By: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Genre/Age: YA Fantasy
Source: ARC from Around the World Tours
After sixteen-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.
Wow. What an incredibly awesome debut novel! I went into this book not expecting it to be A) high fantasy, or B) just quite as amazing as it was. I LOVE high fantasy and don’t read nearly enough of it for some reason, so this was such a fun surprise for me.
We are thrust immediately into the world of Pelimburg – and what a world it is! An oppressive caste system, tightly controlled magic, selkies and sea-witches and unicorns… it’s dark and dangerous and oh so magical. Cat Hellisen has created a wonderfully imaginative and complex fantasy world that feels just like you’re stepping straight into the novel. You can feel the mist coming off the water and the magic sparking off your skin; it’s fantastic. It takes a while to get accustomed to the world and some of the terminology can be a little confusing at first, but if you pay attention you’ll be fine.
Though it has familiar themes, this is not your average fluffy YA novel; there’s so much more going on here. It is an incredibly unique and well-written story, with very relatable and real characters. Felicita is an immediately likeable and wonderful heroine – smart and brave and strong – and I really enjoyed exploring the underbelly of Pelimberg with her. The group that she takes refuge with is made up of a fascinating group of street kids, both friendly and not so much, and Felicita and the reader both get swept up in their lives without really knowing whether or not they can be trusted. Things going on in Pelimburg are much bigger than Felicita realizes at first, and by the time she understands what is happening she has ended up right in the middle of it.
The two other main characters, Dash and Jannik, are each incredibly different and charming in their own ways, and I loved Felicita’s relationship with both of them. The romance in the story isn’t necessarily the typical kind of love triangle or the kind of happily-ever-after romance that you find in most YA novels, but I thought it was absolutely perfect and realistic and fitting for the story. It’s a little darker, a little grittier, and a little more bittersweet at the end, but it works very well for the characters and their situations.
When the Sea is Rising Red is one of those books that is nearly impossible to put down. I kept telling myself I would only read one more chapter before I went to sleep and before I knew it it was three in the morning. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you like fantasy, if you like your stories dark and intense and magical, if you’re looking for something a little different in your YA, you don’t want to miss When the Sea is Rising Red. It is a beautiful and haunting story that will stay with you for a long time.