Fantasy · favourites · Mixed Magic · review · YA

When the Sea is Rising Red – Cat Hellison (A Review)

Hardcover, 296 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: Library


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.


People do not seem to like this one too much so obviously I, contrary creature that I am, like it a lot. I liked how courageous the book and it’s author are to present something that is so very different than what is flooding the market nowadays. All books try to be different but ultimately conform to the standard. Ms. Hellison’s novel, in my not so humble opinion, succeeds in not just being different but being different in a good way.

Felicita is a very likable protagonist and as a woman, I immediately felt myself able to empathize with her predicament. Whether I would have gone to the lengths she did to extricate myself from the future her brother laid out for her…well, I don’t know but the fact that she does, that she has the courage to go forth and take her destiny in her own hands shows the spunk and um, guts she has and I find that very admirable. (We’ll get to you later, Cate.) The attraction of the book came from the careful and detailed world building. There is a strong sense of whimsy, a sense of surreality that surrounds it – a parallel universe that is full of magic and strange creatures – the imagery is very strong and I found myself easily calling to mind the streets, the beaches and the people described in the novel.

Felicita’s attempt to become Firel, to become someone with a whole lot less than she is used to makes for an interesting read. The strange motley of people who give her a home and offer her friendship and new experiences are also fascinating. The plot is perhaps my favourite part of the book and I can’t say too much about it without giving it away. The Sea is Rising Red very much resembles a fairytale come to life with its intriguing mix of legend and supernatural creatures.

The reason most people probably have trouble with this novel is the interesting way in which romance is approached. If you want fervent confessions of true, everlasting love, you might want to give this one a miss. The romance in this is a bit capricious, a bit playful and, maybe only to me, a bit exploratory in tone and even execution. There are two love interests but not quite a love triangle. I sincerely hope that this is a series because one of the love interests fascinates me. None of the characters are superhotbeautifulgorgeous and I love, love, love that.

You will like this book if you like curious things, if you are open to something different than hot boy notices plain girl, there are fireworks and then a kiss. The folklore-ish feel of the novel will be a hit with some and a miss with others. Ah, if you liked The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley, you will certainly like this one.


3 thoughts on “When the Sea is Rising Red – Cat Hellison (A Review)

  1. I was just about to buy this one and I hunted around to check out a few reviews. Having stumbled upon your recommend, that sealed the deal for me. Now in my cart at Powells.


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