, the haves and the have-nots. Making matters more complicated, there are also paranormal creatures living amongst the humans: selkies, vampires, boggerts, unicorns. Thrown together like this, the book could have felt thrown together, a paranormal mish-mash, as many books end up feeling. This one didn't though. This society felt real and complex, and like it needed to be just the way Hellisen wrote it.

In this world, magic is a tangible thing. I completely loved Hellisen's take on magic, both on its power and its destructive capabilities. Though the books aren't too similar otherwise, if you enjoy the magic in this tale, you should definitely also try Indigo Springs. The High Lammers have taken the power for themselves, keeping the scriv (which makes the magic possible) to themselves. There are three different powers: War-Singers (who can manipulate air), Readers (who see the future), and Saints (who can read auras).

Felicita comes from a High Lammer family and is a War-Singer. All of her power and intelligence matter not, however, since women are useful only for alliances in this patriarchal society. Felicita's life changes utterly after her very best friend commits suicide (The Leap) to escape an arranged marriage. With a similarly despised marriage of her own imminent, Felicita fakes her own death and escapes to hide amidst the Hobs, the Low people.

As a heroine, Felicita has many admirable qualities to go along side her numerable flaws. She has my respect for, no matter how low she gets, continuing to fight for her independence any way she can. On the street with no skills to help her in this life, she takes a menial job washing tea cups, but she does it without complaint. Her biggest weak point is her addiction to scriv, which she craves. Pretty much all of her worst choices she makes out of a desire for more.

While there is romance here, it is not remotely like what you'll generally find and it is not the star of the show. Even now, I'm not sure how to feel about what happened. There are no clear answers. Like in real life, the relationships are messy, complicated. My favorite couple without a doubt was Lils and Nala; they are just so freaking sweet together and good for one another.

When the Sea Is Rising Red takes well-thumbed subjects and makes them feel entirely new, weaving a dark, atmospheric magical world.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote:
"I'm better than them. Better than Owen, than Canroth Piers. They can never really control me because they cannot bridle my thoughts.
   It works. I'm calm again. Let Piers and Owen make the wedding arrangements, just don't expect the bride to be there like a dog called to heel. I'll choose my own Gris-damned husband, thank you. If I even want one, and I'm not exactly certain of that. I want life on my own terms, not on the dictates of tradition and of haggling over power and land.
   I will never let myself be caught like that—any marriage I make will be my own. A choice. A free one."

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Blogger M.A.D. said...

You write some of the best reviews I've ever read! And, not-surprisingly- you've got me wanting to read this. I'd all but forgotten about When The Sea Is Rising Red! And yeah, it does very much put one in mind of The Dead Tossed Waves (LOVE both covers!) <3

Adding this to my Amazon wish list :D

September 1, 2012 at 2:53 PM  
Blogger roro said...

this has been on my most anticipated stand alones of this year . and i have not had to chance to get it yet . hufff. great marvelous review

September 1, 2012 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

Tangible magic? SIGN ME UP.

Seriously, I have had When The Sea Is Rising Red on my TBR for pretty much forever. I can't wait to get a chance to read it, especially after this fantastic review.

September 2, 2012 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

I have had this on my TBR forever but I have read so many negative things about it. I'm realising that is what I love about you Christina, while all the books I was super excited for are being talked about negatively everywhere else, you make me want to read them again! I love it. THis sounds like it has a very well developed world and a great MC, I'll be bumping it up my TBR thanks to you!

September 2, 2012 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Awwww, shucks! *blushes*

The covers are SO similar.

Cool! I hope you enjoy it. I know the reviews have been all over the place. I just really liked her world building and writing style.

September 4, 2012 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I hate it when that happens, and it totally does all the time. Hope you get it soon.

September 4, 2012 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Right? This is the third book I've read with tangible magic, and I'm pretty sure I just freaking love that concept. Indigo Springs, Skylark and this all made me squee at the awesomeness of the world building.

September 4, 2012 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I hadn't heard ANYTHING about it before I read, but I looked around and did see that the reviews were all over the place. Well, I hope you enjoy it. Haha, I'd hate to talk you into reading something you're not going to like. :-p

September 4, 2012 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger Wendy Darling said...

I really, really liked this one too, Christina! It's such an odd little thing, but so enjoyable. I do think a lot of readers will have trouble with it, but hey--there have got to be some weird and wonderful ones to balance out all the stereotypical YA PNRs out there. :)

Btw, Cat tweeted this review the other day saying how much she enjoyed that you liked her favorite couple!

Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

September 4, 2012 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yay! After I wrote up my review, I looked on GR and a ton of people hated it, and I could see their points, but I still enjoyed it myself. I thought a little bit about reevaluating, but I didn't disagree with myself. It WAS very strange, but it worked for me.

Oh wow! Thanks for telling me that. I had no idea!

September 4, 2012 at 1:04 PM  

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