When The Sea is Rising Red – Cat Hellisen (review)

11388429Hardcover, 296 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Personal copy


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 flees from a home where she has everything that money can buy but lacks the things most essential to her: freedom. her friend Ilven’s suicide prompts to act on her desire to live a life where she makes the decisions on things most important to her. In her new surroundings, Felicita finds herself free but at the same time, still a prisoner – this time, to her diminished circumstances. she meetings an odd group of characters, one of whom she is attracted to. As t he story continues, a danger is born from the creature called forth from the sea by Ilven’s suicide. A creature steeped with old magic, who demands a sacrifice.

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 guts she has and I find that very admirable. 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. I loved the realistic bent of the novel where Felicita’s experience outside of her privileged home is concerned. She recognizes that though her home may have been oppressive, it gave her certain privileges that were, perhaps, essential to her being. Felicita’s development as a character charts this growing awareness of her own position in her society and I really liked that.

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. I certainly recommend it.