Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

Book: When the Sea is Rising Red
Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: After seventeen-year-old Felicitaâ??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 Pelimburgâ??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 impressions: Fourteen pages. That’s how long it took for this book to completely wow me. Cat Hellisen creates a beautifully unique world with full and vibrant characters that made it nearly impossible to put the book down.

Lasting impressions: There were a few moments that had me wailing, “Noooooo!” Despite some of the frustrations with the plot, I still found this to be a well-written and unique story.

Conflicting impressions: It always sucks when the love interest you want is not what you get. I had to work to find happiness with the ending, but I grudgingly accept that it was probably for the best of the characters involved.

Overall impressions: This book is being compared to the works of Neil Gaiman and Jacqueline Carey, and though I (gasp!) have yet to read anything by these fabulous authors, I recognize that they are fantasy geniuses. So, too, is Cat Hellisen. The village of Pelimburg is rich with magic, supernatural creatures, and a protected elite class bearing down on the lower castes. The world in this novel is easily imaginable and effortlessly complex.

Felicita is caught behind a powerful brother who rules her life and that of her mother. In Pelimburg, the patriarchy is strict and unchallenged, and Felicita faces an unhappy arranged marriage with few rights. Determined to take control of her own life, she flees to the streets and falls in with a group of poor workers who sometimes also fight against the elite under the charismatic boy-in-charge, Dash.

Dash has his own plans, and secrets, that entwine Felicita and her new friend, the vampire Jannik. As Felicita gets drawn deeper into Dash’s plotting, she struggles with trusting him. Does he care for her or is he using her to get his way? As the story progresses, things get more convoluted and enemies stay firmly in gray areas. You never know who to trust in this ragtag group of street kids, which is part of the fun of the novel. I thought the plot went kind of crazy all over the place during the climax, and I wasn’t satisfied that Felicita found true happiness the way I wanted, but it was definitely a fun journey.

I’d by lying if I didn’t admit that I was mostly disappointed with the love interest. Felicita and Dash start something that seems cute and fun, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Things are complicated by some apparent affections for Jannik, her new vampire friend, but for the most part they stay platonic. For a story that starts out with fears of arranged marriage, I so wanted Felicita to find love and companionship in someone of her choosing, but I guess we don’t always get what we want. In my opinion, this would have been a five star read if I’d just been able to find Felicita some true love. Ah well. A highly recommended fantasy read nonetheless!

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

3 thoughts on “Review: When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen

  1. Yours is the first review I've read of this book and it was awesome!Even with the lack of true love, which will probably bother me, too, it sounds like such a great book. I need to make sure this is on my buy list. Thanks for the great review!Heather

  2. No true love? Really?! Well that's interesting. I don't read many fantasy reads but I'm inspired to read more.

  3. Woah, this one's coming out of left field for me. I really hadn't heard anything about it or had any interest in reading it until now. I think I might be okay with the no-true-love situation.

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