As the only daughter of the city’s founding family, Felicita has a luxurious but narrow life, one that is ruled by a list of traditionally acceptable and appropriate behaviors. When her dearest friend, Ilven, throws herself over the cliffs and into the sea to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own suicide and escapes to the slums, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, including the means to practice magic. Soon she’s living in a squat, working as a scullery girl, and falling hard for charismatic renegade Dash while also becoming fascinated by the strange, thrilling magic of vampire Jannik.
Then translucent corpses begin to wash up onshore. As it becomes clear that Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic that the upper class with their scriven are powerless against, Felicita must decide where her true loyalties lie-with the family she’s abandoned, or with those who would harness this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it.
Good books sneak up on you, most of the time. There is no predicting which ones will really strike you in just the right way. Half of the time the books I’m really excited about reading don’t meet my expectations. When the Sea is Rising Red was an unexpected pleasure.
In Felicita’s world, there are certain inevitabilities to life. Men have the power. Girls marry who their told. Magic is powerful… and only the elite Houses have magic. Felicita is born into one of those houses and, despite her unhappiness at the way her older brother is able to rule her life, she doesn’t think to question that this is the natural order of things. Until her best friend dies. Ilven throws herself into the sea rather than be married off in a deal that benefits her family. When Felicita is soon after betrothed, she decides to take charge of her life by faking suicide and venturing into a world that’s completely different from her own.
It started off somewhat slowly for me. Up until a certain point I had trouble really being drawn into Felicita’s world. It was like watching events through a window. But once she enters the house on Whelk Street everything sprang to life. The characters are so wonderful! I wished the book was longer so that we could have learned even more about the people Felicita meets.
The world here seemed very well thought out without being spelled out for the reader. I loved that the slang flowed. Unnecessary slang is one of my pet peeves, but the made up words in this book really seemed to fit.
I liked how dark and gritty this world was. Not just the things that happened, but the people and emotions too. Motives and desires totally got twisted up at times in a way that made me shiver because it was just so well written! There’s a lot of drama and beautiful, haunting imagery, but it wasn’t over the top. Always tempered.
Details could get a bit murky at times. The ending felt rushed to me. I could see it coming and then BANG. There it was. I could have used a bit more buildup and explanation. Some of Felicita’s actions in the final scenes don’t entirely make sense to me. While this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book as a whole, it is worth noting. As far as main characters go, she could be quite passive. Normally this would bother me more, but for some reason it didn’t here. Maybe because she didn’t strike me as a weak character, even though her actions didn’t ultimately have much of an impact.
This book had vampires that I actually liked! It wasn’t about vampires, but they did play a role. And they weren’t annoying or overly romanticized, nor overly violent.
In Conclusion: Really good! Cat Hellisen’s writing style felt very fresh and unique to me. I hope to see more from her.