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Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Review: When the Sea is Rising Red

Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Pages: 296
Read it in: 1 day
Summary: In Pelimburg-- city of storm and sea and spray-- magic is power. Both are controlled by the elite class, who inhale scriven dust to enhance their natural talents.

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 the charismatic renegade Dash while also becoming fascinated by the strange, thrilling magic of vampire Jannik.

Then translucent corpses begin to wash up on shore. 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 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.

LC's Take:

Honestly, I thought that this book was brilliant. That would be my first reaction after reading it. And after that, I would say that it was very unique and refreshing after reading so many YA books that all seem to run together with the same kinds of characters and plots-- I really was blown away. I originally took an interest in this book after I saw Rae Carson's review for it (author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns-- another awesome book) and I ended up reading it in less than 24 hours, which is almost unheard of for me, it was just that amazing!

So what is so great about this book you ask? Well for starters, I thought that it had the most perfect mix of subtle creepiness and dark, dreamy atmosphere. It was the world of Pelimberg-- which almost seemed to take on a character itself with its atmosphere and mood-- that really drew me into the story. The plot centered around a girl named Felicita whose home is a nightmarish place of slums and magic and vampires and sea witches. When the Sea is Rising Red was very much like an Edgar Allen Poe story--the dark and dream-like quality and just the whole eerie sense of foreboding that builds the plot really pulled me in and didn't let me go. There are vampires, selkies, magic, nightmares, and an evil sea witch intent on revenge. There is a Red Death plague rising from the sea, killing off anything in its path. All of these elements combined to create one awesome story and a unique world that is hard to forget.

I also fell in love with Hellisen's writing style and thought that it was totally addicting and hypnotic. This worked perfectly with a story that is filled with hallucinogenic and dream-like states and a plot that builds up suspense slowly but with increasing urgency. Added to this, the writing seemed very Victorian in its style and character dialogue, which is always a plus for me with any book!

Felicita, Dash, Jannik, and the other characters were very intriguing, mainly because they seemed more like actual people than characters you're reading about in a book. They weren't censored or sugar-coated, and they had me totally invested in what was going on to them. Felicita proved herself to be a survivor, and even though there wasn't anything about her that made her stand out as an awesome heroine, I liked her simply because her character wasn't forced. I felt like the author didn't try too hard to make her characters likable, but more to just make them real, and I definitely appreciated that.

Be warned: This book is definitely on the darker and more mature side of YA fiction-- there is sex, swearing, suicide, and lots of drinking laced with hallucinogenics. To put it simply, this book does not censor much of anything. Honestly, it was that kind of edginess that made me like the book even more. Much of the plot centers around upper-class magical families like the one Felicita is from, where the only way they can actually do magic is by snorting a very addictive powder called "scriv." When Felicita runs away to escape an arranged marriage, she is cast into the darkest places of society, and one of her only means of escape from the cold and cruel world is through the drugs of the proletariat-- I wouldn't say that this was glorified in any way; it's just part of the world Felicita belongs to.

So overall, I really enjoyed reading this book from beginning to end. I thought it was very unique and Cat's writing style was instantly alluring. I would recommend this book to some of my more adventurous fellow readers, since there are a lot of mature themes in it. But if you're looking for something that stands out from many other YA novels and has a slightly creepy feel to it, I would definitely say check this one out!

~Cover Talk~

Totally dark and creepy to match the story, the cover for When the Sea is Rising Red captured my attention right away. I personally love this cover because it's so chilling, although I've heard other readers say they think it's deceiving because it doesn't really hint at the fact that the story has a Victorian vibe to it-- the cover looks more modern. But I really love it and think it's very eye-catching!

LC's Rating:
Absolutely loved it! Wonderfully dark, eerie, and filled with an increasing sense of foreboding, this book had me totally addicted from the first chapter.

Check it out!
Amazon| Goodreads


  1. I've been wanting to read this one since I heard about it and now I'm completely desperate to get ahold of it! Great review. I love it when reviews make me want to read the book even more than I already did. :)

    1. Yay!! Haha that is my goal :) I hope you LOVE it as much as I did!!

  2. I loved this book as well! I read and reviewed and got a chance to speak with the author about it (she ROCKS) and I'm so happy to see it getting more love! I totally agree with the book having a dark, gritty feel to it and I liked your comparison to Edgar Allen Poe's works! It's definitely edgy and unlike much of the YA out there and I think Hellisen's storytelling is brilliant. Great review, Lea:)

  3. I'm a Poe fan, this sounds fantastic. I am adding it to my wish list on amazon. I need to read something fresh and awesome!! Thanks, great post!!

  4. This one sounds AMAZING! I love the sound of the atmosphere, and I like that it's dark– you don't see that too much in YA. Thanks for the great review!

    Confessions of a Readaholic

  5. I love love love your review, Lea! You perfectly captured everything that I loved so much about this one. The moodiness, the Gothic feel to it mixed with Victorian...the characters, the world-building. I really quite adored it! Great review, girl!

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  6. This one does sound very unique....You've got me very interested in reading WTSIRR! I'll have to check my library and see if they have it.

    Fabulous review!

  7. I have been wanting to read this for a while now, it sounds really intriguing and I am always up for a book with a darker feel to it.

    Thank-you for sharing Lea! a wonderful review.

  8. I enjoyed this book, but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as you. Bu your review made me realize that I did like it more than I thought. What I did not like about it, was how sometimes the author kind of expected you to know more than you did. I had a hard time getting around that. But over all, I agree this was a great book. very different from the YA trends.

    Sara @ Just Another Story

  9. I've had this on my TBR list for a while, it sounds very interesting. Great review! I'll definitely be grabbing it as soon as I can. And the cover is awesome!

  10. I like edgy and I like dark and I like to be blown away! Also, I prefer a more mature tone and subjects in YA books, so actually this sounds perfectly like my kind of book! Honestly, this book was totally off my radar, but you review made me put it back in my list!

    Also, I just found your blog and you have such a pretty place here!!!! :)

  11. Sounds ridiculously awesome! can't wait to read it!
    Great review!

  12. I've had this book on my Nook FOREVER and have been meaning to give it a read. It's been a while since I've read anything truly creepy, and I'm kind of jonesing for it, so I think I'll finally read When the Sea is Rising Red... especially after your review! :-)

    -Katie @ BlookGirl

  13. I've never heard of this before, but was hooked the second I read the title and saw the cover!

    I've been in the mood for creepy YA lately, so *plop!* onto the wishlist it goes :)

  14. This is soooo going on the TBR it sounds like something I would love. Thanks for the great review.

    Beth ^_^

  15. I had not heard of this book, but it looks really good. Thanks for reviewing.

  16. I nominated you for the Versatile Book blogger award. :)

  17. I'm not one for the darker YA novels but this really catches my attention! The cover really does give me chills.

  18. Hello Dearie! I just ran across your blog and the design is divine, cute, adorable, amazing, enchanting, awesome.... I'm running out of words here...mmm

    Ok ok..I LOVE Alice in Wonderland, and hence me going erratic about your blog's layout and feel :) ...sigh...

    Anywho, I'm taking a look at several writing/review blogs because I plan on starting book reviews on my site, and I ran across your yours and loved it! :)

    Will def be coming back for more!


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