Author: Cat Hellisen
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR
Description from Goodreads:
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.
First Sentence: "She's not here."
When the Sea Is Rising Red is a beautiful, surprising little gem of a book. From the cover, I expected a zombie book (I think because it reminds me of the Carrie Ryan covers), which this was not at all. Instead, Hellisen's tale is paranormal, but not in a way that I have particularly seen before. Unlike with most books, I had pretty much no clue what was going to happen at any point, not because there weren't hints, but because Hellisen didn't send her characters down the usual roads.
At first, the society of Pelimburg was strange and confusing. Finding my footing took time. There are a fair number of terms to learn and a caste system to understand. The humans have their divisions, the High Lammers and the low, the haves and the have-nots. Making matters more complicated, there are also paranormal creatures living amongst the humans: selkies, vampires, boggerts, unicorns. Thrown together like this, the book could have felt thrown together, a paranormal mish-mash, as many books end up feeling. This one didn't though. This society felt real and complex, and like it needed to be just the way Hellisen wrote it.
In this world, magic is a tangible thing. I completely loved Hellisen's take on magic, both on its power and its destructive capabilities. Though the books aren't too similar otherwise, if you enjoy the magic in this tale, you should definitely also try Indigo Springs. The High Lammers have taken the power for themselves, keeping the scriv (which makes the magic possible) to themselves. There are three different powers: War-Singers (who can manipulate air), Readers (who see the future), and Saints (who can read auras).
Felicita comes from a High Lammer family and is a War-Singer. All of her power and intelligence matter not, however, since women are useful only for alliances in this patriarchal society. Felicita's life changes utterly after her very best friend commits suicide (The Leap) to escape an arranged marriage. With a similarly despised marriage of her own imminent, Felicita fakes her own death and escapes to hide amidst the Hobs, the Low people.
As a heroine, Felicita has many admirable qualities to go along side her numerable flaws. She has my respect for, no matter how low she gets, continuing to fight for her independence any way she can. On the street with no skills to help her in this life, she takes a menial job washing tea cups, but she does it without complaint. Her biggest weak point is her addiction to scriv, which she craves. Pretty much all of her worst choices she makes out of a desire for more.
While there is romance here, it is not remotely like what you'll generally find and it is not the star of the show. Even now, I'm not sure how to feel about what happened. There are no clear answers. Like in real life, the relationships are messy, complicated. My favorite couple without a doubt was Lils and Nala; they are just so freaking sweet together and good for one another.
When the Sea Is Rising Red takes well-thumbed subjects and makes them feel entirely new, weaving a dark, atmospheric magical world.
"I'm better than them. Better than Owen, than Canroth Piers. They can never really control me because they cannot bridle my thoughts.
It works. I'm calm again. Let Piers and Owen make the wedding arrangements, just don't expect the bride to be there like a dog called to heel. I'll choose my own Gris-damned husband, thank you. If I even want one, and I'm not exactly certain of that. I want life on my own terms, not on the dictates of tradition and of haggling over power and land.
I will never let myself be caught like that—any marriage I make will be my own. A choice. A free one."