27 February 2012

Review: When the Sea is Rising Red

When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen
Publication date: February 28, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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.
I was looking forward to this book like whoa, so when I got it, I put what I was going to read next aside and picked up When the Sea is Rising Red. And...I was a little disappointed.

Hellisen's writing is great. She is very descriptive and I enjoyed the world that she built, along with the mythology that comes with it. I love the fact that each of the noble families have different magical talents. I also think the idea of having to use a powder called "scriv" to use the magic is brilliant. It's all very thought-out, but here's also where it fell apart for me: the environment/world of the book comes across as a bit of a hodgepodge of myths. Example, the book has things like unicorns and vampires and sea witches. Hellisen pulls some from here and some from there and some more from over there, then puts it all in a pot. But instead of it mixing together to make something complete, it feels more like pieces of different stories. Yes, there's a fascinating reason within the story that explains the unicorns, but a unicorn is still a unicorn. I wanted her magical world to work for me, but sometimes it didn't. It all came across as too complicated. I feel dumb, but for the majority of the last half of the book, I was confused. Then the climax happens and I have almost no idea what's going on. It all happens too fast and it's like the author is trying to explain everything that she's been building up to in the last third of the book. I wish it could have been longer.

Characters: Felicita has her moments, but none of the characters, expect Jannik, held much interest for me. I really like Jannik and found him to be the most intriguing character in the story.

All in all, it was an okay read. My main complaint is the fact that I felt stupid for not knowing what was happening there at the end, but I mostly figured it out and all is well. If you're looking for something different, then check this one out! This is a book with a lot to digest, so don't read it too quickly. Just take your time and is should be okay.


  1. I totally get what you mean. I need more of an explanation as well, to help me connect the dots. It'd be different if this were the second or third book, because then I'm familiar with the world and I don't mind less explaining.

    I don't know if I'm ever going to get to this one, as I wasn't particularly intrigued by it beforehand...


  2. I want to read this one, but I might leave further down my list for now. I hate when I am left confused after finishing a book. I can deal with major cliffhangers, but confusion annoys me. Although, I do LOVE unicorns, so I might have to love it on principle. Haha :0)

  3. I agree with your point on the mythos. It felt very hodgepodged with a loose explanation justifying the disordered feel.
    I also agree with the ending. Although I mostly followed what was happening (reading this prequel of a short story helped immensely: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/02/mother-crone-maiden) but there was a never "Ohhh!" moment that a reader gets when a good plot finally clicks into place. Considering how large of a role the mythos and magic played, I was disappointed on how little it was explained, built up, or utilized. As you said, there seemed to be some back tracking in the end in an attempt to explain what just happened.

    On the other hand, I immensely enjoyed Cat H.'s writing style. It was colorful and really helped pull me into the world, and keep me there through an mechanical hiccups. I can't say I love this book as a whole, but it certainly has a bit to offer despite any fallings. I don't know how strongly I would recommend this book, but I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it.

    Being that this is Cat's first book I am more than willing to forgive any hiccups and will read whichever book she comes out with next.

  4. @Asher: Agreed. :)

    @Sarah: Unicorns are awesome, aren't they?? I think it's worth a read, but make sure to take it slowly. There's a lot of digest. And Cat has a great writing style.

    @Lauren: I wasn't aware there was a short story so I'll have to check it out! I'm glad I wasn't the only one disappointed with how little a role the magic/mythos played. I want a whole book just on that! So fascinating. Though this wouldn't be my first book of choice to recommend, I would never discourage anyone from reading it either. Like I said in my review, it's great for people looking for something new in the genre. And Cat's writing is great (I agree), so time should be taken with it. Definitely not a book one wants to speed through.


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